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The possible face of the future Royal family

[Meredyth's London] BALL: Today has been a struggle. Twin a hangover, with four hours sleep and a full working day and usually you don't have a very happy Meredyth.

But I wouldn't turn back time for anything. Last night, I had the honour to be invited by a good friend to the Commissioning Ball at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.

Sandhurst for those who aren't aware is the British Army's military college where all potential officers (including Prince William and Harry) are trained.

Each year approximately 600 plus officers are turned out of what some former students call 'The Factory'. On Friday Prince William finished the course and commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the British Army.

For the majority of my working day I sat at my desk watching the footage come in of cadets in all their splendour on parade in front of the Queen or in William's case, in front of his gran.

The energy and the excitement of the newly commissioned officers ebbed off the screen as they finally reached the last day of their notoriously intensive and difficult 44 week course. The pride of the cadets and the families supporting them resonated unbounded.

But the focus was on the future Princess, Kate Middleton. At only 24 (the same age as me!) she's been thrust into the public spotlight and subject to unrelenting press speculation spanning everything from her dress sense to when she'll get engaged to William.

When they met at St Andrews in 2001, Marlborough educated Kate already had a boyfriend, Rupert Finch. But his fate was sealed after she and the Prince became flatmates with two other students in 2002 and became involved romantically the following year.

Her carefully planned and very public arrival at the Sandhurst ceremony confirmed for the first time after almost three years she and heir to the throne William are officially in the spotlight.

Yesterday, during the parade, she conducted herself with the grace and poise of a future royal. She was dressed in a fitted red winter coat, complimented by black suede boots and a wide rimmed raven black hat.

This morning's front pages have been dominated by photos of the 'lady in red' proudly watching William perform.

But for all her regal composure her 'normality' resonated - after all she is just a middle class girl, with a middle class background who has had the good fortune to meet a real Prince Charming.

A television broadcaster covering the event 'lip red' her comments spoken as William appeared in his smart 'Blues' uniform, 'I love the uniform it's so, so sexy'. And it must be said that standing tall at 6ft 3 in a tailored uniform - he cut a very fine figure.

Kate was accompanied by her parents to the event and they were seated in the front row, separate from the royal party which consisted of the Queen and Prince Philip, Charles and Camilla.

But if tabloid rumours are to be believed, she won't be separate from the royals for too much longer. It's being widely reported that Prince William and Ms Middleton are already engaged and will formally announce their plans in the New Year with a marriage ceremony potentially taking place as soon as next summer.

The importance of her invitation was further underlined by the contrasting treatment given to Prince Harry's girlfriend Chelsy Davy on the day he passed out of the Surrey academy in April. During his parade, 21-year-old Chelsy was nowhere to be seen -instead treating herself to a session at the hairdressers.

Last night a Royal source said: "In many ways this was a significant day for William and Kate. Everyone knows they are a serious item, but this is, if you like, the first time they have allowed it to be put on public display.

"William was very keen to have Kate at his passing out ceremony. They spent a lot of time thinking about what should happen and how they would pull it off. Given that it comes at a time when speculation about an engagement is at an all-time high, it seems Prince William feels ready to send out a clear message."

And there may indeed be weight behind these remarks for a number of reasons.

It's the first occasion that Ms Middleton has been Prince William's guest at a high-profile public event that is also attended by the Queen and other senior royals and this Christmas, Kate will be the first 'non-royal' 'non-married' partner to be invited to the Sandringham festivities to stay with the main party and she's also reportedly had a number of intimate lunch meetings with the Queen.

And perhaps also more importantly, the couple appear to be very much in love and committed to one another. At the ball last night, although making every effort to be 'low key' they were inseparable.

They're body language spoke of their ease with one another and William's natural desire to care and protect his partner. I watched as he led her through the crowds, making sure that she wasn't knocked by fellow revellers.

At midnight last night, I was celebrating the commission of my friend so wasn't with the royal couple, if I had been I probably would have swiftly been picked up as a stalker or crazed fan but I should imagine, they watched the fantastic fireworks that illuminated the sky around Old College with the same awe and wonder that the rest of us did.

I'm sure when William removed the cloth covering his pips (symbolising his official beginning as an army officer), he experienced the same surge of pride, relief and excitement as the other 200 plus young men and women standing on that square.

So the next year for both William and Kate could be extremely busy. Prince William is now officially a 2nd Lieutenant in the Household Cavalry's Blues and Royals.

He'll now be heading off to Bovington Camp in Dorset for a four month course to train as a troop commander in an armoured reconnaissance unit. The same course his younger brother, Harry undertook earlier in the year.

Major General Sebastian Roberts, general officer commanding the Household Division and Prince William's new boss, indicated it was possible that the prince could be deployed to a conflict zone. "Of course there are special factors for William, but nothing should be ruled in or out."

He added that the prince had done "very well" during his military training. Unlike Prince Harry who will continue as a "career soldier", Prince William will go on to spend time with both the RAF and the Royal Navy on familiarisation attachments to prepare him for his future role. He will increasingly carry out public engagements in parallel to his military career.

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