And the new Miss America is…

Happy red cup leads to happy new Miss America — Miss New York Kira Kazantsev won the Miss America pageant Sunday night, with the help of a red plastic cup.

For her talent performance, Kazantsev sang Pharrell Williams' "Happy" while sitting cross-legged on the stage and banging a red plastic cup on the floor. That immediately touched off a furor on social media networks, where many were critical of her performance.

But Kazantsev said she was inspired by the 2012 movie "Pitch Perfect" in which Anna Kendrick's character auditions for an a capella group by performing rhythmically with a cup. She also said she did it to show future contestants they can win the Miss America pageant by performing whatever talent routine they like, regardless of what others think of it.

"The reason why I chose to do that talent is I wanted every single little girl in America to be able to see that you can do that talent — you can do whatever talent you want on national television — even with a red cup — and still be Miss America and have the time of your life," Kazantsev said. "I literally in that minute and 30 seconds had the most fun I've ever had, and that's because I stayed true to myself and I did what I wanted to do for my talent, no matter what everybody else told me, and it paid off. I'm very happy about it."

Kazantsev, who named combating sexual assault in the military as the issue about which she would want female U.S. Senators to press their male counterparts, won a $50,000 scholarship with which she plans to attend law school.

Miss New York Kira Kazantsev poses for photographers during a news conference after she was crowned Miss America 2015 during the Miss America 2015 pageant, Monday, Sept. 15, 2014, in Atlantic City, N.J. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

She also plans to speak out against domestic violence during her yearlong resign as Miss America.

Her victory marked the third year in a row that a contestant from her state has walked away with the crown in the nationally televised pageant. Kazantsev received the crown at Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall from outgoing Miss America — and Miss New York — Nina Davuluri

Kazantsev will begin a schedule this week that will see her travel 20,000 miles a month.

The first runner-up was Miss Virginia Courtney Paige Garrett.

Other top 5 finalists were Miss Arkansas Ashton Jo Campbell; Miss Florida Victoria Cowen; and Miss Massachusetts Lauren Kuhn.

 Miss New York Kira Kazantsev performs during the talent portion of the Miss America 2015 pageant, Sunday, Sept. 14, 2014, in Atlantic City, N.J. Kazentsev was crowned Miss America 2015 during the event. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

Miss North Dakota, Jacky Arness was chosen by her peers as Miss Congeniality.

The pageant shone a positive light on the struggling seaside gambling resort, which has been in the national news for all the wrong reasons lately: a rash of casino closings, thousands of unemployed workers, and a domestic violence case involving a former NFL star.

For three hours Sunday night, America got a different look at Atlantic City. The Miss America pageant presented an upbeat view of the city where it began in 1921.

It featured iconic Atlantic City visuals including its beach, Boardwalk, the Steel Pier, Black Fish Pier near Brigantine, and the Atlantic City Beach Patrol station.

"Atlantic City is facing a challenging economic climate and our hearts go out to all of those who have lost their jobs," said Sam Haskell III, CEO of the Miss America organization. "We hope that our Miss America telecast ... will generate great interest for Atlantic City on a national scale as we showcase their beautiful beaches and Boardwalk." ( Associated Press )

Miss New York Kira Kazantsev, right, walks the runway after she was named Miss America 2015 during the Miss America 2015 pageant, Sunday, Sept. 14, 2014, in Atlantic City, N.J. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

READ MORE - And the new Miss America is…

Queen of Scots, but for how long?

Queen of Scots, but for how long? - Scottish separatists say they will keep Queen Elizabeth II if the country votes to leave the United Kingdom, but some question how secure the monarchy would be post-independence.

Members of First Minister Alex Salmond's separatist Scottish National Party (SNP) government have said that if independence wins it should be up to the people to decide whether to keep the queen.

The independence campaign's chairman Dennis Canavan has even called for an early referendum on dumping the royals, calling hereditary monarchy an "affront to democracy and a complete anachronism".

The queen's 15 realms outside Britain -- Australia, Canada and New Zealand included -- have a viceroy and some experts suggest Scotland would likewise need a governor-general for permanent in-country representation and to avoid the queen directly receiving conflicting advice from her governments.

Queen Elizabeth was reported to tell a well-wisher on Sunday "I hope people will think very carefully about the future" after attending a church service near her Balmoral estate in Scotland.

Some newspapers suggest the 88-year-old monarch is "horrified" at the prospect of her kingdom breaking in two.

Buckingham Palace has only spoken officially to stress her constitutional impartiality and view that it is a matter for the people of Scotland.

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, her husband Prince Philip (front L) and eldest son Prince Charles, (front R) attend the Braemar Gathering in central Scotland, on September 6, 2014 (AFP Photo/Andy Buchanan)

England and Scotland have shared the same monarch since 1603 -- the Union of the Crowns in one person.

