She may only just be turning 2, but Princess Charlotte already seems strong-minded.

During a recent church sermon, she appeared impatient for the vicar of St Mary the Virgin, the parish church close to her grandparents' home in Bucklebury, Berkshire, to bring the service to an end.

"She gave the impression that it was going on a little too long," said one member of the congregation who observed the chubby-cheeked princess there with her protective big brother, Prince George, sitting good as gold in his pew. "Charlotte certainly has got a good voice."

Churchgoers report a few noisy interludes from the youngest - and as we will see, maybe most determined - member of the Royal Family.


As is often the case when it comes to the Cambridges' children, doting granny Carole Middleton was there to soothe Charlotte, whose birthday is next Tuesday.

It is a big milestone for the Princess who, has not been seen by the wider public at all since last year.

Both Charlotte and George are frequent visitors to the Middletons' £4.7 million ($9m) home, Bucklebury Manor (it is Charlotte's maternal grandparents who play the biggest role in her life).

It is a haven of tranquillity for the children, who can run around the 18-acre grounds, dip their fingers in the pond teeming with frog spawn, or collect eggs from the chicken coop.

None of it compares with the cosy familiarity of their own home, Anmer Hall, on the Queen's Sandringham Estate, where Charlotte and 3-year-old George live - and that William and Kate insist will remain their principal home, despite a move to London later this year. (As if to emphasise the point, they've just employed a second full-time housekeeper.)

Nevertheless, this summer's relocation to Kensington Palace in time for George to start at Thomas's School in Battersea, London, in September will signal a big change for Charlotte.

George attends a Montessori nursery in Norfolk, but the Princess will start her education in the capital. It is anticipated she will follow her brother and go to Thomas's Kindergarten later in the year.

The royals chose the school, in the heart of Battersea's affluent "Nappy Valley", as it reminded Kate of her own village upbringing in Berkshire. Its sister school in Kensington had too many oligarchs and celebrities as parents, it was thought.

Thomas's kindy is located in the crypt of Grade I-listed St Mary's Church in Battersea. Fees range between £1,950 per term for three mornings a week to £2,445 for five with an extra £440 per afternoon per term.

Charlotte - who has distinctive, dark "Middleton eyes" according to her mother - seems to have a sparkly nature. Kate recently told a well-wisher: "She is very cute but has quite a feisty side. George has turned out to be a lovely little boy. I hope he will keep Charlotte in order!"

That's quite a transformation.

As the Duchess herself hinted just last week when she referred to how lonely and overwhelming becoming a parent can be, she found motherhood the first time round a difficult experience.

George wasn't the easiest of babies - not only did she struggle to feed him but he was not a good sleeper. There were early reports of his boisterous nature. But things are easier now.

At a children's party on their visit to Canada last autumn, George appeared a much shyer, more hesitant child, who frequently looked to his mother and father for encouragement.

Charlotte, by contrast, wrestled herself out of her mother's arms and toddled to a balloon display, uttering her first words in public. "Pop!" she squealed. "Pop!" Lively Charlotte - a second child like Princess Anne and Aunt Pippa - is proving to be a chip off the block when it comes to her adored "Gan-Gan", her great-grandmother, the Queen, who sees the youngest member of her family regularly.

It was certainly no coincidence that William chose to live close to his adored grandmother in Norfolk, rather than his father in Gloucestershire. Charlotte has also taken to horse-riding, having none of the alleged allergies to horses that her mother has.

A beach which borders the Sandringham Estate is a favourite place for Charlotte, who has also been taken to International Horse Trials and a Georgian market town for shopping trips.

Prince Charles, Camilla and Kate with Charlotte and George. Photo / Getty Images
Prince Charles, Camilla and Kate with Charlotte and George. Photo / Getty Images

Mother and daughter have also been spotted at a discount chain store where they bought arts and crafts supplies after Christmas. Arty Kate is keen on her children getting their hands messy.

Both Kate and William, who does his best to be home from his job as an air ambulance pilot for bath-time, are hands-on parents. The Prince has said having a daughter was a "game-changer" for him, not just because he is one of two boys. It has made him, he says, more vulnerable.

