Queen's gift list features everything from llamas to dog beds

Queen Elizabeth
Queen Elizabeth, seen here greeting the public during a visit to the Royal Commonwealth Society in November, received hundreds of gifts, small and large, during her Diamond Jubilee year. (Getty Images)

It's always nice to receive presents, but -- as one might suspect -- it gets to wild and wacky proportions when you're the Queen. Especially during a Diamond Jubilee year.

As is its duty, Buckingham Palace has released a long list of gifts given to members of Royal Family in 2012, everything from exotic animals to tea towels to Tiffany jewellry.

The Queen's bounty includes 436 books, 235 CDs and DVDs, 81 pieces of embroidery or knitting and 19 tea towels. And just in case she needs them --  78 portraits of herself.

Small stuff mostly, which, if not used by the Royal Family (for which they would pay tax), ends up as part of the Royal Household collection or given to charity.

Among the interesting items:

► Dog bed in the shape of a crown

► Tea cosy with knitted images of the Queen and her corgis.

► Honorary ownership of a baby llama

► Adoption papers for a baby elephant

► Two thrones made of willow and a third of Chinese enamel

► Lego model of the Tower Bridge

► 1950s Tiffany silver compact from Barack and Michelle Obama

► Gold, silver and bronze Olympic medal set from the International Olympic Committee

Prince Philip also received his share of nice presents, from six bottles of wine to a pair of Swarovski binoculars to a gold sword to a salad bowl. Mustn't forget the hologram of the prince driving his ponies.

Prince Edward and his wife Sophie, Countess of Wessex had a decent haul, including jewels from Kuwait and two feather headdresses from Trinidad and Tobago. Their list also included a CD on good manners from a member of the public in Canada and a box of Cadbury Fingers.

The 2012 gift list for Prince Charles, Prince William and Kate, and Prince Harry is released separately from Clarence House.


Princess car
Princesses Beatrice, left and Eugenie pose next to a Mini in front of Brandenburg Gate as they promote the GREAT initiative in Berlin on Thursday. (Getty Images)

Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie don't often get the spotlight to themselves amid their more famous Royal Family relatives, but they looked quite comfortable in their ambassador roles Thursday in Berlin.

SistersBut they won't get any points for their driving.

The daughters of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson are Germany as part of the GREAT campaign to promote UK trade and tourism. Even better for the British taxpayer, dad is picking up the two-day travel tab.

The sisters started at the Brandenburg Gate, climbing into their Union Jack-adorned Mini for a trip to the British Embassy. Perhaps feeling the media heat of the moment, Princess Eugenie was at the wheel when she ran a red light near the famous landmark on the 500-metre trip to the embassy. Police were on scene, but didn't press the point.

After all, this is all about photo-ops and the young royals seem very obliging on that score, but the trip is seen by some as nothing more than a stage for launching some kind of public presence for Andrew's kids. They are not tasked with performing royal duties, but their father is keen to make sure they get some share of the limelight as the fifth and sixth in line for the throne.

Writing in the Telegraph, royal watcher Cathy Newman says her sources indicate that this trip is more about promoting royals than trade. One government source told her: “You have to understand with the Royals: they do exactly what they like.” With Prince Andrew, the situation is "totally uncontrolled."

Politics aside, the princesses are putting on the charm for this trip, and they appear to be good at it. And while they don't attract the attention like Kate, they clearly have their own sense of style and are camera friendly. Princess Beatrice looked especially smart in green silk dress by Jonathon Saunders.

Eugenie and kids
Princess Eugenie meets pupils at the British School in Berlin on Thursday. She and sister Beatrice are in Berlin supporting the government's GREAT initiative, promoting the UK abroad. (Getty Images)

Princess Eugenie is at the controls while her sister Beatrice looks on during their visit to the e-commerce company 'Zalando' in Berlin. (Getty Images)

Princess Beatrice digs into the school supplies as she helps out a pupil during a visit to the British School in Berlin. (Getty Images)

Beatrice, left, and Eugenie pose for photographers at the British Ambassador's residence on Thursday in Berlin. The royal sisters will visit Hanover on Friday as part of this two-day trip. (Getty Images)


Pippa becomes a target after joining Belgian hunt

PippaIt has been rough enough for Pippa Middleton with the book critics savaging her. Now it's animal rights groups.

