It may seem far in the future, but one day the Duchess of Cambridge will be Queen consort.
The once shy student who caught the eye of the future king is slowly emerging into a confident and engaging member of the Royal Family, whose work and contribution is becoming more and more vital.
The coronavirus pandemic has seen Kate and husband Prince William, both 38, positioned at the forefront of the monarchy. William was the first to address the pandemic, and they have taken the lead on virtual engagements throughout.
But while William has been trained his whole life for the job he will one day hold, Kate has adapted and grown to show what kind of queen she will be.
Royal author Victoria Murphy told Yahoo UK: “There is no doubt that Kate has hugely grown in confidence since joining the Royal Family.
“At the beginning she was very keen to learn the ropes and look to others for guidance over what she should be doing and you could sense that.
“But gradually she’s started to take the lead more and now it feels much more like she is a driving force when it comes to the types of causes she and William are taking on and the way they approach their work.
“I think she still remains more of a team player than a leader though and perhaps more of a listener than a talker, but I think these qualities are well-suited to her current and future roles.”
She said there was a “rush” to compare Kate to Diana, but added: “I’ve always thought that Kate has more in common personality-wise with the Queen; not an extrovert but quietly self-assured with a love of the outdoors and the ability to compartmentalise.”
Victoria Howard, editor of The Crown Chronicles, told Yahoo UK Kate has “hit her stride” with her patronages.
“She has chosen a core set of issues to focus on, and chooses more the cause than specific organisations (much like William and Harry have done), which means that, unlike the Queen, Kate will only ever have a few dozen patronages, and some will be linked or quite similar,” Howard said
“It is a different way for royal work to be done, but this is clearly a path preferred by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and they will have the backing of Prince Charles and the Queen – or we would see a change.”
Royal author Angela Levin added: “I think she has gained in confidence as time has gone on. She is a perfectionist who wants to get things right and has been nervous that she might not.
“Now she knows the ropes she is more relaxed. I also think that being a mother has made a huge difference to how she faces life as a royal.”
Of course the royals had to adapt to working in the midst of a pandemic, and Kate and William were quick to use technology to make virtual visits, as well as to offer support to those continuing to work in key roles, like NHS and transport workers.
Murphy said: “It’s been interesting because although they have been out and about far, far less, you could say that the public has actually seen more of the Cambridges during the lockdown period.
“There have been glimpses of normally totally private residence Anmer Hall, lots of images of the family released, and through the video calls and messages we have heard them speak more than we might during a normal engagement, where they wouldn’t always be talking directly to a camera.”
As royals begin to add some in-person engagements to their diaries, Kate visited a hospice in Norfolk, one of a group she has represented for 10 years.
It was perhaps one of the best examples of the change in the royal.
Tracy Rennie of East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices recalled her first meeting with Kate a decade ago, as she told the Daily Mail: “It was a private visit and she was a little shy, but I remember a little girl running up to give her a hug and she immediately kicked off her high heels to play.
“Since then she has really blossomed and grown, finding her confidence in a very understated way.”
At her in-person engagement she was unafraid to get stuck in, going gloveless as she replanted a sunflower she had brought along in memory of a boy who had died at another of the hospices, despite her large engagement ring.
The duchess makes dozens of solo engagements to her patronages, as well as many alongside the duke.
Murphy told Yahoo UK the pair “have always worked as a team” but that Kate gets extra interest and attention as a royal wife.
She said: “It is quite sexist really but there is definitely more appetite for everything to do with the female royals, from images of them to what they wear and say and do.
“It’s a hugely intense spotlight to be under and I think that the strength of their relationship and William’s support and guidance have been very important to Kate in forging her public role.”
But Kate has returned the support to William, when he was a helicopter pilot and through his royal work too, she added.
Howard said: “Catherine has always been a bit shy, never looking for the limelight, which William grew up with. I think that's what a lot of people like about her – she just seems very genuine and 'normal'. They are well matched in terms of personalities and interests, and just seem very happy.”
Levin said Kate has two key qualities that have seen her and William through tough times – reliability and adaptability.
“She is also a creative thinker,” Levin said. “It was her idea to get involved with mental health. If she can’t do something one way, she will try another.
“Kate’s aim since she and William have been together has been to support him. She is not a ‘me me me’ person and joins in rather than push herself to the front.
“It has been very important too for her to give him the experience of a warm family life and help heal the damage from his dysfunctional upbringing.”
As well as adapting to the pandemic, the Cambridges will have to adapt to life after it.
They will emerge without the support in royal work of brother and sister-in-law Prince Harry and Meghan, with whom they had several joint projects, like Shout and Heads Together.
Howard said: “I think the Sussexes leaving the Royal Family has been a bit of an alteration, for the Cambridges, in that they are the two most senior young royals working now, and that will probably mean an increase in engagements, especially when things go back to normal post-pandemic.”
Kate has a while to wait, but as a blossoming Queen Consort-to-be, she will be more than ready to step into the shoes when the time comes.