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Kate's new royal life got off to an exotic start when Prince William popped the question with the priceless engagement ring that had belonged to his mother, Diana, in October 2010 during a romantic trip to Kenya. On Nov. 25, the glowing couple couldn't hide their delight when they posed for this official engagement portrait taken by celebrity photographer Mario Testino at St. James's Palace in London.
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TOAST OF THE TOWN
Easing gently into life in the public eye, the bride-to-be attended her first public engagement with the Prince a few miles from their country cottage in Anglesey, Wales, on Feb. 24. After impressing locals by singing the Welsh national anthem and greeting well-wishers, Kate wrapped up her flawless debut by christening a new lifeboat at the Trearddur Bay Lifeboat Station.
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"It feels like coming home," William told onlookers on Feb. 25, when he took his stunning fiancée back to St. Andrews University in Scotland to kick of a school fund-raiser. The couple enjoyed a nostalgic walk down memory lane during their visit, strolling through the lecture halls and residences where they first laid eyes on each other in 2001.
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During a surprise visit to Northern Ireland on March 8, Kate revealed a hidden talent, confidently flipping a pancake in front of her visibly impressed fiancé. Although Prince William has admitted he's "quite lazy about cooking," Kate's proved she's quite the culinary queen!
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SEALED WITH A KISS
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DRESSING TO IMPRESS
Still glowing from their Seychelles honeymoon, the newly titled Duke and Duchess of Cambridge looked at ease during their first official engagement, meeting the Obamas at Buckingham Palace on May 24. But it was Kate's $340 Reiss bandage dress that stole the show, selling out within hours of being worn by the fashion-forward royal newbie.
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Kate looked classy in cream for a day at the races with Princes William and Harry on June 4. The threesome attended England's prestigious Epsom Derby to cheer on a horse owned by Queen Elizabeth II. Though the steed failed to bring home the coveted trophy, Kate's Joseph jacket and L.K. Bennett pumps triumphed in the style stakes!
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RED CARPET READY
Making her red carpet debut as a working royal at the 10th annual ARK Gala at London's Kensington Palace on June 9, the new Duchess dazzled in an embellished blush organza gown by Jenny Packham. After becoming separated from Prince William inside the event, she demonstrated her growing confidence by casually telling partygoers, "We always get split up at these things."
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ONE OF THE FAMILY
Kate took her place next to Prince William and the most senior members of the royal family to celebrate the queen's official birthday at the Trooping the Colour military parade at London's Buckingham Palace on June 11. Standing together on the palace balcony no doubt brought back a few fond royal wedding memories for the beaming pair.
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BEAUTIFUL IN BLUE
Proving there's little downtime for a new royal, Kate was back in the spotlight one day after the queen's parade to celebrate Prince Philip's 90th birthday on June 12. Attending a church service at St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle, thrifty Kate recycled her favorite periwinkle blue frock coat with an elegant new hat.
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Indulging her longtime love of tennis, Kate scored seats in the Royal Box at Center Court with William to watch British tennis star Andy Murray play at Wimbledon on June 28. "They were really enthusiastic," one onlooker told PEOPLE. "For all of us who love tennis you could see that they were really into the games."
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Enjoying her first official overseas tour, Kate enthusiastically cheered on her prince when he showed off his hockey skills during a visit to Yellowknife, Canada, on July 5. "She told me that she would have taken a shot if she wasn't in heels," said young hockey player Gloria Francis after meeting the sports-loving Duchess.
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Jennifer Lopez, Barbra Streisand and Nicole Kidman were just a few of the A-listers who turned out to meet the royal couple at the glamorous BAFTA Brits to Watch event during the pair's stopover in L.A. on July 9. But even Hollywood's royalty couldn't outshine Kate, who dazzled in a lilac Alexander McQueen gown. "It was the first time I've seen major stars becoming like little school kids, going, 'Um, when would it be a good time to say hello?'" actor Owain Yeoman told PEOPLE.
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Kate made sure the queen was the first to view the royal wedding exhibition at Buckingham Palace, joining the monarch for a personal tour of priceless mementoes, including her Alexander McQueen wedding dress and elaborate wedding cake on July 22. By October, the exhibition was declared "a huge success" by a royal spokeswoman, after attracting a record number of visitors to the palace.
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Ready for business in a military-inspired Alexander McQueen design, the Duchess joined William for a surprise Aug. 19 visit to the Summerfield Community Center in Birmingham, England. The royal couple chatted with responders who helped clean up after rioters caused chaos in the area days earlier. "We couldn't believe it was happening in Britain," the concerned princess told Supt. Sue Southern from West Midlands Police.
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A PERSONAL TOUCH
Showing support for Prince William's role as president of London's Royal Marsden Hospital, Kate helped her husband open a children's cancer center at the facility on Sept. 29. After meeting leukemia patient Fabian Bate, 9, the Duchess followed up with a heartfelt letter to the little boy. "I was so touched by your strength of character," she wrote. "I will keep my fingers crossed that your health goes from strength to strength."
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Wearing a striking scarlet gown by Beulah London, the Duchess stood out from the crowd at the 100 Women in Hedge Funds gala at St. James's Palace in London on Oct. 10. Together with Prince William, the Duchess helped raise around $1 million for the Child Bereavement Charity at the black-tie event.
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Demonstrating her growing confidence as a public figure, Kate got glowing reviews when she stepped in for Prince Charles with just 24 hours' notice for her first official solo engagement on Oct. 26. At the dinner at Clarence House in London to benefit In Kind Direct, the Duchess "spoke to every single guest," the charity's chief executive Robin Boles told PEOPLE. "She was completely natural, professional and charmed everyone."
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The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge put some physical labor into helping millions of famine-hit children in East Africa on Nov. 2 when they jetted to Denmark to pack aid boxes for the struggling region. Spending a day at a UNICEF supply center in Copenhagen, Kate pledged her support by saying she and William wanted to "do as much as we can."
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Accompanying William to a reception at St. James's Palace for the National Memorial Arboretum Appeal on Nov. 10, Kate rounded off her epic year in the spotlight in a silver Jenny Packham gown. Preparing to step up as a patron for her own host of charities in the coming months, the Duchess "knows her role is to bring a spotlight onto causes," a palace source tells PEOPLE, adding that "she will do it with gusto."