The Duchess of Cambridge's younger sister is suffering some backlash over a report in a Belgian newspaper, La Capitale, that detailed a hunting trip Pippa was on Dec. 1 in Gerpinnes, Belgium. It took place in woods owned by the country's richest man, Albert Frère, and was organized by his grandsons.

There were 20 people in the hunting party, the paper said, and the day's bounty totalled six boars and nine deer. There was no word if she was involved directly in any of the kills.

It's all perfectly legal, but it did not sit well with animal groups like British-based Viva! (Vegetarians International Voice for Animals).

"It's a shame she's so desperate to be royal by association that she is now seemingly aping their hunting bloodlust," spokesman Justin Kerswell told the Sun in London. "There is nothing classy about shooting terrified wild animals for sport."

The League Against Cruel Sports also chimed in: "It's sad to see someone in such an influential position indulging in this cruelty."

Pippa is no stranger to hunting, having bagged her share of pheasant and grouse, and is reportedly a good shot. She also has been pretty good at hitting the bull's-eye with invitations of all sorts from her wealthy friends, though it's unclear how she came to enter the circle of Belgian aristocracy.

It was probably at least a distraction from trying to help her publisher unburden itself from the unsold copies of her party-planning book "Celebrate."

According to La Capitale, Pippa was almost incognito during the hunt -- dressed in a "khaki tracksuit" that hid her "mythical bottom" -- though the paper cites three sources confirming she was there. When she was being introduced to her hunting mates, she apparently was using her full name, Philippa.

"I shook her hand. But at that moment I didn't recognize her," one hunter told the paper. "Afterwards a friend teased me, saying 'what, you didn't recognize Pippa?'"

The Frère family would not confirm the story, saying only that "hunting is a private matter."


With the Queen's Diamond Jubilee out of the way, Prince William can get started on celebrating what really matters in England -- soccer. Or 'football' for the non-North American purists.

William, as president of the Football Association since 2006, helped kick off the FA's 150th year on Wednesday with a video salute to the hundreds of thousands of volunteers, coaches and referees who keep the sport kicking at the grassroots level.

William, whose favourite pro team is Aston Villa, even managed to squeeze Kate into his video:



When you get 200-300 letters a day -- and that's just the ones the mailman delivers -- it's not hard to fall behind in your correspondence.

StampQueen Elizabeth -- or Buckingham Palace anyway -- needs some more help in this department, hence a job ad for an "assistant correspondence officer" on the palace website.

The Queen reads a selection of mail, but much of it is handled by an unpaid 'lady-in-waiting' or her Private Secretary's office, according to the palace.

The job's is for six months and would pay about $16,000. For that, you count and sort the mail, answer letters using "standard and bespoke replies" and log everything into a database.

Among the qualities needed is remaining "calm under pressure" while using your ability to "read and digest a large number of letters in a short space of time."


Monaco royals accept apology and libel damages over false story about marriage

Princess Charlene and Prince Albert  leave the Prince's Palace after the wedding ceremony in Monaco on July 2, 2011. Celebrations including concerts and firework displays were held across several days, attended by a guest list of global celebrities and heads of state. (Reuters)

Prince Albert has finally received some measure of justice in his battle to fix the damage caused by stories that declared Charlene Wittstock wanted to get out marriage to him and even attempted to flee the country just days before their royal wedding in Monaco.

In a London court Tuesday, the Sunday Times apologized for its story and agreed to legal costs and pay unspecified damages. Prince Albert and Princess Charlene, who accepted the terms, had been seeking about $475,000 in the suit filed last May.

PalaceThe story was published just a day after the couple's lavish July 2011 wedding (right). In it, the London paper said Wittstock had tried to get out of the wedding when she learned that the prince had fathered a previously unknown third love child. The article stated that he had her passport confiscated to prevent her from leaving the country and, in the end, promised her money if she went through with the marriage.

"None of these allegations are true," Prince Albert's lawyer Mark Thomson told the court.

The Sunday Times, through its lawyer Rupert Earle, offered "its sincere apologies to the claimants for the damage, as well as the distress caused."

Under the heading "The full filthy Monte," the article had also alleged that Prince Albert had done nothing to stop corruption among his courtiers, or the "activities of mobsters and money launderers in the principality."

