Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton looked ready for Valentine’s Day wearing a red scarf covered in hearts as she arrived in Wales with her husband, Prince William. Unfortunately, the couple’s quick trip was for business, not romance. On a whirlwind day that included a visit to a lifeboat rescue crew, a tour of a steel plant and a stop at an organization promoting children’s wellness, the duchess never lost her brilliant smile or perfect poise.

Kate’s been groomed for the throne since her 2011 marriage, but lately Queen Elizabeth II, 93, has made a greater effort to spend time with her granddaughter-in-law. “Kate’s learning all the ins and outs,” says an insider. “The queen admires her professionalism, commitment and ability to take royal life in stride without getting flustered.”

Kate Middleton and Queen Elizabeth

The daughter of two flight attendants, Kate, 38, hasn’t always been so comfortable at the palace. “Kate used to be nervous around Elizabeth,” admits the insider, who adds that she had reason to worry.

Around the time of her 2010 engagement, the queen reportedly didn’t think Kate worked hard enough. “Over the past few years, they’ve gotten to know each other on a personal level and the queen became very impressed with her. Kate’s also much more at ease in her presence now,” says the insider.

Kate would never address her as “Granny” as William does, but the queen has Kate to call her “Elizabeth” instead of “Your Majesty” when they speak privately — a clear sign of the monarch’s affection and regard. Last April, she also made Kate a Dame Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order, a high recognition of her services to the country. “Elizabeth values her opinions and trusts her judgment,” says the insider. “Lately, she has been communicating one-on-one with Kate instead of going through William.”

Kate Middleton and Queen Elizabeth

This new proximity to Elizabeth has given Kate a crash course in how to handle scandals. In the past few months, the queen has dealt with the fallout over Prince Andrew’s ties to the late Jeffrey Epstein as well as the commotion caused by Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s choice to leave royal life.

“Elizabeth has told Kate never to speak in public about any drama surrounding the family. Instead the palace always communicates through statements that should be short and factual,” says the insider. “Kate has learned a great deal.”

Earning the queen’s trust hasn’t stopped her from worrying. Kate fears her royal obligations might cause her to miss special moments with her children, Prince George, 6, Princess Charlotte, 4, and Prince Louis, 21 months.

“Family means everything to Kate,” adds the insider. The queen can relate to this quandary. “Elizabeth has opened up about how she regrets not spending enough time with her children when they were younger,” says the insider. “She admits that one of the biggest challenges of being queen is creating a balance between her personal and professional life.”

kate middleton kids

Elizabeth has faith that Kate will figure it all out. “She is impressed by the way Kate has grown into her role,” says the insider. “Her warm and caring personality has made her one of the most popular royals of all time. Elizabeth has no doubt that one day Kate will be a great queen.”

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