But the 1707 Acts of Union formed one new, united state, Great Britain, and it is this political union that the separatists seek to unpick -- meaning that the "United Kingdom" would remain.

"On independence, Scotland will be a constitutional monarchy, continuing the Union of the Crowns," says the Scottish government's prospectus for independence.

"The position of Her Majesty the Queen as head of state will form an intrinsic part of the constitutional platform.

But the left-of-centre New Statesman magazine has accused SNP chief Salmond of "counterfeit monarchism".

"Although it has never officially been a republican organisation, there has always been a strong thread of anti-royalist sentiment running through its rank and file," it has said.

Besides her constitutional ties, Queen Elizabeth's links to Scotland are personal. The queen's mother was from a Scottish noble family.

Currently the queen spends one week at the end of June at her official state residence in Scotland, the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, and her summer break in August and September at Balmoral, her personal estate in the Highlands.

Bob Morris, from the Constitution Unit of University College London, said she would need to name a governor-general for Scotland if "Yes" wins.

"If there is a direct relationship, she would be in danger of being given contradictory advice by the Scottish government on the one hand and the UK government on the other," he told AFP.

Having a governor-general "gives a buffer, and it gives a permanent representation in the realm concerned," he said.

- Funding the monarchy -

(From L) Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, Sophie, Countess of Wessex, and Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, walk together during a garden party at Balmoral Castle in Aberdeenshire, on August 7, 2012 (AFP Photo/David Cheskin)
An independent Scotland could run into opposition in the Commonwealth as the SNP would push to remove, on "religious discrimination" grounds, the requirement for the sovereign to be an Anglican.

Commonwealth realm prime ministers agreed in 2011 not to change this arrangement -- the monarch being the supreme governor of England's state church.

Questions also remain over quite how a Scottish monarchy would be funded.

The separatist manifesto says Scotland will contribute to the monarchy's expenses "as we already do through taxes", but does not mention the Crown Estate at all.

The estate is a vast land and property portfolio owned by the sovereign.

Dating from a 1760 arrangement, the government funds the monarchy and all its functions in return for its profits.

The amount Queen Elizabeth receives is currently set at 15 percent of the profits -- £40 million ($65 million, 50 million euros) in the next financial year.

The total value of the Crown Estate in Scotland is £267 million, or three percent of the UK total.

In 2011, the SNP government wanted control over income from the Crown Estate in Scotland, but the British government refused.

Asked about the Crown Estate post-independence, a Yes Scotland campaign spokesman told AFP: "No idea.

"We've really got far more important things than the Crown Estate." ( AFP )

READ MORE - Queen of Scots, but for how long?

Palace repairs add to monarchy cost

Royal refurb: Palace repairs add to monarchy cost — Everyone says there are lots of hidden costs to owning a home. If you own a palace, the costs are royal.

That became evident when the Buckingham Palace released its accounts Thursday, which showed the monarchy cost British taxpayers 35.7 million pounds ($60.8 million) last year — 56 pence (just under $1) for everyone in the country.

That is 7.2 percent, or 2.4 million pounds, more than the year before and the increase is mainly explained by the British royal family's repair bills.

In this Monday June 16, 2014 file photo, Britain's Queen Elizabeth leaves by carriage after attending the annual Order of the Garter Ceremony in Windsor, England. Buckingham Palace says the monarchy cost British taxpayers 35.7 million pounds ($60.8 million) last year — 56 pence (just under $1) for everyone in the country. More than a third of the money was spent on repairs and maintenance to aging palaces, and some 3.4 million pounds was spent in the year to March 31, 2014 refurbishing part of London's Kensington Palace into a home for Prince William, his wife Catherine and their toddler son Prince George. As the accounts were published Thursday, June 26, 2014, Keeper of the Privy Purse Alan Reid said the royal household was keen to "maximize the value for money" of the monarchy. (AP Photo/Toby Melville, Pool, file)

Their properties are hardly typical. Buckingham Palace, for example, has 240 bedrooms and 78 bathrooms. That's a lot of plumbing to fix when things go wrong.

So it's no surprise that more than a third of the money British taxpayers paid for the monarchy, led by Queen Elizabeth II, was spent on repairs, improvements and maintenance of aging but still opulent palaces.

"We continue to focus on value for money," said Keeper of the Privy Purse Alan Reid, asserting that careful spending habits had allowed for more money to be used for important maintenance work.
FILE - In this Saturday, June 14, 2014 file photo, Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, foreground, surrounded by members of her family, stands on the balcony of Buckingham Palace to watch the Royal Air Force fly past, during the Trooping The Colour parade, in central London. Buckingham Palace says the monarchy cost British taxpayers 35.7 million pounds ($60.8 million) last year — 56 pence (just under $1) for everyone in the country. More than a third of the money was spent on repairs and maintenance to aging palaces, and some 3.4 million pounds was spent in the year to March 31, 2014 refurbishing part of London's Kensington Palace into a home for Prince William, his wife Catherine and their toddler son Prince George. As the accounts were published Thursday, June 26, 2014, Keeper of the Privy Purse Alan Reid said the royal household was keen to "maximize the value for money" of the monarchy. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis, file)

A big part of the fixer-upper budget in the 12 months that ended on March 31 went to creating a suitable home for the young family of Prince William, his wife Kate and their toddler Prince George.