It further said that the prince gave residency status to foreigners in exchange for their silence about his love life.

In the weeks and months following the 54-year-old Prince's marriage to Wittstock, 32, the allegations about the 'runaway bride' caused "enormous upset and embarrassment," said Thomson.

The newlyweds spent much of their first year of marriage trying to get out from under the shadow of suspicion that their marriage was a fraud. They even appeared on the 'Today' show to combat the rumours.

"Why would he go through all this effort to have this fantastic couple of days, to have our most intimate dearest friends come join us, for us to be reluctant?" Wittstock, a former Olympic swimmer from South Africa, said at the time. "It sounded a bit delirious."

Prince Albert said the stories were the result of people who were "envious or did not like the fact that we were finally … together and marrying."

Pope Benedict XVI exchanges gifts with Prince Albert and Princess Charlene during a private audience at his library on Jan. 12, 2013 in Vatican City. (Getty Images)

Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie wave the flag -- in economy class

Beatrice and eugenieThe British government is digging deep into its royals pocket to sell itself to other countries.

What they've pulled out is the sister act of Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie, a surprise tandem considering they are seldom called upon for royal duty.

Still, they are officially fifth and sixth in line for the throne as Prince Andrew's daughters, which is good enough for 10 Downing St. In their first foray into the international arena, the siblings are headed to Germany this week, where they will tool around in a Union Jack-covered Mini as part of Britain's GREAT campaign to drum up trade and tourism.

"They are young, interesting and cool and this particular event has a young, fashionable flavour," said a spokesman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. "We are delighted they are taking part."

Even better for the government, Prince Andrew is paying for the two-day trip himself -- taking the commoner approach and flying the girls via economy class, according to the Daily Mail. The Prince himself resigned as a UK special trade ambassador last year after revelations of lavish travel spending and some questionable friendships.

MiniHis daughters' duties with the trade delegation include driving the splashy Mini, right, through Berlin, attending a fashion show featuring British brands, and visiting several shops. A side trip to Hanover will see them at the re-opening of Herrenhausen Palace.

Beatrice1The young women, 22 and 24, are known more for their hats than their diplomacy.

Princess Beatrice, right, gained international attention at Will and Kate's wedding for her outlandish Philip Treacy hat. She turned that into a positive in a charity auction for the hat that netted $128,000.

She has since landed a venture capital job in London. Younger sister Eugenie is looking for work after graduating from university last year. They share a four-bedroom apartment at St. James's Palace with Prince Andrew paying the rent.

They are not full-time working royals, so they don't lean on the public purse, though they do participate in many royal activities. "They are obviously always keen to help the UK whenever they can," a Buckingham Palace spokesperson said. "This was something they were asked to do by Downing Street. It was something they were delighted to do."


Prince Harry -- surprise, surprise -- is one of the world's most eligible bachelors. According to the Town & Country magazine, in fact, he's right at the top of the list.

Harry"He's the wild-card royal, the naughty one, the one who goes out with rah women, hangs out with a fast crowd, downs too many drinks, and goes home at the wrong moment," the magazine intones in its list the world's top 40 bachelors this month. "That's why we all like him best."

"Harry might not possess a towering intellect ... but he is cooler and more appealing than his older brother, sweet as William undoubtedly is."

Harry, 28, who has publically wondered about finding a woman who is up for the challenge of royal life, is currently linked to model Cressida Bonas. The burning question is whether that relationship has survived the four-month separation forced by Harry's deployment to Afghanistan as an Apache helicopter pilot for UK forces.

Town & Country's list includes most of the usual suspects, including several other royals. Below, from left, they are Prince Philippos of Greece and Denmark (age 26), Prince Carl Philip of Sweden (33), Prince Amedeo of Belgium (26) and Pierre Casiraghi of Monaco (25).



It didn't take long for the tech artists to dip their keyboards into the virtual paint and come up with their own version of a Duchess of Cambridge portrait.

Kate portraitThe painting by Paul Emsley was unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery last week and received mixed reviews, many complaining that it made her look dour and older. Still, our own completely unscientific poll suggest the majority were okay with the artistic intrepretation.

The duchess is a patron of the gallery and the portrait was a gift from retired art dealer Sir Hugh Leggatt.

