The Stunning Transformation Of Kate Middleton

When Princess Catherine married Prince William at Westminster Abbey in 2011, she went from commoner to the Duchess of Cambridge in mere moments. An estimated two billion viewers around the globe were glued to their seats and screens as the bride and groom recited their vows. Needless to say, it was an exciting day for many.

In the grand scheme of things, the princess hasn't been a part of the royal family for very long — as many are born into this privilege. So, why does it feel like much longer? Well, as one royal butler explained to Express: "She was up on that, dare I say it, royal way of life ... She wasn't a stranger to it, she understood what she was expecting. It wasn't second nature but it wasn't difficult." 

Still, transforming into a member of the royal family isn't for the faint of heart, but this is how Catherine did it — and here's why it wasn't all that difficult for her.

A chubby-cheeked baby with an unconventional upbringing

After a heavy snowfall on January 9, 1982, Michael and Carole Middleton welcomed their first child, Princess Catherine (later "Kate") Elizabeth Middleton at the Royal Berkshire Hospital, according to the princess' biography, "Kate: The Future Queen" by royal expert Katie Nicholl. Carole's friend and neighbor, a woman known as George Brown, went to visit baby Catherine a week after her birth. She remarked: "Catherine was a lovely little baby, cherubic and chubby cheeked and so good. I remember she didn't cry much at all." 

Catherine's parents met when her mother was working as a British Airways flight attendant and her father, who hailed from a wealthy British family, was a flight dispatcher — "one of the best paid and most important management jobs at the [Heathrow] airport," according to Nicholl's book. 

Four months after Catherine's second birthday, and just eight months after Catherine's little sister Pippa was born, Michael accepted a transfer to Amman, Jordan. And so, the family of four made the trek from the U.K. to the Middle East.

An extraordinarily cultured preschooler

The Middleton family would end up living in Amman for two and a half years. Since Michael Middleton knew from the start that his transfer to the Middle East was temporary, he and Carole Middleton arranged for Princess Catherine's schooling well in advance. "I first met them in 1983 before they went abroad. They had inquired about the school and I sent a prospectus out," explained Robert Acheson, headmaster of St. Andrew's Pre-Preparatory School, in "Kate: The Future Queen" by Katie Nicholl.  

With education being of utmost importance to the Middletons, it's unsurprising that Catherine's parents enrolled her in the "most expensive nursery for 3- to 5-year-olds in the district" while living in Jordan. There she learned through play, spoke Arabic, ate Jordanian foods, listened to passages from the Koran, mastered table manners, and bonded with children of British, Japanese, Jordanian, Indonesian, and American backgrounds. Great training for a future world leader, wouldn't you say?

She was a 'one-hundred-m.p.h. girl'

When the Middletons returned to the U.K., Princess Catherine was nearly five. "She was tall for her age, with curly hair, bleached blonde from her years in the sun," Katie Nicholl wrote in "Kate: The Future Queen." Princess Catherine blonde? It's true. Back in Britain, though, that color didn't last long.

As Michael and Carole Middleton had planned, they enrolled their oldest daughter at St. Andrew's, which was made possible, in large, due to the Middleton trust fund. According to the school's headmaster in Nicholl's book, Princess Catherine dove right into her studies. The school focused on "pastoral care, playing, and making friends." They often went on field trips and learned how to care for living things — two guinea pigs, to be exact. 

According to St. Andrew's sports instructor, Denise Allford, Catherine loved "tearing around the place" and "was a one-hundred-m.p.h. girl." Headmaster Robert Acheson also labeled Catherine "a delight to teach right from the start" and a student who "worked hard." He attributed much of her ethos to her parents, who he said worked "jolly hard" to get Catherine ready for school after returning from Jordan.

Did she skip right over her awkward tween years?

As a video of 13-year-old Princess Catherine acting in the high school play "The Murder in the Red Barn" proved, she must not have experienced those tween-to-teen awkward years with which we're all so familiar. With the exception of her dark hair being fashioned into a bob, she looks remarkably similar to present-day Catherine. And, even though she was dressed in character for the play, she still managed to look fashionable in Victorian-style apparel.

Perhaps even more interesting than the play itself was how similar it ended up being to Catherine's real life. Well, you know, minus the murder ... and the red barn. Catherine's fellow classmate starred opposite her as a fortune-teller. She can be heard telling Catherine that her palm indicates "love" and "riches." The fortune-teller continued, saying: "Soon you will meet a handsome man, a rich gentleman." Not only that, but he will fall in love with, marry, and "take [her] away" to London. Oh, and his name? William. Spooky!

Passing through school mostly unnoticed

Bo Bruce, daughter of the Earl of Cardigan, a former classmate of Princess Catherine's, and later, a star on "The Voice," spoke with Hello! about attending school alongside the Middleton sisters. "They were such cool girls at school and were both universally loved," she dished. "Kate looks like a glamorous film star these days, she was always incredibly beautiful — I'm a big fan." 