Some 3.4 million pounds of taxpayer funds were used to refurbish part of London's Kensington Palace for the couple. The extensive work included removing asbestos, installing new heating and redecorating.

The couple, who have considerable personal financial resources in part because of the estate left by Princess Diana, paid for the carpets, curtains and furniture out of personal funds, the palace said.

In addition, Prince Charles' private secretary, William Nye, suggested that Charles and his wife Camilla — who are supported by profits from the extensive Duchy of Cornwall estate — may have helped William and Kate set up their new home.

The palace accounts also showed the high cost of entertaining on a royal scale: 2 million pounds were spent on "housekeeping and hospitality" in the 12 months that ended on March 31.

 This article originally appeared in : Royal refurb: Palace repairs add to monarchy cost | Associated Press | by GREGORY KATZ  |  June 26, 2014 11:21 AM

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The royal bride-to-be seems to have all the qualities required of a modern princess

Kate Middleton: perfectly at home - The royal bride-to-be seems to have all the qualities required of a modern princess. Vicki Woods sets off to investigate

'She's changed her hair,' says the Sun's veteran royal photographer Arthur Edwards, as a doll-sized Catherine Middleton and Prince William of Wales round the far corner of St Salvator's Quadrangle in the University of St Andrews in a blaze of unexpected sunshine. 'She's done it different to yesterday in Anglesey. It was all pulled back off her face.' Since Edwards's Nikon D2X has a telescopic lens the size of my thigh, he can see her every eyelash. 'It looked better yesterday. I did a lovely picture, very regal.' Thirty years ago it was Arthur Edwards who first spotted a young woman wearing a gold D on a chain around her neck and guessed who she was. He said, 'Are you Lady Diana Spencer? May I take your picture please?' And she said yes. He used a Leica back then.

Kate Middleton
Soon-to-be princess Kate Middleton

Kate Middleton at age five
Kate Middleton at age five

Kate Middleton at St Andrews prep school in Berkshire
Kate Middleton at St Andrew's prep school in Berkshire, 1988

The grassed quadrangle has 600 undergraduates in scarlet gowns to watch the Prince, as patron of the university, launch the celebration of its founding in 1413. The ones sitting on chairs bought winning lottery tickets. The tiny town has tea shops, coffee houses, a couple of boutiques, medieval buildings, only 16,000 people (half of whom are students) and eye-popping panoramic views: wow, look, the sea, the sea! (Off which the wind slices in like a boning knife.) As she nears the press pen a woman says, 'She's channelling Diana!' just as I'm thinking, oh, I had a little red jacket and short tight skirt just like that myself.

For the Anglesey lifeboat launch, her first official engagement since the wedding was announced, Catherine had worn a four-seasons-old Katherine Hooker coat, newly shortened to two or three inches above the knee, and a fascinator made of pheasant feathers. By now you'll be over the fascinator, having seen it again and again, but it was thrilling on the day. As was her word-perfect rendition of Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, the Welsh national anthem, in which she correctly pronounced 'wlad' as 'oo-lard'. Unlike John Redwood, the former Secretary of State for Wales, who pronounced it variously as erm, la-la or cripes (and you may still enjoy his embarrassment on YouTube).

So, it is begun: Catherine Middleton's vocational lifework as wife to the second in line to the throne of the United Kingdom. Work that may be harder than it appears. Her main duty is to produce the third in direct line, helpfully soon and helpfully male (in order to stave off a lot of wonkery from critics of male primogeniture). Her other duties are to pose for photographers, perform small ceremonies of dedication, celebration and/or commemoration for charitable purpose, before promenading among the populace. As Queen Charlotte nudged her sullen sons in The Madness of King George: 'Come on, smile and wave. That's what you get paid for.' Lucky Queen Charlotte didn't have to duck Nikons or HDTV.

I liked these public outfits – indeed, I've liked nearly everything she has worn: little coats and dresses at weddings, short, plain jackets, a lot of frisky hats ('She does that British-wedding look very well,' says Vogue's editor, Alexandra Shulman). But my admiration is not necessarily a good thing. By the time I'd crawled off the Edinburgh train that night, the online Huffington Post already had a story up: 'Kate Middleton officially entered princess territory today, by stepping out in the ensemble every leading lady must learn to love: the skirt suit.' HuffPo didn't say who'd made it, only that it was red, while everything else was black, including her gloves, 'which she later took off to reveal her engagement ring. Le sigh.' It took another 24 hours to discover the designer, and the worldwide fashion community was not thrilled. 'Luisa Spagnoli!' lamented Paula Reed, Grazia's style director. 'As Women's Wear Daily said, she's worn by grannies everywhere from Como to Calabria.' Light dawned. No wonder I'd thought she looked cute, pretty and polished in her little pillar-box red suit. I'd worn it myself, back in 1990, a Catherine Walker knock-off. Same 'Princess Di' colour, same two to three inches above the knee, a length that Sarah Mower at smartly christened 'Middleton'.