"He wanted to commission this image of her before the full weight of responsibilities of state and motherhood descended on her -- and as it turned out, just in time," Art Fund director Stephen Deuchar told the Guardian.

That didn't stop others from creating their own intrepretation of Emsley's canvas.

Below are three of the versions making the rounds. From left, Kate as Vigo the Carpathian from 'Ghostbusters 2,' Kate from her Mr. Bean days, and the Joker version from 'The Dark Knight.




Will and Kate's July baby has plenty of birthday company

Prince William and his wife Kate are seen during their visit to St. George's Park in Staffordshire on Oct. 9. (AP Photo)

It’s going to be another hectic summer for Will and Kate.

Between the Olympics, Diamond Jubilee and a royal tour, it’s a wonder they even had time to initiate family plans this past summer.

But they did, and the official word from St. James’s Palace is that all is well health-wise and the third in line for the throne (behind Charles and William) is due to make an entrance in July, just in time for the royal couple’s move to Kensington Palace and a likely ramping up of Prince William’s royal duties. Despite speculation, it is a solo birth ... no twins.

CamillaWith the Duchess of Cambridge safely into her second trimester, the real guessing games can begin. And judging from online chatter, maybe the best way to approach it the topic is an old-fashioned FAQ:  

When’s the actual due date?

If we assume that Kate has passed the 14-week threshold, she would be due mid-July. That would put the forthcoming heir in the birthday company of several royals, including the step-grandma, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall (right), who turns 66 on July 17. That day is, in fact, the most popular for betting houses at 4-1 odds. There’s all kinds of irony in that, considering the matrimonial history of William’s parents and the birthday of his late mother, Princess Diana, falling on July 1.

Charlotte Casiraghi1Other royals in the potential birthday vicinity are Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden (July 14, 1977), Crown Prince Haakon of Norway (July 20, 1973) and Princess Alexandra of Hanover (July 20, 1999). If estimates are off by a few weeks, the little one could land close to Gucci amabassador and princess, Charlotte Casiraghi of Monaco (Aug. 3, 1986, right photo) or even to one of William’s cousins -- Princess Beatrice (Aug. 8, 1988). If the baby is early, it could be a joint celebration with its dad’s birthday on June 21.

Of course, for the celebrity chasers, the big question will be if Kate beats Kim Kardashian to the birthing room. KK is due around the same time.

When was the child conceived?

It’s nobody’s business, of course, but that hasn’t stopped the guessing games from every corner of the web world. At first, many thought it must have been during one of those romantic stops on Will and Kate’s south seas tour in September. Germany’s Bild newspaper pinned it to the Solomon Islands. The Daily Mail in London, though, figures the key dates were Oct. 8-11. That was a busy week for couple, including visiting scholarship students and opening a new national soccer training centre. Kate then went on a solo visit to Newcastle while William attended the funeral of his former nanny.

What will be the name?

The royals typically reach into their bag of ancestors for this. The betting favorites, if it’s a boy, are George and Charles. For a girl, it’s Victoria, Elizabeth and -- in memory of William’s mother -- Diana. In either case, the baby will have a royal title of Prince or Princess.

HospitalWhere will the baby be born?

Most certainly in a hospital. The most mentioned are St. Mary’s, where Prince William and Harry were born (right), and King Edward VII, where Kate was treated last month for acute morning sickness.

Royals giving birth in hospital is still a rather recent trend. All of the Queen’s children were born at Buckingham Palace and William is the first direct heir to be born in one.

The bookies are taking bets on anything and everything about the birth, from method (natural or Caesarian), to hair colour (brown’s the favourite), to weight, to which magazine might get the first exclusive photos (Hello’s the top choice).

This child had better appreciate the relative peace and quiet of the womb. It's going to be a heckuva ride once it's out.


Will and Kate looking for a super housekeeper

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge need help. Really.

516327839In spite of their unstated vow to keep life simple for themselves, the complications of royal life are forcing their hand to expand their small circle of staff. And there will be plenty to do.

An internal posting at Buckingham Palace, as revealed by the Sunday Express, has the royal couple looking for a housekeeper at Kensington Palace, where they currently stay in a one-bedroom cottage. They will be moving to much more luxurious and spacious (20 rooms) surroundings at the Palace in the summer.

