Striking, private, and almost royal: Kate’s Story

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They live in Bucklebury, a pleasant village that is part suburbia and part rural England, where most of the ample houses are obscured by high hedges. It is a place where many drive Range Rovers _ at about $100,000 a pop _ to make it easier to ford the dirt roads when they occasionally flood.

Middleton, an avid sportswoman who likes to ski and hike, is popular there, mostly because she has not put on airs since getting close to William.

Local resident Brian Ward said Middleton is ready for her new role.

“She is well suited,” he said. “Lots of people round here know her very well because she is a very ordinary girl and she goes down the local pub. Our cricket team used to use the pub down there as their base in the season, and on a Sunday she’d be in there and she’d talk to us as she would anyone else. No one would ever know who she was.”

The party business, based in nearby Yattendon, is a family affair, with Kate and her sister Pippa and brother James helping out.

Still, there has been some sniping, with catty references to her mother’s work as a flight attendant before she and her husband started Party Pieces. But Middleton, now sporting a half-million-dollar rock on her ring finger, may have the last laugh.

“I think people are incredibly snobby when it comes to her family, who seem hardworking and interesting and interested people,” said Richard Dennen, a friend of the couple from their days at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

“Historically, kings in this country have married out of their gene pool. In recent history, when they’ve married members of the aristocracy, I don’t think it’s worked out particularly well.”

It is inevitable that Middleton will become a fashion icon who will be compared to Diana, who graced thousands of magazine covers around the world before her death.

Middleton has managed to retain a squeaky clean image despite a penchant for the night life when she and William are in London.

They are inveterate clubbers, often seen in London’s priciest venues, where they are usually welcomed like _ well _ royalty. But Middleton nearly always leaves looking her best, so the paparazzi photos of her are invariably flattering, even if William sometimes looks the worse for wear.

It may be the magic of youth _ or the blessings of good bone structure _ but Middleton seems to project joie de vivre, not Keith Richards-style decadence, even when leaving posh nightclubs at 2 or 3 in the morning.

There is no question that Middleton faces a wrenching transition from private citizen to royal. Unlike Princess Diana, however, she has had years to get ready and has already received some coaching on how to deal with the constant media scrutiny and the ever-present paparazzi.

She also has a university education, which Diana _ only 20 when she became Princess of Wales _ never obtained. Middleton earned a degree in art history, which was William’s focus before he switched to geography.

“She is the best prepared princess for the future that there has been,” said Robert Jobson, author of “William and Kate: The Love Story.” “She has had a chance to get to understand what is going on inside and outside the royal family.”

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