Despite possessing various alluring traits, Catherine wasn't one to attract attention in school. "She kept quite a low profile. She did nothing to draw attention to herself. Very discreet," Professor Peter Humfrey, who was head of the art history department during Catherine's time at St. Andrew's, told The Telegraph. Although the professor admitted that such qualities don't necessarily make for "juicy anecdotes," they would instead "stand her in good stead in her future role." In agreement with the professor's opinion of Catherine's unobtrusiveness, a classmate added: "You barely noticed her, she very sweetly just slipped in and out of class."

She may have been unassuming back then, but oh how the tables have turned.

She still caught this prince's eye

Princess Catherine kept her head down in school, but that didn't prevent Prince William from noticing her. In an interview with the U.K. Press Association in 2010, Prince William and Catherine divulged some of the details about meeting each other and their eventual relationship. "Well I actually think I went bright red when I met you and sort of scuttled off, feeling very shy about meeting you," she said (via ABC News) in reference to her beau. Over time, the two became close friends and even shared an apartment in college as flatmates before making the decision to date.

But, what was it about Catherine that initially caught William's eye? Was it the sheer — super sheer — black dress Catherine wore to the St. Andrews University fashion show in 2002? According to Catherine's biography, "Kate: The Future Queen" by royal expert Katie Nicholl, the answer is yes! The prince "became intrigued and interested in Catherine in a new way." As someone who really never called attention to herself, the see-through ensemble was quite an unexpected departure — and one that may have altered the course of history.

A varied career path and a secret love

Whether it was the brief catwalk experience in college that sparked her interest in fashion or not, Princess Catherine accepted a job in 2006 as an assistant accessories buyer at Jigsaw, a British clothing company in London. At this point in time, she and Prince William were secretly dating, according to Kate's biography, "Kate: The Future Queen" by royal expert Katie Nicholl. Though, it was a pretty poorly kept secret thanks to the tabloids. 

Although Catherine graduated in 2005 with a degree in art history, her biography states that finding a job was difficult, in large part because it needed "to be considered respectable by the royal family" while also enabling time off without much notice. Before long, Catherine decided to leave Jigsaw and study portrait photography instead.

Ultimately, the college graduate's path would lead to being a member of the royal family. While you could argue that her educational background and work history are not all that vital to her current position, she excels at incorporating art history, photography, and, yes, even fashion, into her work.

An eventual engagement

After years of dating and one breakup, Prince William and Princess Catherine finally got engaged in November 2010. With their engagement also came the release of the couple's official portraits. It's no surprise that Catherine's outfit of choice was stunning, given her background in fashion and the help of the creative director of the clothing brand Issa, Daniella Helayel.

Catherine's royal blue (we see what you did there, Catherine) Issa wrap dress sold like hotcakes after the pictures were revealed. However, it ended up being too much of a good thing. According to NBC Today, Helayel decided to leave the label after "experiencing an overwhelming demand for orders." In March 2018, the designer once again chose to launch the iconic dress at House of Fraser.

Little did we know at the time of Catherine's engagement debut that her dramatic dress would just be the beginning of her epic royal wardrobe.

The wedding dress we're still not over

Fashion changes quickly, and yet, Princess Catherine's wedding dress still looks as stunning as it did in 2011. On her wedding day, the wedding dress designer was revealed to be Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen — and dressing a royal doesn't come cheap. CBS News estimated that it cost $434,000.

In addition to looking every bit royal by wearing the Queen Mother's tiara, a bespoke French Chantilly lace gown, and a two-foot veil, Catherine herself sparkled. After reportedly taking private lessons with London makeup artist Arabella Preston, Mark Niemierko told People that Catherine felt "comfortable and confident in doing [her makeup] herself" — even on her big day. 

Niemierko continued, saying: "The royals obviously do their own makeup for royal engagements. Part of the whole protocol of learning to be royal is learning how to do your own makeup!" Well, color us impressed. Who knew that was part of the royal transformation?

A wardrobe fit for a future queen

In the year 2017 alone, Princess Catherine completed over a hundred royal engagements — 63 at home in the U.K. and 42 abroad. While she fulfilled the fewest engagements compared to other members of the royal family, you can't forget that, for part of the year, she was a mother of two little ones, pregnant, and suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum, a severe form of morning sickness that put her in the hospital during her first pregnancy.

In 2018, while still pregnant, she doubled the number of royal engagements she took on in her first and second pregnancies, according to Town & Country. This princess can certainly work! Of course, attending public engagements also means, well, being seen in public. With that comes the need for an extensive, inoffensive — yet stylish — wardrobe. From her early duchess days to the current day as a princess, Catherine manages to follow a strict royal dress code while still looking effortlessly chic.