Getting in on the ground floor, so to speak, with Will and Kate sounds enticing, but the job won't allow for much time chit-chatting with the boss.

According to the ad, duties include "ensuring all areas of the residence are cleaned and maintained to a high standard at all times. Caring for and maintaining TRH ­personal clothing, cleaning silverware and glassware and in-house laundry.”

Can't forget walking their dog Lupo, running to the store when needed and whipping up a meal every now and then.

The Express says one insider calls the proposal "unprecedented."

"It is unheard of for one person to be asked to perform so many duties," quotes the paper. "Clearly the Duke and Duchess are going to get their money’s worth out of whoever gets the job. About 15 people have already applied despite everyone wondering how anyone will be able to carry out all these duties in just 37 hours a week."

Well, the chosen one won't have to worry about that. The ad apparently says they'll be required to work extra hours, too.

By royal standards, Will and Kate are low maintenance right now, with a small office staff. Kate has an assistant, but does her own makeup and, mostly, her own hair. But, as anyone with a family knows, a baby changes the equation dramatically. Throw in a full-time schedule of royal duties and a rumoured 10-bedroom country estate at Sandringham, and the payroll is bound to rise.


At 86, it's expected the Queen might have a little trouble getting going in the morning. But she certainly expects her Bentley to.

Gpctbaz3The Queen's weekly trek to St. Mary Magdalene church on her Sandringham estate ended on humorous note Sunday. After the service, the monarch stood close to her specially-outfitted car as the increasing-frustrated chauffeur tried to start it.

Six times, he tried to crank the 6.75-litre V8 engine into its delicate purr. Nothing.

"I have never known anything like this happen before," long-time post-church royal fan Mary Relph told the Telegraph.

At least the Queen seemed to be getting a chuckle out of it.

On the seventh try, the Bentley started. "When it did, the Queen said, 'Don't stop it, don't stop it'. I think she must have been worried that it might conk out again," said Relph, one of about 150 people who came out to see the Queen in 3-degree (C) weather.

Back on duty, the 10-year-old Bentley dutifully made its way the short distance back to Sandringham.

Prince Philip never has to worry about this stuff. He walks to church.










Duchess Kate 'thrilled,' but others less kind as official portrait unveiled

Kate portrait

Maybe it's the eyes. Or the slight smirk.

There is definitely something about the official Duchess of Cambridge portrait, unveiled Friday at the National Portrait Gallery, that just doesn't look right.

Maybe the expectations for Paul Emsley's work were a little high, but that made little difference for critics who weighed in.

Kate artistThe Daily Mail art critic called it "rotten."

The Sunday Times art critic said it looked "nothing like Kate in real life."

Some comments from Guardian readers included: "Dear god. They've aged her 20 years"; and "I have to stop looking at it now because it's giving me the major creeps."

Times art critic Waldemar Januszczak complained that the "pretty ordinary" portrait "made her look older than she is and her eyes don't sparkle in the way that they do and there's something rather dour about the face."

The Telegraph critic, Mark Hudson, said Emsley "has produced what looks like a piece of mawkish book illustration, a work that could be read as an almost comical pastiche of a certain kind of ‘sensitive’ painting -- that might pass muster on the cover of a Catherine Cookson novel, but will hardly bear sustained scrutiny in a major art gallery."

Kate, though, was apparently "thrilled" with the portrait by the artist that she chose. She posed for the painting in two sittings in May and June.

"It's just amazing, I thought it was brilliant," she said.

Her husband, Prince William, was equally entralled.

"It's beautiful, it's absolutely beautiful," he said.

The artist explained that the because the duchess's image almost iconic, his difficulty was in finding "something which is original."

"The Duchess explained to me that she would like to be portrayed naturally -- her natural self as opposed to her official self," said Emsley. "She struck me as enormously open and generous and a very warm person.

"After initially feeling it was going to be an unsmiling portrait, I think it was the right choice in the end to have her smiling – that is really who she is."

Beauty, of course, is in the eye of the beholder.

Let us know what you think.



