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AP
An upwardly mobile, 3-year-old Kate Middleton on vacation in England's Lake District.
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updated 3/8/2011 6:57:45 AM ET 2011-03-08T11:57:45

It's impossible not to like the new childhood pictures of Kate Middleton — and that's just how Buckingham Palace wants it.

Whether she is frolicking outdoors at age three, flashing a winning smile at five, hugging a jubilant boyfriend — Prince William — on their joint graduation day, Britain's future queen is an irresistible lassie.

Thousands of newspapers, TV stations and websites around the world immediately flashed the pictures moments after they appeared Monday on the official royal wedding site set up by Prince Charles' press team. You couldn't miss them even if you tried.

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In times gone by, monarchs rose or fell on the strength of their armies and navies, but today — when constitutional monarchies like the House of Windsor depend on public goodwill — they need positive press coverage to build support with the masses.

Enter Operation Kate — the release of adorable family photos to an image-hungry global press corps. It's part of a sophisticated effort by the royal family to generate favorable coverage about the big event — and experts say so far it's working.

"The royals don't always get it right to start with," said royal historian Hugo Vickers. "They tend to be either behind the curve or ahead of it, but at the moment I think they're getting it absolutely right."

Queen Elizabeth II has often shown media savvy — it was at her request that her 1953 coronation was televised, a groundbreaking use of new technology that gave adoring Britons and much of the world a positive image of the country's youthful queen. Prince Charles' press operation also makes extensive use of Twitter and Facebook in a bid to reach younger people and shake his staid image.

"The royal family has embraced social media with real enthusiasm," Vickers said. "By using Twitter and Facebook, they are able to bypass journalists who sometimes have the unfortunate habit of putting a spin on things that the royals may not like."

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But the perpetual tug-of-war with the press cuts both ways — just ask Prince Andrew, currently being skewered for his embarrassingly close ties to a billionaire U.S. pedophile who has also helped Andrew's ex-wife, Sarah Ferguson, pay off some of her personal debts.

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No amount of media-spinning — or cute photos — can change the damning tone of the coverage of Andrew's and Sarah's links to a sex offender.

AP
Kate Middleton, aged five. Five images from the Middleton family album were released on the official royal wedding website on Monday.

In the past, both the queen and Charles were outfoxed by the late Princess Diana, who was a master at generating public sympathy by giving lengthy televised interviews that detailed her harsh treatment as a newcomer to "The Firm", as the royal family is known.

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The queen was seen by many as insensitive and slow in her measured response to Diana's death. The media and the public wanted an immediate show of emotion from a monarch trained for decades to keep a rigid upper lip — and a woman who probably didn't care much for her ex-daughter-in-law anyway.

That low point in the queen's relations to her subjects was captured in the movie "The Queen."

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This year's Academy Award-winning "The King's Speech" dealt with an even earlier royal mass communications problem: King George VI's speech impediment that made it difficult for him to speak effectively during a time of crisis.

Monday's release of photos and information is designed to make Middleton's storybook life seem more accessible, but it is not damage control. Middleton's image does not need repair. She is already popular — her recent appearances with William have been quite successful, and she has shown an easy touch when relating to the public.

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The photos released Monday from the Middleton family album simply show a picture-perfect princess in the making: a pigtailed toddler, a smiling child, a family vacation shot and a healthy, wholesome beauty graduating from the University of St. Andrew's in Scotland.

The palace photo package also included an official Middleton mini-biography laced with deep insights into the woman-who-would-be-queen, including that she likes to sail and enjoys going for walks.

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The royals' newly minted wedding site has already attracted nearly 2 million hits since it launched last week. Palace press aides know the Middleton photos will be used again and again in the run-up to the wedding — and for years to come.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Kate Middleton’s spot-on princess style

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  1. Princess style

    On the left, Princess Diana wore an elegant pink gown to the opera in Milan in 1985. Kate Middleton chose the same color halter dress for a Starlight Children's Foundation event in 2008.

