When Prince William and Kate Middleton announced their engagement in November, Middleton showed off the blue sapphire and diamond ring that once belonged to William's beloved mother, Princess Diana. Since then, it has been almost impossible to avoid the inevitable comparisons between the princess-to-be and the "people's princess."
"The ring is the symbol of Diana and a profound acknowledgement of her place in William's life and William's future," said Andrew Morton, author of "Diana: Her True Story." "But Kate's challenge is to define herself apart from Diana and to be her own princess."
Just like Princess Diana, Middleton is a beautiful, stylish woman who has the ability to capture the hearts of everyday people. Unlike Princess Diana, however, Middleton is being groomed for the royal spotlight by Buckingham Palace, learning how to navigate her new world every time she steps out her front door.
Tune in to a Barbara Walters special, "The Royal Wedding: A Modern Fairy Tale," Monday, April 18 at 10 p.m. ET.
"I think when it became apparent at St. Andrews that this was a relationship that was going to last, the palace sat up and took notice," said Katie Nicholl, columnist and author of "William and Harry." "Knowing the mistakes that had been made with Diana in the past, they decided they wanted to start an unofficial, very informal training program."
Middleton's training seems to be working, courtesy of a more media-savvy monarchy. Middleton is the first royal bride of the digital age whose every step can potentially be recorded and posted endlessly on the Internet. So far, Middleton hasn't had any missteps. But certain parts of her royal preparation have even surprised her.
"One of the most unusual things I was told, and something that Kate found creepy, was that the palace advised her to watch footage of Princess Diana," Nicholl said. "Just simple things like keeping your legs together when you got out of a car, not rising to the chants of the paparazzi, who might be trying to deliberately upset you. This was their way of helping her."
The stiff upper lip of the pre-Diana monarchy has softened. The palace has learned many lessons since Princess Diana's death that gave Middleton a good head start.
A Modern Royal Family
"When you look at the royal family today, after Diana's death, it's a far more relaxed institution than it once was and, if anything, they've learned one central lesson from Diana's death and that is, do not force someone to marry someone they don't want to," author Morton said.
Middleton is the first commoner in 350 years to marry a potential future king, which doesn't seem to bother this more modern royal family.
"The House of Windsor has been scarred by so many marital discords and so much divorce that the queen and the Duke of Edinburgh just wanted Prince William to be happy," Nicholl said.
Middleton is also the first royal bride to have a four-year college education and the first one to live with her husband before marriage.
"This is a new generation of the royal family," Nicholl said. "I think they've just accepted that times have changed."
When Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer in 1981, she was 13 years his junior and they had only met 13 times before their engagement. The media immediately pounced on the very young, very vulnerable new bride.
The palace has learned from that, too. William and Middleton dated for eight years and their love blossomed over time without constant media scrutiny.
"Kate has had time to get used to this and these last eight years have been about falling in love with Prince William, getting to know him, getting to know what it's going to be like to be married to the future king," Nicholl said.
At 29, Middleton is older, confident and has the support of not just Prince William but of her new in-laws. She understands the expectations of a princess. Perhaps Middleton will have less rigorous demands initially than Princess Diana, which should allow her even more time to settle into her new role.
"I think she will find the transition far more relaxed than it was for Diana because the expectation on her will not be as great," Morton said. "William will be working as a helicopter pilot and will not be doing full-time royal engagements so they will be able to dip in and out of the public arena, in a way that Diana was never able to do."
Kate Middleton to Face Royal Pressure
Middleton will come under tremendous pressure becoming the newest member of the royal family but, this time around, royal watchers say, the princess will be in a better position to handle all that comes her way.
"The royal family are a tough outfit and Kate will have the ghost of Diana to contend with," Morton said. "At some point -- it won't be this year and it won't be next year -- but in the future, she will define herself, as her own royal, in her own way."
For more on the lessons Middleton has learning from Princess Diana, tune in to a Barbara Walters special, "The Royal Wedding: A Modern Fairy Tale," April 18 at 10 p.m. ET.