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Kate Middleton and Prince William 'Ready and Willing to Do the Job' One Year After Queen's Death (Exclusive)

While King Charles makes his mark, the Prince and Princess of Wales have also stepped up in their royal roles in the year since Queen Elizabeth's death

Neil Mockford/Getty Kate Middleton and Prince William at the coronation on May 6, 2023
Neil Mockford/Getty Kate Middleton and Prince William at the coronation on May 6, 2023

Queen Elizabeth’s death meant many changes in the royal family, especially for Kate Middleton and Prince William.

In the days after his mother’s death last Sept. 8, King Charles made William and Kate the new Prince and Princess of Wales (the titles formerly held by Charles and his first wife, Princess Diana), recognizing their seniority in the family and signaling their critical roles ahead.

“Charles is leading the way for them already, and [William and Kate] are both involved in decision-making behind the scenes. They are ready and willing to do the job — and Kate is very much a part of that,” a friend of the princess tells PEOPLE in this week's exclusive cover story.

In the last 12 months, the Prince and Princess of Wales, both 41, have forged ahead with work that will be central to their lives for decades to come. Princess Kate has taken her early childhood initiative to a new public level with Shaping Us, a campaign focused on kids under age 5, while Prince William is concentrating on a new homelessness project, Homewards. He has been increasing his global role, too, meeting President Joe Biden in Boston last December and traveling to the border between Poland and Ukraine in March. Later this month, he’ll promote his environmental Earthshot Prize during a visit to New York.

Chris Jackson/Getty Queen Camilla, King Charles, Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2022
Chris Jackson/Getty Queen Camilla, King Charles, Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2022

Related: Kate Middleton and Prince William to Lead Tributes to Queen Elizabeth on First Anniversary of Death

Their family life has gone through a huge change too. The first full day at the private Lambrook School for Prince George, 10, Princess Charlotte, 8, and Prince Louis, 5, was the day the Queen died. Since then, the children have been more visible than ever, participating in significant family and formal events. Prince George, who is now second in line to the throne, historically stepped into the spotlight to support his grandfather as a Page of Honor at the coronation in May.

Prince William and Princess Kate “are maintaining a good balance between carrying out their duties and raising their children as privately as possible,” royal author Sally Bedell Smith exclusively tells PEOPLE in this week's issue.

Getting that right is key and “something they think about every day,” adds a source close to the family. In doing so, they honor the Queen.

“The prince was incredibly close to his grandmother,” the source adds. “She was such a big part of his life and a real supporter of his work, and I’m sure he and the princess miss her presence.”

<p>Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty</p> Queen Elizabeth with Prince William, Kate Middleton and their children in June 2022

Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty

Queen Elizabeth with Prince William, Kate Middleton and their children in June 2022

Related: How King Charles and Queen Camilla Will Mark the First Anniversary of Queen Elizabeth's Death Next Month

Some suggest there is a sense of King Charles steadying the ship for William and Kate one day. King Charles and Queen Camilla will “provide the best possible platform for William and Kate to go forward,” says one close insider. But palace sources deny that Charles sees himself as a “caretaker King.”

“He will be keen to make his mark in whatever time he has and champion those brilliant causes he is interested in — like the environment, sustainability, art,” a palace insider says. “You don’t go into a position like that with an idea of how long or short it would be.”

During the last days of summer, King Charles and Queen Camilla — along with Prince William, Princess Kate and other senior members of the royal family — gathered at their beloved Balmoral Castle for their traditional August holiday. A sojourn in the Scottish Highlands is a chance to “leave your crown on the gatepost and put your raincoat on,” says a former palace staffer.

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But this year’s annual visit was different from those throughout the decades prior: missing was the family matriarch. Queen Elizabeth spent her final weeks at Balmoral and died there at age 96 on Sept. 8, 2022.

Today, the former staffer says, "When [the royals] walk into a room, I’m sure they expect [the Queen] to be there. Balmoral was her favorite place in the world, and now will be the time that they reflect on her loss.”

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