'Everyone wants her to wear British fashion,' Reed says. 'It would be so good for the industry, it would give it a huge global boost. But she isn't going to the designers – or being helped by anybody who can go to the designers. We all know Victoria Beckham sent her things, and so did Matthew Williamson, but they were all sent back – the Palace is freaked at the idea that she might be seen to be taking freebies. So the poor girl's just having to go out and buy things herself. In shops!' We both shrieked at the nightmare of having to buy things in shops. The Clarence House press officer said Catherine wasn't a member of the Royal family yet, and they weren't giving any guidance, and what she did about her clothes was up to her. Yes, yes. But are you making her send Posh's frocks back, I asked. And she giggled.

What a soon-to-be princess wears may seem ridiculous to people of gravitas, but there's nothing footling about the public wardrobe worn by heads of state or notable people who aren't necessarily running wars or anything. A woman who wears nice clothes well looks a) competent, b) sane and c) reassuringly self-controlled. Every time I look at young Miss Middleton, I feel I've had a tiny spritz of Keep Calm and Carry On behind each ear.

Let's not be snobby about the M4 corridor, shall we? Royal Berkshire, where all three Middleton children were born and bred, is a fantastically handy place to grow up in. Decent houses with a decent bit of space, decent schools, tidy, managed countryside, good proximity to London and Heathrow. Bucklebury Common sprawls over a wide area and all the roads off it look alike. Which, during those hard years when country mothers spend most of their lives ferrying daughters to parties, means a lot of reversing down the wrong drive. At the Chapel Row end of Bucklebury, the Middletons' brick-built, five-bedroom house down a track off The Avenue is barely visible even in winter (when the woods are leafless). There is a sign up saying private road, though everyone in Bucklebury knows it's not a private road. Those of us who live on the Hampshire side of the M4 corridor prefer our less-managed, downland countryside. We think it's a bit posho, Bucklebury. But we admit the pubs are charming.

Or were. John Haley, the landlord of the Old Boot in Stanford Dingley (which is the second-nearest hostelry to chez Middleton), received his wedding invitation the day before I'd booked lunch there with a friend. So we arrived to find the Boot now a royal hotspot with a tour bus and taxis in the car-park, TV cameras all over the snug and a CBS team outside, filming a silver-haired chap leaning on his Bentley. Steph the barmaid came off the phone and said, 'That was Hello! again.' Was that the landlord outside, being interviewed? The barman peered through the window. 'No, that's our neighbour,' he said in wonder. Some Germans came clamouring in, so I left him to it.

Ever since she learnt to drive, Catherine Middleton has been going to my favourite Waitrose in unlovely Thatcham – a sprawling satellite of Newbury. Ten minutes from me and 10 minutes from her in the other direction but, to my irritation, I've never seen her in there. 'She was in last week,' said a boy stacking the sandwich shelf. 'On her way to Wales to launch that boat. She's always got a load of bodyguards with her now, though.' Down my way we enjoy spotting a princess-in-waiting: neighbours tease each other with royal glimpses. 'Pot Kiln in Yattendon!' one might say merrily. 'I looked up and thought, that looks like Prince William. And do you know, it was! With Kate. And the detectives at another table. She looked lovely.'

We've learnt over the years to hope rather desperately that royal brides will come from families that are happy to start with. While Diana Spencer was not precisely a motherless child, she seemed like one: her parents' divorce was bitter, her father won custody and access was difficult. (Years later, her brother Charles told me, 'I lived with parents who didn't speak for 25 years, you know. And it isn't good.') Sarah Ferguson's mother bolted all the way to Argentina with a polo player, leaving her daughter somewhat damaged, to put it kindly.

Catherine is from a happy family by all accounts. It's easy to assume, from looking at newspaper pictures, that they like each other. She and her sister walk out of a London party with hands entwined; she and her mother pause, heads together, outside Bruce Oldfield in Beauchamp Place; she and her sister put hours into Party Pieces, the family business. Catherine worked at Party Pieces throughout her seven-year engagement (though the tabloids obviously thought it wasn't much of a job). And she did do a three-days-a-week stint with Jigsaw (during their split) as an accessories buyer. Which is when she met Claudia Bradby, who designs very pretty little bits of jewellery, and who is married to Tom Bradby, who did The Engagement Interview. Good networking skills.