Will kate
Prince WIlliam and his wife Catherine speak with British artist Paul Emsley after viewing his portrait of the duchess  at the National Portrait Gallery. (AFP/Getty Images)

Members of the media photograph the newly-commissioned portrait of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, by artist Paul Emsley on display at the National Portrait Gallery. (AP Photo)

Journalists crowd around the first official portrait of Kate after it was unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery. (Reuters)


Royals on fast track for new homes and titles

Queen Elizabeth is sprucing up one of her 120 properties on the Sandringham Estate, likely for Prince William and his soon-to-be growing family. (AFP/Getty Images)

The royal chessboard is full of interesting moves these days, from timber to titles. Sort of a mini regal makeover.

We can start where the Queen is currently residing, at Sandringham Estate. She has now made application to renovate Anmer Hall, the 10-bedroom late-Georgian mansion that has been part of the Queen's family holdings sinch 1898.

Anmer hallIt is "earmarked," according to sources, for Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge as their future country home. A nice gesture from Grandma, who lives just over 2 kilometres away.

The local Norfolk council has received an application to make several changes to the property, including re-routing the driveway, a garage extension, converting wood stores into accomodation and building a garden room.

A decision on the plan is expected by March. The home is currently leased to James Everett, who lives and runs his timber business there, until 2017.

All this comes as renovations continue on Apartment 1A at Kensington Palace, which will be Will and Kate's designated London residence. Right now they have a one-bedroom cottage on the Palace grounds, plus their rented farmhouse in Wales, close to the prince's work at RAF Valley.

The village of Anmer has just 63 people, according to the 2001 census, and it appears the prospect of more royal neighbours is welcome. "I can't think that it would be anythng other than good for the village," 82-year-old Neville Warnes told the BBC. "That's an ideal place to live and rear a family.

"It's isolated but surrounding the hall is the park where the child, or the children, will see the cattle, the sheep and get a general feeling of the countryside and rural life."

And speaking of children ....


At first, it all made so much sense.

Get rid of the old laws of royal succession that shut out girls and forbade any heirs from marrying  Roman Catholics. Surely these are simply reflective of ancient times and have no place in today's world.

Even the Queen, upholder of royal traditions, seems to agree it's time to put the old heirarchy aside. To aid the cause, she has officially decreed, as is her right, that all children of Prince William and Kate will have the Royal Highness title of Prince or Princess. Under old rules, the titles were only given automatically to the children of the monarch, the sons' children and to the first-born son of the eldest son of the Prince of the Wales.

CharlesUnravelling that, it meant William's first-born son would be called Prince, but a daughter of William and Kate would have been titled 'Lady.'

The change, announced this week, should make the fast-tracked road for the Succession to the Crown bill even easier, well ahead of Kate's schedule in delivering a new heir early this summer.

But ... not so fast, say Church of England leaders and, more surprisingly, Prince Charles.

Has this really been thought out, they ask. What if the first-born son or daughter marries a Roman Catholic and they raise their children in the Catholic faith? The monarch, by law, is the head of the Church of England and must be Protestant. How does that make sense of he/she is raised a Catholic?

And what about all the other titled families in Britain with their dukedoms? They still adhere to first-male dominance. The females in that situation would surely want equality.

There's a lot of what if's in this equation and they are not unsolvable. But already there is rumblings that the British House of Lords will not back the bill in its current state. Even future Grandpa Prince Charles isn't convinced this bill will ensure harmony among the sexes and the religious sects.

What sounded so right several months ago now has blossomed into layers of constitutional complexity.

And all William and Kate wanted to do was start a family.


Zara Phillips -- who doesn't have the kind of problems her cousin William has since she does not have a royal title -- is going back to mother.

2012-12-25T132721Z_01_TOB507_RTRMDNP_3_BRITAINNo, this has nothing to do with marital strife. Far as we know, she and husband Mike Tindall get along fine.

The couple has sold their $1.9-milion Cheltenham house and will be moving 32 kilometres to a place on Princess Anne's Gatcombe Park estate. In addition to the Princess Royal, Zara's brother Peter, his wife Autumn and their two girls also live on the estate.

What makes the move enticing for Zara is that the Olympic silver-medal winning equestrian has her horses stabled at Gatcombe Park.

As for starting her own family, there is no plan to match Will and Kate's output. Kate "can win that one," she said in an interview.

"Before we got married, everyone was like: 'When are you going to get married?' Then as soon as we were, it was: 'When are you having kids?'

"In the future we'll see what happens, but we're not, sort of, putting a date down."


