Kate Middleton's differences from Princess Di may be the reason this royal marriage lasts.
After Prince William and Kate Middleton announced their engagement to the world in November 2010, the couple sat down for their first in-depth interview. While Kate seemed as poised and earnest as one might expect a future princess to behave, she seemed a bit uncomfortable when asked about following in the footsteps of the late Princess Diana, whose blue sapphire and diamond engagement ring rested on her finger.
Luckily, her prince came to the rescue, claiming that no one was trying to fill his mother's shoes. But despite William's assertion that Kate would "carve out her own path," comparisons between the two women are inevitable. So did William choose a wife that reminded him of his much-loved mother? Or are Diana and Kate as different as London and Manchester?
Let's look at the evidence, starting with their engagement interviews:
Prince Charles and Diana didn't know each other all that well when they gave their engagement interview. They hadn't even been together a year! Diana looked shy and deferred to Charles when asked questions. The couple also seemed too sedate and guarded to be giddy in love.
Kate and William look very comfortable—with each other and the interviewer—in their engagement interview. Kate's a natural conversationalist and she and William listen to each other and can't keep from smiling. William's charming and relatable. This love is TV-ready.
Diana's parents divorced when she was a young child and the resulting custody battle caused her much pain and anguish. According to CNN, divorce in the last 1960s in England was uncommon. It had a profound effect on Diana, who felt alienated from her classmates, especially since her father who was granted sole custody of Diana and her four siblings.
Kate hails from a far steadier family background than William's mother. In a time when divorce is much more common, they're still together and have been married for 31 years. Since Kate grew up with her parents' healthy relationship as a model, she may be better equipped for the ups and down of marriage.
Diana's childhood home was staffed with butlers and nannies, not to mention down the street from Queen Elizabeth II's Sandringham estate. Her father, a viscount, served the queen in the honored position of horse stable master, and the two families were friendly enough that Diana's future brothers-in-law—young Prince Andrew (Diana's teenage crush) and Prince Edward—would occasionally come over for a dip in the Spencer pool! When Diana became engaged to Charles, some people debated that the Spencers, whose ancestry and family money dates back to the 15th century, were more of a noble family than the Windsors, whose riches only date back to the 18th century.
Kate didn't grow up next to the queen, and neither did her parents. Her family is decidedly middle-class and title-less, much to the chagrin of some elitist Buckingham Palace staffers. Kate's parents, Michael and Carole, worked together as a team to build their (comparatively small) fortune. They met when they worked as a flight attendant and dispatcher, respectively, for British Airways. After they married, the couple started Party Pieces, a mail-order party supply company, that made them self-made millionaires. It's reported that someone at a Gloucester polo set said, "[Kate's] parents have a tarmac drive, for God's sake." Apparently, the upper classes prefer to ride on gravel. We're guessing Kate and William don't care.
Lady Diana Spencer wasn't much of a student. In fact, she failed her O-level exams twice. After dropping out of boarding school at the age of 16, Diana's father sent her to a finishing school in Switzerland, but she only lasted a few months there, as well. Diana knew she loved children, but didn't have the education to be a certified teacher. She assisted at a nursery school, but quit her job when she got married to Prince Charles.
Kate, on the other hand, excelled in her studies at boarding school and went on to attend St. Andrews University, where she studied art history and met Prince William. Kate will be the first British princess with a university education and she's also had a short career. She worked as an accessory buyer for the clothing chain Jigsaw and left after a year to pursue a career in photography. When teenage Prince William eschewed Cambridge and Oxford to study at St. Andrew, many thought he was making an attempt to have a more normal life. So it's not surprising that the prince also bypassed the aristocracy and picked a smart girl from a working-class background to be his girlfriend and future wife.
Part of Diana's mystique was how such a beautiful woman could be so humble and shy. She lacked the confidence that comes with life experience—Diana was engaged to Charles at the young age of 19 and had scarcely been out in the world.
At 28, Kate's older and more accomplished than Princess Di was during her engagement. She's completed a university degree and made a living on her own. Her husband-to-be is a catch, but Kate's on more equal footing with him. She doesn't need a man—royal or otherwise—to take care of her. Kate's faced the world with confidence, poise and even a little sass. According to the Daily Mail, "When one friend once remarked she was lucky to be with William, Kate reportedly quipped: 'He's lucky to be going out with me.' In contrast, in the early days of Diana's relationship with Charles, she ventured to say to one of his confidants: 'If I am lucky enough to be the Princess of Wales....'"
Lady Di wasn't a fashionista when she started dating Prince Charles. But in the spotlight, Princess Diana became a style icon. Kate's bound to have her outfits compared. So far, the fashion police approve looks that Diana originated and Kate has emulated, including red ski jackets, a bevy of hats, and Virgin Mary blue engagement dresses.
Kate's still her own woman, though. She's older and more confident that Diana, so we expect to see some bolder fashion choices. What might make the biggest statement: keeping her wardrobe casually elegant and maybe even forgoing designer clothing for something the rest of England might be able to afford.
Friends & Social Life
Princess Diana never got along with any of Prince Charles' friends and became "prickly" and "bored" in their presence. Many of Charles' mates reportedly felt that she and Charles were not a good match. She and Charles couldn't share a social circle, so they grew further and further apart as the marriage went on. Diana surrounded herself with celebrity friends and aristocracy, but felt isolated in her very public role.
Meanwhile, Kate has reportedly won over the "Throne Rangers," as Prince William's friends call themselves, with her happy nature and sense of discretion. Kate and William also have much more in common than Prince Charles and Di did, and share many mutual college friends from their St. Andrews days. Of course, there are reports that some of William's circle originally whispered "doors to manual" in reference to Kate's parents' early work at British Airways whenever she made an appearance. Still, the couple seems to know who their true friends are. Kate's especially close to her sister Pippa.
When Prince Charles and Diana became engaged in 1981, Di's uncle declared her a "bonafide virgin" to the British press. Still, there were many rumors that Diana had to undergo a "virginity test" as the palace was concerned about any former lovers who might sell sensational stories to the tabloids after the wedding.
Kate and William have lived together for the past few years, vacationed in romantic locales and first hooked up while they were college roommates. We doubt that anyone will be vouching for Miss Middleton's virginity when she walks down the aisle, and frankly, that's a good thing. Times are different. William was first attracted to Kate when she wore a see-through dress in a fashion show. For a 28-year-old not to have any sexual experience before marriage would be unsettling. Not to mention that no one's ever worried if a prince was pure when he tied the knot. Still, dating Prince William for nearly a decade has kept Kate out of the dating pool, so there probably won't be any surprise ex-lovers in her past.
Charles was 31 and under pressure to find a wife—after all, he was next in line for the throne—and 19-year-old Diana fit the bill. The couple only courted eight months before their wedding. During their engagement interview, Charles infamously answered the question of whether he was in love with Diana with "whatever in love means." Yikes! Many suspect that he was love…with Camilla Parker-Bowles, who'd been deemed an unsuitable partner.
Kate earned her nickname "Waitie" for dating Prince William nearly nine years before getting engaged at the age of 28. She'll be 29 when they finally marry, making her the oldest royal bride ever. William isn't under the same pressure as his father. He's still only second in line to the throne. And time is probably on the couple's side. They're almost the same age, so they can relate as peers. They've also had years to get to know themselves and each other. They've played house and learned to work through conflict. (Remember that brief breakup?) And they definitely seem to agree what "in love" means.