She wasn't afraid to show her post-baby bump

As a society, we have a lot of expectations of women — namely, that they should also aim for "perfection." Especially if they're in the royal family. So, it's pretty rare to see a royal showing off a bit of extra stomach after giving birth. While the post-baby bump is perfectly normal (and is, in fact, unavoidable), most royal women in the past have done their best to conceal the bump after they give birth.

Not Princess Catherine. In fact, after giving birth to her three children, she proudly showed off her very normal post-baby body. In 2013, she wore a form-fitting blue dress with white polka dots after giving birth to Prince George. As Netmums founder Siobhan Freegard told the Daily Mail at the time, it was a subtle revolutionary moment. "In a couple of minutes on the steps of the Lindo Wing Kate has done more for new mums' self-esteem than any other role model," said Freegard, adding that her outfit choice got rid of the "myth that all mothers should be perfect postpartum."

Catherine went on to have two more children — Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis — and both times, she proudly displayed her post-baby bump. In 2015, she wore a pastel dress by Jenny Packham and in 2018, she wore another Jenny Packham number. In both, you could clearly see her post-baby bump. And honestly, good for her!

She recycles outfits

There is an unspoken rule in the royal family that outfits should never be repeated. However, in recent years, many of the royals have adopted this rule — after all, wearing every item of clothing just once is hardly sustainable. Princess Catherine has been at the forefront of this move toward more relatable and sustainable fashion practices. As a fashion expert told the Express: "Kate Middleton can often be seen recycling her previous outfits, promoting sustainable fashion." Personal stylist Samantha Harman explained in another interview with the Express: "The royals have to lead by example, and people are beginning to realise the long-term impact of our overconsumption of fashion." Apparently, Catherine's recycled outfits are a sign to the public that it's time we all took sustainability a little more seriously.

Over the years, she has reworn a number of outfits — sometimes, more than once. For instance, Catherine wore one Alexander McQueen dress on three separate occasions: a wedding, a christening, and a royal service on Anzac Day. Catherine has also recycled gowns from red carpet events on several occasions. 

She gave her siblings and siblings-in-law room to shine at their own nuptials

We all want to be the center of attention on our wedding days — but when your sister is married to an heir to the throne, it can be tricky. However, Princess Catherine was always very careful to let her siblings and siblings-in-law shine on their big days. For instance, when her younger sister, Pippa Middleton, tied the knot in 2017, Catherine was careful not to steal focus. In fact, she even skipped the guest walking line to avoid pulling focus. She also agreed not to be a bridesmaid. "Kate would upstage her sister. It's a tricky situation for Pippa," said royal expert Judy Wade to the Express. "She would want her sister by her side, as who else would she trust to make things go well? But if your sister is a future Queen, she is going to upstage the bride and draw attention." Catherine was similarly conscientious at her brother James' wedding in 2021, deciding not to be a bridesmaid.

As for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's wedding, Catherine once again made an effort to let Meghan shine. She even wore a recycled outfit so that the press had less to discuss after the event.

She became a mental health awareness advocate in 2016

Over the past few years, Princess Catherine has become a vocal supporter of mental health awareness. Along with her husband, Prince William, and her brother-in-law, Prince Harry, Catherine began speaking up about the importance of mental health in 2016 as part of the Heads Together campaign. In a video released that year, the three royals spoke about their own mental health struggles. She opened up about how she and her husband had struggled when their first son was a baby. But, she said, speaking to each other about their problems could "halve them" (via CNN).

Catherine went on to focus her attention on improving the mental health of young people. She became the patron of Anna Freud, a foundation that supports young people's mental well-being in 2016. In 2021, she used her expertise to launch The Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood. "Her Royal Highness's work in this field is a catalyst for change and that is helping us to achieve the quality of care that children and their families so richly deserve," said Peter Fonagy, Chief Executive of Anna Freud. It's certainly wonderful to see her doing such important work.

She became a member of the Queen's Royal Order

In 2018, Princess Catherine was given a special honor from Queen Elizabeth II — the Royal Family Order, which featured a yellow ribbon with an oval portrait miniature of the late queen surrounded by jewels. She first wore the ribbon at a state dinner in 2018. 

According to Joe Little, editor at Majesty magazine, the honor signified that the queen had "great trust" in Catherine. "It's something that is only given to the female members of the Royal Family who have been around for quite some time and are deemed to be of great support to the Queen," Little said (via Express). "Not every member, not every female member of the Royal Family has got it but Kate now has." Over the years, a number of royals have been given this special honor, including Queen Mary, Princess Margaret, Princess Anne, and Queen Camilla.