Duchess Kate's 31st birthday party a quiet family affair

The Duchess of Cambridge celebrates her 31st birthday Wednesday, but she'll be sticking close to her home in Wales. (Getty Images)

For the last time in probably a while, Kate will be celebrating a birthday without worrying about diapers.

The Duchess of Cambridge turned 31 on Wednesday and the palace says it is being celebrated "privately," most likely at the home she shares with Prince William in north Wales.

"They'll arrange a very small lunch with present openings if she's feeling up to it," a source told Marie Claire magazine. "Or, they'll throw a big family dinner in the evening. "She'll just want to be with her family and enjoy her last birthday with Wills before there's a little one to look after."

It has been a year of highs and lows for Kate, from her emergence as a royal superstar to the topless photo scandal. The next 365 days mark a whole new chapter, with a royal heir due in early summer and another shuffling of homes when renovations are completed on Apartment 1A in Kensington Palace.

There are no major tours planned for the duchess and Prince William this year, and with a new baby, there's no doubt the public be seeing a lot less of her than last year.

The duchess, of course, is not alone in having a birthday this day, though she has inevitably snagged most of the headlines.  There are, in fact, many celebrity-types and fellow Capricorns of the January 9 vintage. They may not have much in common with Kate on the surface, but that won't stop us from doing a Kevin Bacon treatment and connecting the royal dots with a few of them:

GayleCrystal Gayle (born 1951): Her most famous hit was 1977’s ‘Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue’, which would be a perfectly connection perfectly if Kate’s eyes were brown, but they’re hazel.  Nevertheless, both women are linked via the roots -- hair roots. Both are brunettes with flowing locks, and it’s one department where Gayle may be more famous considering it has reached as far as her ankles.

BaezJoan Baez (1941): The singer/songwriter’s mother, Joan, was born in Edinburgh, the daughter of a decendant of the last Duke of Chandos, James Brydges. In fact, Joan’s middle name is her mother's maiden name, Chandos. Alas, the title died in 1789. Her mother, Baez once declared, could have been a duchess. Just like Kate.

PageJimmy Page (1944): The famed guitarist with Led Zepplin is one of the most famous residents of Sonning, a tiny village in the county of Berkshire. It's just down the road from Reading, where Kate Middleton was born. About 25 kilometres away is another Berkshire gem, Bucklebury, home to the Middleton clan.

NixonRichard Nixon (1913-94): We’ll reach a little on this one …. One of Richard Nixon’s most famous TV interviews was the one he did with Britain’s Sir David Frost, post-Watergate (1977), and it was later turned into a movie. Frost is a patron of East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices. So is Kate.

DenverBob Denver (1935-2005): To most people, Bob Denver will always be Gilligan, stuck on a deserted island after an ill-fated three-hour tour. Coincidentally, Kate’s favourite vacation spot is an island, Mustique, and she also lives on an island -- Anglesey in North Wales -- while William toils for the RAF’s search and rescue squadron. Which, come to think of it, Gilligan could have used.

FieldsGracie Fields (1898-1979): She was one of Britain’s most popular entertainers during the Second World War and beyond. One of the country’s biggest showbiz nights each year is the Royal Variety Performance, always attended by senior members of the Royal Family.  Fields made 10 appearances on the show, beginning in 1928 and the last in 1978 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BoaHT3JMu4k).  Ultimately, the Queen named her a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. Not quite a duchess, but darn close.

LomHerbert Lom (1917-2012): He will most be remembered as the long-suffering Chief Inspector Dreyfus in seven Pink Panther movies, but he was also an actor with a royal touch. He was the original King in the London stage production of “The King and I.” Coincidentally, his Pink Panther colleague, Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau, also came from a royal acting background, having switched sexes to play Duchess Gloriana in the 1959 farce, “The Mouse that Roared.”

GarciaSergio Garcia (1980): The Spanish golfer has yet to win a major, but he’s got a pretty good swing with the ladies. The connection to Kate? Well, one of his first big romances was with former world No. 1 tennis player Martina Hingis. Kate is a tennis freak. (Another of Hingis’s ex-boyfriends was Sol Campbell, who used to play for Arsenal, Prince Harry’s favourite team). Today, Garcia’s girlfriend is Nicole Horrex, who hails from Wales. Kate, of course, lives in Wales where Prince William is stationed. Alas, there seems to be no actual golf connection, though Kate did own one (a VW Golf that is).

