Kate Middleton may be the world's best-known enigma. Instantly recognizable from her nine-year relationship and recent engagement to Britain's Prince William, and the subject of endless gossip, she says almost nothing in public and has mastered a Cheshire smile that masks her private thoughts.
But one of the few who has been close to her is royal photographer Chris Jackson, who has been with the princess-to-be at iconic moments, including her November engagement. He spoke to StyleList about the transformation in Middleton that he has witnessed firsthand.
"Kate was shy and nervous at the first public appearance during the announcement of the royal engagement," Jackson said. "Since then, the coaching and advice has paid off. When the couple stepped out into the limelight in North Wales during Kate's first official appearance, she exuded a newfound confidence. Kate looked stunning and she was ready to make great pictures."
"She seamlessly held conversations while occasionally looking towards the photographers and flashing a smile. This is exactly what we need to take a great picture. Kate's willingness to give media the opportunity to take some candid shots is rare in the royal family and a breath of fresh air," he said.
"She seemed at ease with the public -- chatting away, shaking hands almost for too long. There were even a few times William would be ahead of her, eager to move on. The couple would share knowing smiles and intimate glances. Something you just can't fake, and I think people really respond to their obvious adoration of each other."
As a man who makes a living selling pictures, Jackson is of course well aware of Middleton's role as a freshly minted fashion icon. "She has this amazing style ... (and) I think it's a difficult line to tread," he said. "You have to wear the appropriate clothing. She is royal and she can't wear anything too outrageous. She can't show too much cleavage or have too short a skirt, and developing her style within those constraints must be quite different."
Jackson remarked that at the couple's engagement announcement in November last year, "It was the first time that a lot of people had heard her voice. Everyone said it was quite weird, because you've just seen all these pictures of this woman and you've never heard her say anything, and that was a bit of a shock. People, myself included, thought she would sound somehow different or 'special.' In actuality, she sounded just like any of my friends. Her voice wavered slightly with nerves and her accent was apparent but not over the top. Interestingly enough, Kate hasn't spoken in public since then."
The wedding of the year is scheduled to take place April 29, and Jackson will be there.
"Everyone's really excited about it," he said. "Obviously it's been a really exciting month and the buildup. For the actual wedding, I'll be just outside the front of Westminster Abbey, so I'll get to see them when they arrive and when they come out as a married couple. I sort of thought that's a pretty good spot. It's really important to get nice full-length pictures of Kate and William as they come out of the chapel."
But Jackson's assignment won't end once the wedding cake is cut. For a small army of journalists just like him, the future princess and queen will be a lifetime assignment.
"I think it is great, as Kate is an injection of glamour and excitement to the job," he said. "She has focused the world's attention on the U.K. royal family, making them the headline story. For any photographer, this is a huge buzz. We have at least a year of 'Kate firsts' to look forward to as she is welcomed into the life of a full-time royal: her first state dinner, the tiara shot. Further into the future, we have pregnancies and babies. The royal story is really an exciting place to be at the moment, and this is all due to Kate."