Official engagement photograph of Prince William and Catherine Middleton. Copyright 2010 Mario Testino.
LONDON (AP) -- It's impossible not to like the new childhood pictures of Kate Middleton -- and that's just how Buckingham Palace wants it.
Whether she is frolicking outdoors at age three, flashing a winning smile at five, hugging a jubilant boyfriend -- Prince William -- on their joint graduation day, Britain's future queen is an irresistible lassie.
Thousands of newspapers, TV stations and websites around the world immediately flashed the pictures moments after they appeared Monday on the official royal wedding site set up by Prince Charles' press team. You couldn't miss them even if you tried.
In times gone by, monarchs rose or fell on the strength of their armies and navies, but today -- when constitutional monarchies like the House of Windsor depend on public goodwill -- they need positive press coverage to build support with the masses.
Enter Operation Kate -- the release of adorable family photos to an image-hungry global press corps. It's part of a sophisticated effort by the royal family to generate favorable coverage about the big event -- and experts say so far it's working.
Monday's release of photos and information is designed to make Middleton's storybook life seem more accessible, but it is not damage control. Middleton's image does not need repair. She is already popular -- her recent appearances with William have been quite successful, and she has shown an easy touch when relating to the public.
The photos released Monday from the Middleton family album simply show a picture-perfect princess in the making: a pigtailed toddler, a smiling child, a family vacation shot and a healthy, wholesome beauty graduating from the University of St. Andrew's in Scotland.
The palace photo package also included an official Middleton mini-biography laced with deep insights into the woman-who-would-be-queen, including that she likes to sail and enjoys going for walks.
The royals' newly minted wedding site has already attracted nearly 2 million hits since it launched last week. Palace press aides know the Middleton photos will be used again and again in the run-up to the wedding -- and for years to come.