Now, for all those who can't get enough photos of the duchess on her happy 31st, Reuters has put together a 31-picture combo covering her since the royal wedding in April 2011:



The Union Jack was flying at Belfast's city hall on Wednesday, but it only heightened the tension in the city over a decision by city council last month to fly the British flag only 18 days a year to mark special occasions, most of them of the royal variety.

The Duchess of Cambridge's birthday was one of those occasions, but it was marked by a sixth night of violence between police and loyalists who want the flag to fly all year round.

Protesters threw bottles and rocks at police in the Northern Ireland city in clashes that have seen more than a hundred people arrested and scores of officers injured.

The British flag flies behind a statue of Queen Victoria at the Belfast City Hall in Belfast on Wednesday. It's the first time it has appeared since its removal a month ago sparked riots in Northern Ireland. The emblem will now fly for a maximum of 18 days a year including royal birthdays. (AFP/Getty Images)







Duchess Kate dissected ... from head to toe

The Duchess of Cambridge's favoured outfit colours: Blue, red and white.

Here's breaking news .... When the Duchess of Cambridge smiles, she shows an average of 8.6 teeth.

Okay, so maybe this little tidbit goes under the title of "too much information," but there doesn't seem to be too detail too deep when it comes to unearthing the essence of the woman simply known as Kate.

VogueAs the duchess headed for her 31st birthday Wednesday, Vogue magazine in Britian (right) decided to break down every physical aspect of Kate over the course of 100 appearances in public, dating back to just before she and Prince William announced their engagement in November 2010.

Aside from her smile, here's a few more numbers for Kate-o-philes:

► Favourite dress colour is blue, featured in 24 per cent of her outfits. Next is red (13%), white (12%) and grey (11%). Yellow is the least favourite.

► When stepping out for public engagements she has reached into her closet for the LK Bennett label 28 times out of a hundred. The more pricey Alexander McQueen comes next at 14, followed by Temperley (8), Zara and adidas (7), and Jenny Packham (6).

► LK Bennett nudes with 4-inch heels are most often on her feet at functions. Her favoured shoe designers appear to be Stuart Weitzman (13 times), with Jimmy Choo nipping at the heels.

► On her hairstyle, she goes for the half-up, half-down look 13.6% of the time. But what about the average dimension of her curls, you ask? 25 millimetres.

► Hats and fascinators are worn at a 50-degree angle ("emphasizing her cheekbones").

► On her and William's nine-day tour of Southeast Asia and the Pacific, Kate had 61 items of clothing, footwear and accessories. The magazine figured the cost per outfit at about $2,200.

► Average measurements of her handbags: 194 mm by 132 mm (and most commonly held with both her hands together).

► Average length of earring drop: 33 mm.

KimOne of the more interesting observations about Kate comes from designer Roland Mouret. Although the 'Kate Effect' on fashion sales is very real, it has been somewhat exaggerated, says Mouret in Vogue's February issue.

"You don’t see hundreds of women running around looking like her," he said. "To be honest, we’re more likely to get orders on a dress that Kim Kardashian’s worn.”(right).


Part of the problem is that Kate's high-street preferences are usually reflecting styles from last year. With limited production runs, it's likely most stores are in short supply of stock by the time Kate wears a dress anyway.

Mouret also noted that when she bought a gown for a dinner last year, she requested that it be altered for a slightly looser fit.

"She doesn't want a bottom situation like Pippa had," he said.

That's the trouble with being a duchess ... you have to think of everything.


Queen subwayWhen you think of travelling with the Queen, the first image that comes to mind is probably not a subway.

Still, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that the Queen, in the course of her royal duties, has occasionally descended to the London Underground, at least for photo-ops.

On the occasion of the Underground's 150th birthday this week, here's a video below from an old newsreel by British Pathe of the Queen (fur coat and all) opening a new line in the Underground in 1969. It was her second trip on the train, the first coming in 1939 when she and her sister Margaret took a ride. (click on picture)





Here's a look at the interior of an all-steel London underground train, circa 1920. The ride to work seemed a little more comfy back then. The system celebrated its 150th birthday on Tuesday. The subway network now has 11 lines running across six fare zones. (Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

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