When Kate Middleton walked down the aisle and into the British Royal Family last year, she lifted the spirits of nation mired in economic gloom.
Now, 19 months after marrying Prince William, the couple has given the country -- and the Commonwealth -- another reason to celebrate.
On Monday, the palace announced that the couple is expecting a baby, though the Duchess of Cambridge had been admitted to hospital with severe morning sickness.
Latest: William and Catherine expecting royal child
The woman carrying the next in line to the British throne after William is the daughter of self-made millionaires from rural England.
Catherine, 30, grew up in a small village of thatched cottages in Bucklebury, around 45 miles west of London.
One of three children, Catherine completed her schooling as a boarder at the prestigious Marlborough College before taking a degree in History of Art at St. Andrew's University in Fife, Scotland, in 2001. It was there that she met Prince William, then the 19-year-old son of Prince Charles, the heir to the throne, and Princess Diana.
Both were studying art history when they met, but Catherine is said to have played a key role in encouraging the prince to switch to a degree in Geography in his second year. The students grew closer after moving into a shared house with two other friends and were said to have started dating in late 2003.
Their status as a couple was made public in March 2004 when they were photographed holidaying together in the Swiss ski resort of Klosters. Their relationship attracted intense media interest and the following year her lawyers filed their first official complaint about media intrusion.
Catherine and William baby news sparks media frenzy
Such was the level of media interest in the girl 'who could be Queen' that in 2007, the Guardian newspaper reported that Catherine 'ran the gauntlet of more than 20 press photographers and five television crew as she emerged from her flat.'
It was her birthday and rumors had spread that the prince would mark the day with a proposal.
The incident was quoted during a UK parliamentary inquiry into the self-regulation of the press and the efficacy of Britain's Press Complaints Commission Code of Practice.
In his testimony, The Sun newspaper's royal photographer Arthur Edwards described the duchess's frequent run-ins with the paparazzi.
'She has been stopped at traffic lights, where they climb off their motorbikes and start photographing her. She has been out shopping in stores and they run into the stores after her. She uses public transport a lot -- or she did -- but they climb on the buses and the bus driver is having to throw them off,' he said.
The proposal never came and one month later, 'Kate and Will' were back in headlines as it emerged that their four-year relationship was over. The split was said to be amicable with the couple determined to remain friends.
At the time, photographer Arthur Edwards told CNN that the couple's ages and constant media attention took their toll.
'William has said 28 is a good time to get married -- 28 to 30. Now, that's a few years off yet and I don't think she wants to put up with that for the next four or five years, every morning coming out of her house going to her office having those problems, and I think she just thinks enough's enough,' he said.
Royal commentators speculated that the split was due to the class divide between the prince and his middle-class girlfriend. Catherine's mother is a former air stewardess and her father worked as a pilot before they set up their own business. Catherine is the eldest of their three children.
Despite conjecture over the cause of their split, the pair remained close. In July 2007, Catherine sat in the royal box at Wembley Stadium in London for the Concert for Diana, a massive charity concert to remember Prince William's mother, Princess Diana, 10 years after her death in a car crash.
The two were seen together several times over the summer and were dating again by the end of 2007.
Around the same time, Catherine resigned from women's fashion chain Jigsaw, where she started working as an accessories buyer after graduating from university in 2005. However, it wasn't until October, 2010 that William asked for Catherine's hand in marriage in a remote hut in a wildlife reserve on the slopes of Mount Kenya, Africa's second highest peak.
Wedding fever gripped the UK as royal-watchers and the general public speculated for months about what Catherine would wear, her hair and the scale of the event in a country entrenched in austerity measures.
Street parties were planned and a myriad of royal memorabilia lined shelves as the country prepared for an influx of visitors.
Then finally, on April 29, 2011, Catherine married Prince William in a televised ceremony at Westminster Abbey in London, becoming Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cambridge, before an audience of millions.
Read more: Wedding Special | British royal family tree
In January 2012, the duchess announced the four charities she would support as a patron: the Art Room, which helps disadvantaged children express themselves through art; the National Portrait Gallery, which houses a famous collection of royal paintings and photographs; East Anglia's Children's Hospices, which helps children with life-threatening conditions; and Action on Addiction, which assists those with addiction issues.
Since then, the duchess has braved her first public speech and traveled with her new husband to meet royal supporters in Canada and more recently in Southeast Asia.
The latter was marred by controversy over a decision by a French magazine to publish images of the duchess sunbathing topless while on a private holiday with William in France. The couple took legal action action the magazine, French Closer, in September, which was also fined by a French court and ordered not to distribute the edition in print or online. It was also told to hand over the photos to the royals within 24 hours.
Read more: Angry royals take Catherine's topless photo battle to court
The Duchess of Cambridge was last seen in public during an official tour to Cambridge, England last week, when there was more talk about her new hairstyle than any speculation of pregnancy.
The palace has declined to name a due date, as Catherine is less than 12 weeks pregnant. She's expected to remain in hospital for several days while doctors treat her for Hyperemesis Gravidarum, a condition that causes acute morning sickness.
Prince William and Catherine's child will be next in line to the throne after William regardless of whether it is a boy or a girl, the British Cabinet Office said Monday. Last year, Commonwealth leaders agreed to change British succession laws to allow a female to take the throne ahead of a younger brother.
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