Their Spanish Norland nanny, Maria Borrallo, who has been with the family since 2014, is an important influence on Charlotte. Kate's habit of dressing her daughter in Spanish brands such as Pepa & Co and M&H is down to Maria's guiding hand.

But what of Charlotte's other grandparents, Prince Charles and Camilla? How much influence do they have on her life? Since George's birth, there has been talk of grumblings from the Prince of Wales over access to his grandchildren. Such complaints are not unfounded. But it would be unfair, it should be stressed, to suggest there is a permanent rift.

Charles is far more pragmatic than many give him credit for and while he may rant and rail about the situation in private, more often than not he caves in to his notoriously truculent eldest son over everything from his career decisions to money.

But the sad truth is, like many grandparents who don't have the easiest relationship with their offspring, he is also nervous of provoking a situation where he never gets to see his grandchildren at all.

Indeed, a member of his inner circle told me that the number of times he has seen Charlotte since her birth was nowhere near what most grandparents would hope for or expect.

This couldn't be more different from the access enjoyed by the Middletons, who, as one who knows them well says, are "virtually part-time nannies" to the children. I understand that after Charlotte's birth, the Middletons were encouraged to pop in to see her whenever they liked - including coming to the hospital when she was born.

Charles and Camilla, it seems, were not given the same freedom. They have had to drop everything on several occasions to go to see the baby at short notice.

"William chose the Middletons as his surrogate family long ago, even before the children were born. He has nailed his colours to the mast in that respect," says one who has observed the family at close hand.

It would be inconceivable for the Cambridges to leave their children with Charles and Camilla when they go on a foreign tour, as they do with Carole and Michael.

The already delicate situation is exacerbated by the fact that while Charles has many official commitments - almost 600 public engagements a year and a growing number of duties on behalf of the elderly Queen - Carole and Michael, by contrast, have the luxury of being able to help with the children whenever needed.

And it is made more difficult by the fact that - while Charles's own schedule is arranged meticulously six to seven months in advance - William and Kate's office at Kensington Palace is notoriously tardy in confirming their diary (unusually for a royal household).

This has resulted in the frustrated Prince having to turn down last-minute family invitations as he is already scheduled to attend a public event that day.

Whether any of this is likely to change when the Cambridges move to London is not clear.

Having based themselves close to the Queen in Norfolk (a four-hour one-way trip from Highgrove and a six-hour round trip from his London home, Clarence House) for the past few years, Charles's opportunities to see Charlotte and her brother have been limited - and even then very much on William and Kate's terms.

"Let's just say they haven't really done anything to make it easy for him," said one familiar with the set-up. "Charles does the best he can, but there are constraints."

It's a shame as the Prince is far better with children than people might realise and clearly adores Charlotte (he and Diana longed for a daughter when they were married) and her brother.

Both have handmade wooden swings at Anmer, carved with their names, courtesy of their grandpapa. Charles visibly melts at the mention of Charlotte's name.

As for the Duchess of Cornwall - being a step-grandmother is never an easy line to tread at the best of times. A doting grandmother herself five times over (her own grandchildren often visit her Wiltshire country home, Ray Mill, and enjoy annual bucket and spade holidays and trips to the theatre with their 'Gaga'), Camilla simply does her best not to upset the apple cart.

"The truth is she doesn't come into the equation much. If she's asked to be there, she'll be there, but otherwise she has her own family and does her best to support her husband," says a friend.

When asked about how much the prince saw his grandchildren, Clarence House said they would never comment on private arrangements regarding family visits.

Sources close to Charles didn't dispute the suggestion that he would like to see more of his grandchildren, but implied he was now more pragmatic about the situation than he may have been.

"Does every grandparent want to see more of their grandchildren? Of course they do. But the Prince understands that mothers naturally gravitate towards their own families. And he acknowledges that he is in a unique position which means his time is not often his own," said one.

It's not clear whether Charles will even see Charlotte for her birthday on Tuesday - he's in Scotland all week and the Cambridges are unlikely to travel to Birkhall.

One thing's for sure, though, he will send a thoughtful, if slightly quirky gift to mark her big day (no doubt helped by Camilla).

As for the Middletons, without the rigours of a royal schedule, they are more than likely to see the Princess blow out her candles.