Her younger brother, James, seems to be his mother's boy: after Marlborough and Edinburgh (where he didn't graduate) he started up the Cake Kit Company, aimed at the same market as Party Pieces, close to their Bucklebury home. Middleton parents and children holiday together long past nest-flying age. They do seem to be nice people. A Buckleburgher who knows them (and wouldn't be named) told me Catherine was a 'sweet child, very polite even as a little girl. Pippa was the stunner as a child, though. Catherine had braces top and bottom and wasn't at all the glossy beauty you see today.' Michael is 'really very nice. She [Carole] is a bit nervy'. I get the impression that while Michael Middleton was accepted by Buckleburghers from day one as a nice chap, Carole was less embraceable. People call her aspirational (which is 21st-century English for pushy), perhaps because there was a quite savagely snobby book about Catherine's background early on. Also, 'Pippa was always called Pip or Pippa by family and friends,' says the same Buckleburgher. 'Kate was always called Catherine. We don't know where this Kate thing came from.' Well, it came from school, obviously, from university and latterly from the papers.

She'll never lose it now. 'Catherine' is far too long a name to fit tabloid headlines. But she's right to try to force our hands, I think (that's why I keep writing it out, though I long to say 'Kate'). The late Princess of Wales loathed her own headline-friendly diminutive: I remember an early Dafydd Jones picture of her at the polo for Tatler: her arms folded, her scowl mutinous, the photographers massed and the headline shouting 'Di! Di! Di! Di! DI! DI!' If I'd been proposed to by a prince of the blood at 28, I might have ditched my own disliked diminutive by now. Especially if I had use of a press office as effective as William's and Harry's seems to be. The royal biographer and historian Hugo Vickers says nobody knew the engagement was going to be announced on that November morning last year. 'Even the press secretary knew only 40 minutes before. On the day Diana's engagement was announced, her picture was on the front page of The Times,' he said. 'It was leaked the night before.'

Thirty years later, the information management has been superb from the moment the engagement was announced. The website looks like a page from; the betrothed couple displaying their humanitarian smarts by suggesting that donations to particular charities would be wonderful wedding presents.

A little amuse-bouche of news is placed on the website now and again: Catherine's biography, for example, shows her in Amman, Jordan. From the age of two to four and a half. Who knew? 'While her father worked there' – but for whom? And what as? And the pictures (sweet, but rather curiously chosen) are all stamped '© The Middleton Family'. Very savvy. I'm always impressed by people who work lawyers well; the Middletons work them very well: Harbottle & Lewis (who are lawyers to the Royal family) did an impressive job of slapping down the world's wriggliest paparazzo, Niraj Tanna, who took pictures of Catherine playing tennis last Christmas Day and (so I read) was trying to poke his Nikon through the window during lunch.

Her biography on says she was educated at Marlborough and St Andrews, which she was, but it wipes away the two terms she spent at Downe House first. One longs to know why she was switched. It's a single-sex school: Gabriella Windsor, the daughter of Prince and Princess Michael of Kent, boarded at Downe House and told me she had chafed under the cloistered regime ('Literally cloistered!').

Anyway, Marlborough (the school du jour for a while now, along with Wellington College) suited Catherine – her name liveth forever more and shineth in gold on the roll of honour because she was a house prefect (Elmhurst) and a school prefect. A friend whose daughter boarded there says Marlborough 'spits out girls who are Able All Areas: the City, music business, fashion, politics. They're bright, they do sport, drama, art. They're also very glossy.' There is a certain something, no doubt. Here's a half-dozen Old Marlburiennes: Samantha Cameron, Frances Osborne, Ghislaine Maxwell, Sally Bercow, Catherine and Pippa Middleton. Gosh. No stereotyping there, then.

For Prince William, St Andrew's was a well-chosen university, in a tiny town (the student population are Americans, Japanese, Chinese, lots of Europeans, and – from south of Hadrian's Wall – mostly Sloanes) that let him live a student life. 'It says something about Fife people that they're not impressed by who you are,' says Peter, an (unimpressed) native Scot, who was in the year below, played against William's team (the Strokers) at footie and thought them a wee bit unserious because 'they wore pink socks'. Catherine was in 'a set of about 40 poshos reading art history', another alumnus told me, 'including Olivia Hunt, who was an ex of the Prince when Kate met him. Kate's become friends of all the exes.' Which is smart. They are pretty much all invited to the wedding, what's more, and so are hers (rather fewer in number). 'St Andrews is a very Sloaney, non-toff university and the whole scene, such as it was, just revolved around them, really. William's friends ('a very toff crew') are children of friends of the Prince of Wales, including those four dazzling Van Cutsem boys from Norfolk (Nick, Hugh, Billy and Edward), and Iona and Mary Douglas-Home, and the nightclub entrepreneur Guy Pelly, who famously took the flak for Prince Harry's spliffs. Catherine's friends are… tight-lipped. We'll see. It is not easy to have friends once inside the Royal family.