She's become a vocal champion of getting people out in nature, since 2019

Princess Catherine isn't just an advocate for mental health — she's also a strong believer in the power of nature. One of her biggest initiatives has been to encourage more people to spend time outdoors. In 2019, she helped to organize the Back to Nature gardens at the Chelsea Flower Show and Hampton Court Palace. "The gardens aimed to highlight how spending time outdoors can enrich a child's early development by encouraging active exploration and providing the opportunity to form and strengthen positive relationships," reads her official royal page. She's also a Patron of a number of organizations that promote getting outside.

"It really ties into some of the early years work that I've been doing," she explained in a video on The Royal Family YouTube channel unveiling the garden at the Chelsea Flower Show. She went on to explain that because children's brains develop so much in the early years, what they experience in those early years makes a huge difference. "I really feel that nature, being interactive outdoors, has huge benefits on our physical and mental wellbeing," she went on. "Particularly for young kiddies. This is a natural, creative place for them to play."

She was honored with a high rank of chivalry in 2019

In 2019, Princess Catherine was given another honor by the late Queen Elizabeth II: the Dame Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order, or GCVO. The Maltese cross is worn as a brooch or on a sash around the hip which the princess first donned during a state dinner on June 3, 2019. Other royals have also been given this honor, including Prince Philip, Camilla, Queen Consort, and Sophie, Duchess of Edinburgh — it seems that the late queen was fond of giving this cross to members of her family. According to royal expert and journalist Omid Scobie, the cross was a way of honoring "people who had helped [the queen] directly, or represented her across the Empire" (via Twitter).

According to the Daily Mail, the honor was likely given as a way of saying thank you to Catherine for her work on mental health and childhood development during her time in the royal family.

She supported hobby photographers during the coronavirus pandemic

During the coronavirus pandemic, Princess Catherine found herself with a lot more time on her hands — after all, most royal engagements had to be canceled or moved online. However, she still found a way to help people follow their passions. In May 2020, she launched Hold Still, a project that saw amateur photographers sharing their quarantine photos. 

"We've all been struck by some of the incredible images we've seen which have given us an insight into the experiences and stories of people across the country," said the princess in a statement (via Town & Country). "Some desperately sad images showing the human tragedy of this pandemic and other uplifting pictures showing people coming together to support those more vulnerable. Hold Still aims to capture a portrait of the nation, the spirit of the nation, what everyone is going through at this time." She later helped to compile the photos in a book. 

She became the first woman president of the Scout Association

Princess Catherine continued to earn herself new titles when she was named the joint president of the Scout Association in 2020 along with Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent. The Scouts are a large organization that helps young people form life skills — you've probably heard of the Boy Scouts of America — this association is a similar branch in the U.K.

The role seemed to be a perfect fit for the princess, who had become a leading figure in promoting childhood development. "For many children and young people, The Scout Association plays a key role as they build relationships and develop the skills they need to succeed in later life," Catherine said in a statement (via Hello!). "When I volunteered with the Scouts on Anglesey eight years ago, I was struck by the huge impact the organisation has on inspiring young people to support their communities and achieve their goals. I am delighted to be joining The Duke of Kent as Joint President of the Association and look forward to working with Scouts across the country as they strive to make a positive difference to our society."

Catherine was the first woman to take on the role, which marked an important transition towards modernity for the iconic organization.

She was named the Princess of Wales in 2022

After Queen Elizabeth II's death in 2022, Princess Catherine's title changed from the Duchess of Cambridge to the Princess of Wales as her husband, Prince William became the first heir to the throne. The title was, of course, previously held by Princess Diana, her late mother-in-law, and is typically given to the woman who is next in line to be queen. 

Even though the title is traditionally given to the next queen, some experts believed that calling her "Princess Catherine" was slightly wrong. "There were discussions whether we now show the ultimate spectacle or Princess Catherine or Princess of Wales which are a bit too long," explained royal expert Matt Wilkinson (via Express). "She's not Princess Catherine, of course. If anything she's Princess Charles ... She's not a princess in her own right. Diana wasn't. Welcome to the world of the royals." Pretty confusing — but one thing's clear — Catherine is now definitely a princess.

She stepped up to the plate in the wake of Queen Elizabeth II's death

After becoming the Princess of Wales, Princess Catherine took her new role very, very seriously. She was now next in line to the throne via her husband, and because of this, she made some subtle changes to show that she was ready for the job.

"William's years of being mentored by his grandmother and his father have really paid off because the transition to Prince of Wales has been seamless," said royal author Katie Nicholl (via People). "Kate has also effortlessly moved into a role with so much weight and history and is already making it her own."

Catherine also made some subtle shifts to her style to indicate she was ready to be queen. As Bethan Holy, fashion director at the Daily Telegraph, told Express, she has opted for more mature, subdued styles. Apparently, she also changed her body language, showcasing a more confident, in-control physicality.