LONDON — 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.
She has been widely praised for her fashion choices and her emphasis on British designers – many of the outfits she chooses become immediate favorites, selling out within hours.
With William by her side, she rendered celebrities such as Reese Witherspoon star-struck on a whirlwind tour of California shortly after the wedding, but also struck a chord at the less-highbrow Calgary Stampede wearing tight jeans, a cowboy hat and large belt buckle.
The duchess has also had to select charities to patronize, mindful of the causes her husband's late mother, Princess Diana, pursued.
She's been photographed hugging cancer patients and doing arts and crafts with young Britons. The charities she now supports have praised her approachability and dedication.
That dedication was put on display when William was deployed to the Falkland Islands for several weeks earlier this spring.
As William proudly served his country, the duchess delivered her first public address – noting in her brief but confident delivery that she was sorry her husband could not join her.
Kate might consider giving some advice to her younger sister on media management. While the duchess has generated some of the most positive royal press in years, Pippa Middleton made some unpleasant headlines this month when she was photographed in a car in Paris with a driver who pretended to point a gun at photographers. The gun was later said to be a toy.
Still, when the royal couple marks their anniversary on Sunday, the ever-present question that trails many newlyweds will be right there with them: When will baby make three?