Professor Peter Humfrey was head of the art history department when William and Catherine were undergraduates. He was obviously very aware of the future king right from the beginning, but he barely remembers Catherine until she took the final-year course he taught, Titian and His Age. 'It included architecture,' he told me, 'and I think I'm right in remembering that she did a paper not on Titian or painting but on a Venetian palace called the Palazzo Corner.' He didn't know at all about her relationship with William until he saw the kissing pictures from Klosters, but the fact that she did nothing to draw attention to herself was entirely to her credit, he thinks. 'She kept quite a low profile. She did nothing to draw attention to herself. Very discreet. And these are qualities that should stand her in good stead in her future role. I'm afraid I haven't any juicy anecdotes about her,' he said, laughing. 'I didn't even know she was supposed to be called Kate!' Well, calling her Catherine proved right all along, Professor. He was the second reader for her final-year dissertation on Charles Dodgson's photographs, which he remembers as 'well written' and 'dealt with the issues sensitively and intelligently'. So is she clever? 'Most certainly. Intelligent and articulate. But also discreet.'

'I'll say!' said a classmate. 'You barely noticed her, she very sweetly just slipped in and out of class.' He added, 'And I'd say "conscientious" rather than clever.'

Catherine will be 'the only queen of England ever to have a degree,' says Hugo Vickers. And in art history, too – which might be useful? 'Yes, she's going to be living in some very lovely places. Princess Anne didn't go to university and she could have got a good degree. Before Catherine, royal women only went near a university if they were made chancellor.' It's amazing, the recent history of royal education: Diana Spencer famously gained no O-levels at school. Camilla Shand, later Parker Bowles and latterly the Duchess of Cornwall, gained one O-level and I've never discovered what it was in. Catherine got three A-levels in chemistry, biology and art and a 2:1 in art history. That's a fair bit of modernisation in 30 years.

The Queen allegedly expressed her approval of Sophie Rhys-Jones, now HRH the Countess of Wessex, by saying, 'You wouldn't notice her in a crowd.' If the Queen herself didn't have to signal her presence in public with fuchsia hats or egg-yellow coats and dresses you wouldn't notice her in a crowd, either. Catherine Middleton's polished reserve and apparent lack of the 'look-at-me' gene that is so essential to celebrity may endear her to her new family enormously. What was wrong with Fergie was that she believed she was bigger than the schedule. Long before her toe-sucking embarrassments, it was clear that she wasn't fantastically good at being HRH the Duchess of York. A friend whose mother was a lord lieutenant told me about some village visit, arranged on a bleak old day, with schoolchildren all lined up. 'My mother's an absolute pro,' said my friend. 'Unflappable, just rises above everything. But all these little things were outside in the freezing cold, waiting and waiting, and eventually Fergie sort of burst out of her car, spraying excuses. My mother bobbed the merest curtsy, held her wristwatch up to Fergie's face and tapped it: "One hour, ma'am. One hour." Then she led her down the receiving line, smiling.'

What will Catherine be called when she walks back down the aisle? It depends on whether the Queen offers William an earldom or dukedom. She may do, because she bestowed one of these on each younger son. Or she may not, because Prince William of Wales is always referred to thus, and he likes it. And we like it. It's become his surname: 'Flight Lieutenant Wales'. I suspect he won't be made a duke, in which case Catherine would (following the usual habits of royalty) be styled Princess William of Wales, in the manner of Princess Michael of Kent, which will puzzle people greatly.

Celestria Noel, a social commentator who knows about correct form, says Catherine herself wants to be called 'Princess Catherine. Maybe they'll just say, "She'll be known as Princess Catherine". Most people, to the extent they've even heard of Princess Michael of Kent at all, have no idea that her name is Marie-Christine, they think she's called Michael. You and I know a married woman is correctly called Mrs Mansname Surname – Mrs John Smith – but nobody puts that on their business cards any more. There's an extraordinary lack of learning about the distinctions. And the Palace is very practical about this sort of thing.'

What the world really wants to know is whether or not the normality of Catherine Middleton's happy, affectionate family life will be sundered for ever after April 29. Hugo Vickers thinks not. 'I'm told that if you surrendered your child to the Royal family you must have expected that it wouldn't be easy to see them. Yes, it has been what you called a closed circle in the past. But as far as I can see, Prince William will continue to see the Middletons. But it will be different. And more difficult.'

Two of my women friends, with a similar sort of connection to the Royal family, are on opposite sides of this. One friend was insistent that Catherine would barely see her parents again. 'Yes, they went shooting at Balmoral. Once! And that was just before the announcement of the engagement, wasn't it? It was a photo opportunity: This is Prince William's girlfriend, they're getting engaged, it's fine by us, here are her parents, they're not going to spill any secrets or talk to the press, are they? Flash-bang-wallop, thank you. They will never go up there for Christmas. I know something of that family and they will not change. The flunkeys, the offices that run on wheels – they won't change. They are rooted in a regulated life; they don't mind Kate becoming part of them but they won't let the Middleton family in – no way. A girl from the M4 corridor? [Sharp intake of breath.]'

