She glided her way through the wedding of the century without a single misstep, charmed President Obama and his wife, Michelle, during a private visit last month and stole the show in a leg-baring frock at the elite Epsom Derby races on June 4. Yet nine days later, at the annual ceremony for the Order of the Garter, the newly minted Duchess of Cambridge
-Princess Kate, if you prefer-revealed that she isn't immune to a slight case of the jitters. After greeting some family friends, Kate-regal in a long gray coat-shyly slipped out of public view. "She was a little bit nervous to start with," observed Sandy Fullicks, one of hundreds of Brits who came to see the spectacle. But Kate soon received a pair of subtle assists: Her stepmother-in-law, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, helped guide her toward the cheering crowd, and her new husband, Prince William
, made sure to lock eyes with his wife as he marched in the procession near Windsor Castle. "He looked for her, which was lovely-he was concerned," says local spectator Jacqui Nicholls. Was that a hint of red on his cheeks as he caught her attention? "Yes," says Nicholls. "He was cute!" As for Kate, she promptly found her footing. "She looked very composed," says onlooker Irene Mason. "She held her own."
As if there were ever any doubt. She's been a member of the royal family for just eight weeks, but Princess Kate, 29, has long made one fact perfectly clear: She's got this. Catching her breath in the weeks following her grand April 29 nuptials, she quietly sent off thank-you notes and grocery shopped near the couple's farmhouse in Anglesey, Wales. It wasn't long, though, before she hit the royal ground running. Attending four major events in five days-including a benefit gala, the Trooping the Colour ceremony honoring the Queen, festivities for Prince Philip's 90th birthday and the Garter ceremony-she displayed "a natural confidence," says a source who knows her well. But all of that was just a warm-up for her biggest official engagement yet: an 11-day tour of Canada, including a weekend stopover in Los Angeles, kicking off on June 30. During her time in L.A., Kate will dutifully support her husband's charities, including a fund-raiser for his foundation at the Santa Barbara Polo Club and a black-tie dinner benefiting the British film industry. Given her performance at the glitzy benefit for the ARK children's charity in London on June 9, Hollywood's A-listers had better prepare to be eclipsed. Resplendent in a Jenny Packham gown, Kate "shone like a film star," says guest Fraser Nelson, editor of The Spectator
magazine. "It was electric."
Not that the hype is going to her fascinator-topped head. "She's completely taking it in her stride," a palace insider says of the princess, who is set to move part-time into Kensington Palace with Prince William
this summer while still maintaining their rustic life in Wales (see sidebar). Her recent busy schedule? Less a crash course on royal life than a consequence of the Windsors' frenetic June. "Now she's a member of the royal family, she's got to get involved with these things," says a friend of William's. After eight years as the prince's girlfriend, adds the source, "she was acclimated over a long time."
Still, Kate's intense week of public engagements might have proved overwhelming were it not for a few key counselors: Camilla, who has offered guidance on life as a royal wife; Helen Asprey, a longtime member of William and Prince Harry
's personal staff who now accompanies Kate to most engagements; and Prince William, 29, who makes sure to keep watch over her. "It's very much the 'home team' advising," says a palace source. When William and Kate do split up to mingle, as they did at the ARK gala, "Catherine is completely in control," says the palace insider.
That much is clear from her savvy fashion choices, which she makes without the help of a stylist (see box), instead relying on relationships with designers like Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen and occasional advice from her sister Pippa, 27. Displaying an uncanny knack for balancing designer glam with budget-friendly clothes that reflect a shrewd sensitivity to Britain's ailing economy, "Kate is the one who is choosing everything," says a fashion source. "She knows exactly what she likes, and she mostly goes to fittings alone."
Next up in her packed engagement diary: Canada and L.A. Patrick Jephson, former private secretary to Princess Diana, cautions that the rigors of a royal tour are vastly different than anything Kate has previously experienced. "All eyes will be on her," he says. "The many days of a tour are a test of stamina, patience and good humor." In that case: Prepare to be charmed, North America. "Kate doesn't seem at all fazed by anything," says Joe Little, managing editor of Majesty magazine. "She's had the most promising of starts."
- Simon Perry/London,
- Monique Jessen/London,
- Suzanne Zuckerman/New York City.