Kensington Palace has released three powerful new images of the Duchess of Cambridge to celebrate her 40th birthday.

Kate, who hits the milestone on Sunday 9 January, looks every bit the future queen, wearing minimal make-up with her hair styled in side-swept curls. In the images, she models three incredible gowns designed by Alexander McQueen.

In one shot, the duchess smiles at the camera wearing a one-shoulder red dress with a statement puffy sleeve. And in a sweet tribute to the Queen, she wears Her Majesty’s diamond earrings, which she’s been pictured in on multiple occasions throughout the years.

Two other black and white snaps show Kate wearing her late mother-in-law Diana, Princess of Wales’ pearl drop earrings. They were originally a wedding gift to Diana from Collingwood Jewellers, the family jewellers of the Spencer family, and Kate was first spotted wearing them at the Spanish State Banquet in 2017.

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A close-up image of Kate shows her in a white dress with a ruffled shoulder, while a third is a side profile shot of the duchess, this time in a flowing white gown.

Royal expert Jennie Bond tells OK! that while the pictures of Kate – who shares children George, eight, Charlotte, six, and Louis, three, with husband Prince William, 39 – are not what we usually see, they reflect her role in the royal family perfectly.

“This is a milestone in anybody’s life, more so in a woman’s life, and perhaps it’s the time to do something a bit different,” she says. “Kate has always been the queen of the casual shots, she’s made that her mark, but perhaps on occasions like this she’s going to take on a more formal role.

“Being queen is not a casual affair, so gradually we will see her, on occasions like this, being a bit more official.”

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On Kate’s outfit choices, Jennie adds, “She’s very broad in her style, but on such an important occasion, why not go back to the house that made one of the most beautiful wedding dresses of royal brides in recent years? She is, like Diana, the perfect model to carry off these haute couture clothes.”

Jennie also notes that Kate’s style shows that she has “grown in confidence” over the years. She continues, “I think she, understandably, played it very safe in her early years as a royal and I don’t think she’s ever going to be super daring or outlandishly sexily dressed, but she has got elegance down to a T.

“She is becoming an absolute star in the quality and design and the way she carries dresses like this. What we’re seeing now is the star of the show walking out with great confidence and justified pride in how good she looks.”

And she adds of the nod to Diana in the images, “William’s always said that with milestones in his life and his wife’s life, they want to include Diana. This is another sign of inclusion of the mother-in-law that she never met.”

The portraits of Kate were taken at Kew Gardens in November by famed fashion photographer Paolo Roversi, and they will enter the permanent collection of the National Portrait Gallery – of which Kate is patron – when it reopens in 2023.

Paolo says: “Taking the portrait of Her Royal Highness, the Duchess of Cambridge, was a true honour for me, and a moment of pure joy.

“I was moved by her warmth and friendly welcome and enchanted by her shining eyes that reflected the loveliness of her soul and her smile showing the generosity of her heart.”

He adds: “It was a profound and rich experience for me, an unforgettable moment. I have met a wonderful person, a person who, with her positive energy, can bring hope to the whole world.”

The images also feature as part of the gallery’s Coming Home project this year, which is a nationwide initiative that sees portraits of well-known individuals being sent to locations which they are closely associated with.

The shots of Kate will be displayed in three places that have a special meaning to her – Berkshire, St Andrews and Anglesey.

Now, as Kate moves into a new decade, she’s preparing for the future of the monarchy – and Jennie says she has it all when it comes to stepping up alongside husband William.

“She has grown into her role and she now feels like a queen-in-waiting. She knows that’s her role and that she’s making a success of it,” Jennie says.

“She’s ticked all the boxes – motherhood, successful career as a royal, immense beauty. And she hasn’t said a single word wrong in what is a very difficult tightrope to walk – walking into an established and important family like this. It’s very difficult to find your place and I think she’s doing it fantastically.”

Jennie continues, “She has very much found her feet. We’re going to see a lot more of her this coming year.”

Meanwhile, dermatologist Dr Aamna Adel tells OK! how Kate has “barely aged” in the past 10 years, despite welcoming her three children and working as a senior member of the royal family.

She says, “Kate definitely looks like she takes care of her skin, and like she takes care of herself in general. Part of having healthy skin comes from your lifestyle in general.

“I don’t think we talk about skin enough in relation to beauty sleep, water and exercise. Actually, these are things that contribute to having a healthy, glowing complexion.”

Dr Adel adds, “She’s ageing so gracefully, she just looks so great for her age.”

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