The other friend thinks that far from the Middletons losing a daughter, they'll gain a son. It would be 'rare in royal marriages, but he may – just – be able to keep the connection to Berkshire. Her family is obviously very important to her; she is close to her parents from what we read; close to her sister and brother. Wills goes to Berkshire, and no doubt still will. So brilliant it's Berkshire, when you think. Near London. Near Windsor.'

Ah yes, Berkshire. Back we go, down the M4. I'm very amused by the thought that Catherine Middleton's trajectory proves the Edwardian hostesses' maxim: 'Always be good to the girls, because you never know whom they may marry.' Aristocrats (I'm told by one) are miffed by the soon-to-be Royal Highness because, to be frank, William should have married one of them. Aristos shelter royals in trouble, keep schtum about everything they overhear, put them up and entertain them and then when two princes of the blood come along at once, what happens? One of them finds Little Miss Middleclass and the other can't be prised away from a Zimbabwean businessman's daughter. Sigh. So when the engagement was finally announced, from every 18th-century drawing-room, every northern castle, moated manor and 12th-century great hall throughout the realm, there rose up cries of pain. ( )

READ MORE - The royal bride-to-be seems to have all the qualities required of a modern princess

What in the world is up with the world of blogs?

What in the world is up with the world of blogs? Blogs are meant to be this great new technology where people can share their ideas and interests with others around the globe. As far as I’m concerned the state of blogs is one of chaos, confusion, and anti-interactivity. The other day I decided to do some research on the Web and try to connect to some blog writers out there that interested me. Let me tell you it was not an enjoyable task as I had envisioned. I spent four painful hours surfing through around a thousand on-line journals, and I found only a few that interested me. What are we doing out there people?

First of all, just getting to a blog can be a pain in the arse. For example, you type in the words ‘Philosophy blogs’ and a whole bunch of sites come up. Some are conglomerate sites with thousands of journals, but the area you’re searching for may have only one blog in it! This is because they separate the blogs into a million different categories, like ‘love’, ‘lovers’, ‘lovable’ etc. Why not have just a few main categories to choose from?

The next problem is the content. People with ‘philosophical’ blogs are having personal chats with their mates about the local dance competition on Tuesday! Why not go to a chat room if you just want to talk to your friends? Blogs are supposed to be a personal viewpoint expressed to the whole Web community. Wouldn’t you actually like to meet more people like yourself? How is this going to happen if you talk in strange uncommon slang and acronyms that you and your friends can only understand? Please stick to the subject at hand, and take it at least half seriously.

Another major problem is the fact that you can find a really cool blog that sparks an interest, but then find that the writer hasn’t added an entry in over a year! What’s it doing on the Net? Have these people passed away? I seriously doubt it, as there are so many blogs in this ‘lost’ state. Having a blog is a responsibility; it’s a shared diary for the whole community. How can someone form a relationship if you only write in your blog once a millennium?

Back to the subject of content: These on-line journals are a real chance to communicate regularly with others with similar views to yourself. We can learn a lot from each other, as each human is an individual with special traits and skills that only they have. So why do we see so many blogs just talking about trivial nonsense like ‘Who the coolest movie actor is.’ Humanity is an intelligent species evolving everyday towards a higher consciousness. So where are all the thinkers out there, the people who have taken us to the next levels of spirituality and scientific exploration? I’d really like to hear what you’ve got to say, but all I can find are philosophical beliefs on why died pink jeans express one’s true inner self.

The issue of making comments on someone’s blog is also a controversial one. Why have comments sections if you’re not going to reply to people who have expressed an interest in what you’ve had to say? How is this community going to function if all the conversation is one-way! Come on people, wake up and smell the onions! Let’s change the blogging community into the awesome structure of shared knowledge that it was intended for. Please don’t let it turn into the small-talk world of chat rooms.

READ MORE - What in the world is up with the world of blogs?

Cristiano Ronaldo looks more interested in girlfriend Irina Shayk than the football as pair watch match in Madrid

Cristiano Ronaldo looks more interested in girlfriend Irina Shayk than the football as pair watch match in Madrid - Ronaldo has voiced his unhappiness with his current team Real Madrid recently, but he certainly seems a lot happier off the pitch.

The 27-year-old striker was seen being cheered up by his stunning girlfriend Irina Shayk, as the pair enjoyed a passionate PDA in the stands while Real in action in Madrid.

The pair gazed longingly at each other, before Ronaldo swooped in for a kiss and ended the amorous display with a huge grin on his face.

Cristiano Ronaldo and his stunning girlfriend Irina Shayk enjoyed a passionate smooch while watching a Real Madrid game
Cristiano Ronaldo and his stunning girlfriend Irina Shayk enjoyed a passionate smooch while watching a Real Madrid game

Ronaldo and Irina failed to keep their hands off each other, and looked more interested in cuddling up to each other rather than watching Real take on an invited team in memory of the team's late president Santiago Bernabéu.

