- Associated Press - Friday, April 27, 2012

LONDON (AP) — With her first wedding anniversary approaching, the former Kate Middleton’s transformation into a highly regarded member of the royal family is nearly complete.

She is now the Duchess of Cambridge, a striking woman who is comfortable speaking in public, going to charity events with husband Prince William or having tea with Queen Elizabeth II, her grandmother-in-law.

But the best times seem to be the quiet moments — walking in the wilds of North Wales with William and their black cocker spaniel puppy, Lupo.

“The main point is that they look as if they’re enjoying themselves,” said Ingrid Seward, editor-in-chief of Majesty magazine. “The first year of marriage is difficult for everybody and they’ve adapted to their role admirably.”

Seward believes the royal couple, who were college buddies before romance developed, have benefited tremendously from their long, solid friendship. The first year of their marriage has been largely free of controversy.

“They were together a long, long time and maybe this is a demonstration of how much it helped for them to be the friends that they are,” she said.

Kate and William plan to celebrate their first anniversary on Sunday in private, palace officials said. On Thursday they visited the London headquarters of the MI6 intelligence agency, and also attended a reception, with Kate looking resplendent in a charcoal gray dress.

The duchess has faced considerable pressure in her first year as she has eased into her increasingly public royal role, but she has avoided any missteps, seeming to have benefited from strong family support and good advice from palace professionals.

She was reluctant at first to speak in public, although she showed an immediate skill at interacting with British citizens at casual events.

The royal wedding — a television spectacle seen throughout the world — gave William and his bride the chance to recast the image of the British monarchy as more down-to-earth.

After the wedding, they shunned the spotlight to spend what would typically have been a honeymoon period on Anglesey, a wind-swept spot off northwest Wales where William works as a search-and-rescue helicopter pilot at the Royal Air Force Valley base.

Their first year of married life has been a study in balancing their dual roles: Royal and regular. The couple like to dress down when they walk Lupo, but they also wear designer duds at gala dinners and speak out in support of their chosen charities.

After they said “I do” in a gala spectacle at Westminster Abbey, the first images to emerge of the couple were of a casually dressed Kate picking up groceries.

Her later appearances on William’s arm were more typically royal: Stunning red carpet walks in designer gowns while championing charitable causes.

While the royal wedding was the culmination of a long courtship, it was also Kate’s coronation in the eyes of the public — as a fashion icon, a philanthropist and a possible future queen.

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