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How Princess Charlotte is ruling the royals with her charm, confidence and girl power

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's daughter turns five on Saturday

Natasha Hornsby

Five years ago, on 2 May 2015, London landmarks that now stand silent – the Tower of London, the fountains of Trafalgar Square and the Eye – turned pink marking the birth of a Princess. The arrival of Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diana of Cambridge was a spring treat to cheer the nation, and the joy rippled around the world, with gifts coming from as far afield as Australia, whose government presented her with a blanket of Tasmanian merino wool, and Israel, who sent a pink dress with a 'hamsa' symbol brooch, a Middle Eastern sign of protection.

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Watch Princess Charlotte give the perfect curtsy to the Queen

But no one seemed as thrilled as her grandfather, the Prince of Wales. "She is beautiful," said Charles proudly. "I was hoping for a granddaughter – someone to look after me when I am very old." If it's hard to believe that Grandpa Wales's little girl is already celebrating her fifth birthday that's because she seems so grown up. "She's very much in charge," remarked the Duchess of Cambridge of her daughter, affectionately known as Lottie at home, who was then just a toddler.

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Charlotte has been enthusiastically clapping for the NHS during lockdown

Months before her birth the laws of succession were changed so she wouldn't have to cede her place to a younger brother. This left her fourth in line to the throne after Prince George; fifth is little Louis. But camera-ready Charlotte, who has lifted spirits with her enthusiastic weekly claps for the NHS, really didn't need a change of rules to make her mark in the family. Taking a leaf out of Kate's book last week, she was pictured bounding confidently out of Anmer Hall, Norfolk, where the family are isolating to pay tribute to health workers.

Britain's girl power Princess seems to have the mettle of a Middleton woman and the quiet authority of her great-grandmother, the Queen. Then there's the charm. Remember that pretty little wave as Charlotte visited her newborn brother with George, briefly glancing backwards at photographers as she skipped up the hospital steps? It was a scene-stealing appearance worthy of her much-missed grandmother, Princess Diana.

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The little girl hugs a member of the public on Christmas Day

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Along with her big brother, the future King, the royal youngster also proved a natural when she was allowed to join the grown-ups for the traditional Christmas church service for the first time last year. Charlotte impressed everyone with her lovely manners, including wheelchair user Gemma Clark, who gave her a toy flamingo that she'd nicknamed Felicity as a gift. "I asked her: 'Would you like Felicity?' Her face lit up and she said: 'Yes please,'" recounted the royal fan, a cerebral palsy sufferer. "Then she and George gave me a hug and I was on cloud nine. They were so sweet and it is a moment I will remember forever as being special."

Like many little girls, Charlotte models herself on her mother. And you'll often observe Kate discreetly cuddling and coaching her when the family greets the public together, their closeness underlined by colour-coordinated outfits. These 'take your daughter to work' days are balanced by precious private time. Away from the public gaze the Cambridges are careful not to reinforce gender stereotypes as the Duke revealed to a young activist who encourages girls to get into football.

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Prince William has revealed Charlotte loves playing football

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"He said: 'When Prince George and Charlotte play football, George gets Charlotte to go in goal because he says he is better.' But Prince William says to him 'Charlotte could be as good as you, George, so give her the same chances,'" said Olivia Hancock, 14.

The same goes for school. Last September the bright-eyed Princess joined her elder brother at Thomas's School, Battersea, where they are known as George and Charlotte Cambridge. Their modern curriculum includes ballet for both girls and boys, and places great importance on kindness. Notably, the Duke and Duchess have not chosen the single-sex schools favoured by previous generations of royal parents.

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Charlotte on her first day of 'big school' at Thomas's Battersea

Charlotte's confidence has shone through on royal tours – her first to Canada in 2016 was followed the next year by one to Poland and Germany. The trips were an early lesson in diplomacy, which she aced, looking like her mother's mini-me, performing a gracious curtsey while accepting flowers from a defence attaché at Berlin airport. Her impressive double act with George bodes well for the future, and could mirror Prince Charles and Princess Anne's supportive relationship during the late 1960s and early 1970s when they toured the world flying the flag for the monarchy from Australia and New Zealand to Canada, the US, Jamaica and Kenya.

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Then, came the 1976 Montreal Olympics when Anne, a medal-winning equestrian, captured the public imagination. Competing in the red, white and blue of Great Britain, the first time a royal had done so, she sailed over fences on the Queen's horse Goodwill. She's since forged a reputation as a no-nonsense royal who'll recycle outfits over decades and a tireless patron of organisations such as Save the Children and St John Ambulance. In 2019, she clocked up 506 engagements to Charles's 521, the first year he eclipsed her. In 1987, Anne was created the Princess Royal, a title usually awarded by the monarch to the eldest daughter in recognition of their work.

Of course, we can have no way of knowing how Charlotte's interests will develop or whether she will ever hold the title of Princess Royal. But it's not hard to imagine that, like Anne, she will become a pillar of the monarchy. By the time Princess Charlotte comes of age Britain will once again be ruled by Kings after one of the longest and most successful tenures of a Queen in the history of the world. But while the next 100 years may be dominated by the reigns of Charles III, William V and George VII, you can be sure that Charlotte will rule as a 21st century Princess of Hearts.

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