And even when the pair weren't indulging in some PDA, they kept themselves busy by looking at their mobile phones.

Earlier this year, Ronaldo sparked speculation about his future with the Spanish football champions after he told reporters in January: 'I’m sad - when I don’t celebrate goals it’s because I’m not happy. It’s a professional thing. Real Madrid know why I’m not happy.’

Leaning in: The striker and the Russian beauty begin their PDA, while his teammate Pepe tries to watch his team play
Leaning in: The striker and the Russian beauty begin their PDA, while his teammate Pepe tries to watch his team play

Scoring off the pitch: Irina Shayk helps Cristiano Ronaldo forgets about football worries with public display of affection
Goal-den touch: The pair enjoyed a long kiss as Real Madrid went about winning the annual Santiago Bernabeu Trophy on Wednesday night

Coming up for air: The lovers finally stop their smooching
Coming up for air: The lovers finally stop their smooching

Ronaldo may have missed some of the game, but it was a night to remember for the Real Madrid fans as they watched their team crush Millonarios 8-0, thanks largely to Brazilian forward Kaka, who scored a hat-trick and was named man of the match. 

Despite his apparent unhappiness, Ronaldo has still been banging in the goals, and Arsenal manger Arsene Wenger has suggested his recent comments have been made because he's not in the limelight as much.

Eyes not on the game: Even when they weren't indulging in some PDA they kept their minds off the match by looking at their phones

Eyes not on the game: Even when they weren't indulging in some PDA they kept their minds off the match by looking at their phones

That's better: They finally began watching some of the game, which saw Real Madrid win 8-0

That's better: They finally began watching some of the game, which saw Real Madrid win 8-0

He wrote in his Eurosport column: 'When you talk about Ronaldo, no matter where he goes, he wins things and at the end of the season scores 50 goals. Cristiano is a super player and these type of players often have great aspirations and strong egos, because they are not satisfied with being just average.

'They want to be the best in the world and there is a price to pay for that. They have a certain aura which surrounds them and at times this distracts from the rest of the team.

'All the great players love being in the spotlight, and when the spotlight is on just one player, the other players can't be happy. The media chooses who to focus on and the others suffer.' ( )

READ MORE - Cristiano Ronaldo looks more interested in girlfriend Irina Shayk than the football as pair watch match in Madrid

Friend of Princess Diana fears 'history repeating itself' with Kate

Friend of Princess Diana fears 'history repeating itself' with Kate - 'I saw what it did to Diana and it’s absolutely horrendous,' Rosa Monckton says about press intrusion following the publication of topless photographs of the Duchess of Cambridge

Rosa Monckton, a friend of the late Princess Diana, has told the U.K.’s ITV News of her fear that the press will hound the Duchess of Cambridge in the same way following the publication of photographs showing her topless.

“I think it’s history repeating itself,” Monckton told ITV News, which is a partner of NBC News. “It’s very damaging if you as an individual feel that you can never properly relax wherever you are. It gets to you in the end.”

She said she had decided to speak out in an attempt to dissuade the press from treating Kate the same way as Diana.

Monckton was on a private vacation with Diana in Greece shortly before Diana died and told about how they were constantly hunted by an army of about 250 journalists using boats and helicopters.

“I do not want that to happen to the Duchess of Cambridge. I saw what it did to Diana and it’s absolutely horrendous,” Monckton added.

Many blamed paparazzi photographers for following Diana’s car on the night she died in a crash in Paris in August 1997.

Kate and William have filed a lawsuit against French magazine Closer for printing photos of what appears to be Kate, sunbathing topless.

The suit alleges that Closer breached the couple's right to privacy, though the magazine insists it did not.

St. James Palace confirmed Friday that "legal proceedings for breach of privacy have been commenced today in France," reports the Associated Press.

Blurry, long-lens shots of Kate, taken while she and William were on vacation in Provence, in the south of France last week, were printed in the gossip magazine on Friday.

A statement from the palace said the pair were "hugely saddened" by the publication, adding that William and Kate "had every expectation of privacy in the remote house" where they were sunbathing at the time the pictures were taken.

According to a report in Reuters, Closer's editor-in-chief Laurence Pieau defended the "beautiful series" of photos.

"There's been an over-reaction to these photos. What we see is a young couple, who just got married, who are very much in love, who are splendid," Pieau told French BFM television, adding that the magazine had more "intimate" shots from the same series that it chose not to publish.

The news comes as the couple makes an official tour of Southeast Asia. Kate has been basking in the glow of rave reviews for her performing during her second overseas tour as a duchess — and just 24 hours after her heralded first public speech on the international stage. ( )

READ MORE - Friend of Princess Diana fears 'history repeating itself' with Kate
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