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    Kate Gosselin’s Style Evolution (Jayne Fincher/Getty; Davidson/O'Neill/Rex via InStyle.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Whimsical hats

    Princess Anne of England matched a fun orange hat to her suit at the Ascot Racecourse in 2009, the same year Kate paired a matching hat with her lavender coat at the wedding of a British aristocrat. (Samir Hussein/WireImage; Indigo/Getty via InStyle.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Equestrian chic

    Princess Charlotte Casiraghi of Monaco looked ready to ride in 2003 at the International Horse Jumping Show. Kate Middleton went for a similar look with tall riding boots and a crisp white skirt in 2007 at the Badminton Horse Trials.

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    Kate Gosselin’s Style Evolution (Bruno Bebert/Rex; Rex USA InStyle.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Classic coats

    Princess Caroline of Monaco looked chic in a classic trench in London in 1973. The same style still looked fresh on Kate Middleton in 2008 as she watched Prince William receive his military pilot's wings. (Popperfoto/Getty; Michael Dunlea/AP via InStyle.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Holiday wear

    Princess Diana wore a red coat and black hat on Christmas Day in 1993. Kate wore the same winning combination during the 2006 holidays.

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    Kate Gosselin’s Style Evolution (Tim Graham Picture Library/Getty; Anwar Hussein Collection/ROTA/WireImage Photos via InStyle.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Royal blues

    Crown Princess Mary of Denmark looked elegant in a teal gown at a birthday celebration. Kate Middleton looked equally regal in a blue halter at a charity gala in 2006. (Tim Rooke/Rex; JPI via InStyle.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Black and white

    Princess Diana dressed in a chic black and white skirt suit at Royal Albert Hall in 1990. Kate dressed similarly to receive her diploma from the University of St. Andrews in 2005.

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    Kate Gosselin’s Style Evolution (Tim Graham/Getty; Michael Dunlea/Getty via InStyle.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Feathered hats

    Princess Diana wore a feathered hat for outing in Pembrokeshire in 1981, while Kate Middleton wore an almost-identical one to a wedding in 2006. (Jayne Fincher/Getty; Tim Graham/Getty via InStyle.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Metallic gowns

    Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden wore a beautiful bronze silk gown to a banquet for the Danish Royals in 2007. Kate opted for an elegant chrome-colored gown for the annual Starlight Children's Foundation event in 2009.

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    Kate Gosselin’s Style Evolution (Tim Rooke/Rex; Alan Davidson/Rex via InStyle.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Feminine florals

    Queen Rania of Jordan chose a delicate floral dress for a Royal Military Academy parade in 2006. In 2007, Kate Middleton wore a similar carefree look on a walk through West London. (MJ Kim/Getty; Ramey Photo via InStyle.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Fur hats

    Princess Marie Chantal of Greece wore a luxurious fur hat to the wedding of the Dutch Crown Princess in 2002. In 2006, Kate kept warm in a fur hat at the Cheltenham Races.

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    Kate Gosselin’s Style Evolution (UK Press/Getty; Tim Graham/Getty via InStyle.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Polka dots

    Princess Diana looked glamorous in a red polka-dot dress at the premiere of "For Your Eyes Only" in 1981. Kate Middleton dazzled in the same pattern at the Chakravarty Polo Match in 2006. (Tim Graham/Getty; Rex via InStyle.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Menswear

    Princess Diana went shopping at Harvey Nichols in 1995 wearing an understated neutral pant paired with a blazer. Kate Middleton dressed almost identically 10 years later out and about in London.

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    Kate Gosselin’s Style Evolution (Rex USA (2) via InStyle.com) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image:
    Jayne Fincher/Getty; Davidson/O'Neill/Rex via InStyle.com
    Above: Slideshow (13) Kate Middleton’s princess style
  2. Mario Testino / Art Partner
    Slideshow (27) A royal couple’s long courtship

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