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Separated by a generation, Diana, Princess of Wales, and Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, have traveled many of the same paths and faced many of the same challenges. And even without Diana’s engagement ring on her finger, Kate would inevitably have faced comparisons to her mother in-law.
But they share as many differences as they do similarities.
“It is almost unfair to compare the two women because of the different roles that they are playing in the royal family,” said Marlene Eilers Koenig, author of “Queen Victoria’s Descendants” and writer of the blog Royal Musings. “Not only was Diana marrying a man, she was marrying a country. The pressure on Catherine is very different because she is not the wife of the heir to the throne, which comes with its own set of responsibilities.”
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After Diana’s wedding to Prince Charles in July 1981, she was given little time to settle down and get used to her new role. Royal duties and appearances piled up immediately. And with little training, the new princess was ill-prepared for the frenzy that awaited her.
She made her public speaking debut in October, three months after her wedding. The speech, given at Cardiff City Hall, was written by others and included a few sentences in Welsh. Prince Charles was there.
Kate’s podium debut in March revealed a poised and confident woman: The speech was short, and she wrote it herself. She delivered it solo, as William was deployed in the Falklands, and barely wavered. And though both women wore blue, that's where the similarities ended.
Diana struggled through that first year. Complicating her adjustment was how quickly she got pregnant, and the daily morning sickness she experienced at the beginning. Prince William was born in June 1982, only 11 months after his parents' wedding.
“Charles and Diana didn’t know each other nearly as well as William and Catherine, so they were trying to navigate their relationship with each other as well as with the public,” said Carolyn Harris, who writes the Royal Historian blog. “Diana needed to find her way as a wife, mother, and a royal in compressed period of time. It didn’t help that she was very charismatic, and there is evidence that Charles felt overshadowed to a certain extent.”
A year into marriage, as with many modern-day newlyweds, William and Kate haven't rushed into starting a family, despite the near-constant speculation in the press.
And Kate's relationship with her in-laws, by all outward appearances, has been a happy one. Over the past year, Kate has received guidance and support from the family. While William was away on military duty this year, she accompanied the queen, her stepmother in-law Camilla, and Prince Charles on several public engagements.
“Catherine exudes confidence and Diana, at the age of 20, didn’t know what confidence was,” said Koenig. “Diana also didn’t have her own family to support her, whereas Catherine comes from a solid family, making her a better candidate to succeed.”
But while they may have as many differences as similarities, the two women are similar in one major way: the public’s hunger to watch their every move. Their personal styles have been met with equal fascination, and Kate has made many a fashion choice that mimics Diana's.
Experts say that may be a coincidence.
“I don't think that Kate is trying to emulate Diana's style; I just think fashion is very cyclical,” said Gabriele Hackworthy, fashion director at Harper’s Bazaar. “Diana was such a unique character, and I think Kate really wants to carve her own path. She doesn't want to be compared to William's mum. She's much more independent, much more confident and wants to be her own person.”