It’s the wedding of the year, if not the decade, and probably even of the 21st century so far. The groom stands there, dashing in red – the color of his officer’s uniform. He is soon joined by his beautiful bride, resplendent in her white Alexander McQueen gown. Underneath all the ostentatious attire are just two young people in love. Who could have dreamed such romance would blossom from such an inauspicious first encounter?
Those two people just happen to be Prince William, second-in-line to succeed to the British throne, and his bride, Catherine Middleton, the soon-to-be Duchess of Cambridge. Their wedding is being watched in more than 180 countries, with viewing figures estimated to be somewhere between 122 million and 176 million people worldwide. That’s what happens when the bridegroom is a future king.
That was April 2011. As of December 2019, William and Kate are now the parents of three children (two boys and a girl), and much has changed since their special day. Yet they remain, to outsiders at least, very much a young couple in love, and unburdened by the scrutiny and attention that their public profile attracts. Certainly, they appear to be avoiding the pitfalls that William’s own parents, Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer, so famously suffered.
Of course the couple lead incredibly busy lives, filled with royal engagements, charitable commitments, and not forgetting the daily duties that consume the lives of parents with young children. As of December 2019, Prince George, the couple’s eldest child, is only six years old, while Princess Charlotte is four and Prince Louis is just 19 months. It’s a hectic household for the Cambridges.
Certainly, it is a far cry from the surroundings of the University of St Andrews in Scotland, where the couple first met back in 2001. Those were care-free days for William and Kate, or at least as care-free as things can be when you are heir to the British throne on one hand, or a young woman studying for a degree in art history in the presence of royalty on the other.
But much has changed for the couple since those youthful days in which the pair found themselves as flatmates in Scotland. By November 2010, nine years after their initial meeting, the couple had announced their engagement. At the time, they gave an illuminating TV interview to ITV News’s Tom Bradby in which they talked about their relationship, the first time they met, and how William proposed.
It was a huge moment for the couple, and for the country at large. William is, of course, the son of Charles, Prince of Wales, the eldest son of Queen Elizabeth II, the current ruling monarch of the United Kingdom. One day William will be the king, and as his bride-to-be, that destined Kate, born Catherine Elizabeth Middleton, to be queen.
The couple come from two very different backgrounds, although Kate was far from poor growing up. Her father, Michael Middleton, hails from a family connected to the British landed gentry. Middleton is a former flight dispatcher for British Airways. Ironically, his father, Captain Peter Middleton, Kate’s grandfather, was once a co-pilot of Prince Philip, the Queen’s husband and William’s own grandfather.
Kate’s mother, Carole – born Carole Goldsmith – was an air stewardess who started her own party bag enterprise; it has since grown into an immensely profitable business that engages both of Kate’s parents. Kate is the oldest of three children born to the couple, arriving in January 1982. William was born in June of the same year.
Catherine Middleton – Kate for short – grew up in Berkshire, first attending St Andrew’s School in Pangbourne, and then attending Downe House in the county, followed by Marlborough College in nearby Wiltshire, where she boarded. Once school was finished, it was off to Scotland for Kate, to study at the University of St Andrews, based in the city of Fife. It was here that she met her husband-to-be.
Many people meet their future spouse at university, of course. However, most do not become royalty as a result. Yet that is exactly what fate had in store for young Kate Middleton when she embarked on her studies at St Andrews. Because embarking on a college career at the same time was the young Prince William, fresh from a gap year in which he had enjoyed numerous adventures, including teaching children in Chile.
News of the future king enrolling at university certainly attracted the interest of the British media and public. Somewhat unsurprisingly, it caused an increase in enrollments at St Andrews, with this becoming known as ‘the William effect’. There were also said to be numerous applications from female perspective students who had a romantic eye on the prince.
William seemed unperturbed. “I suppose they’re saying that tongue-in-cheek,” the prince told the Associated Press’s Sam Greenhill. “But people who try to take advantage of me and get a piece of me – I spot it quickly and soon go off them.” Clearly the woman to win the prince’s heart would have to be authentic in her affections.
In that interview, given way back in September 2001, the prince was clear in the intentions he had for university. “I just want to go to university and have fun. I want to go there and be an ordinary student. I mean, I’m only going to university. It’s not like I’m getting married – though that’s what it feels like sometimes,” the prince lamented at the time.
It seems the prince certainly managed to enjoy his time in Scotland. And fast forward more than nine years, to November 2010, and the prince was revealing in an informal question-and-answer session with ITV News’ Tom Bradby how he had proposed to the girlfriend he met upon that university adventure. “It was about three weeks ago, on holiday in Kenya. We had a little private time away together with some friends, and I just decided that it was the right time, really,” the prince revealed of his proposal to Kate.
Considering the couple had been together for seven years by this stage, many would have agreed that it was about time. The prince revealed that marriage had been discussed between the couple before he eventually popped the question. “We’d been talking about marriage for a while, so it wasn’t a massively big surprise, but I took her up somewhere nice in Kenya and proposed,” the prince confessed.
“It was very romantic. There is a true romantic in there,” Kate added. And of course, she said ‘yes’. Bradby asked the prince in the interview if he had planned the whole proposal. “And you knew you were going to do this from day one of the holiday?” Bradby enquired. The prince’s reply would have resonated with many who have ever asked their partner to marry them.
“I’d been planning it for a while, but as every guy out there will know, it takes a certain amount of motivation to get yourself going. I was planning it and it just felt really right out in Africa and it was beautiful at the time, and I had done a little bit of planning to show my romantic side,” the prince confessed. Luckily, he got the answer he was looking for.
“[Because] I planned it, it went fine, as, you know, you hear a lot of horror stories about proposing and things going horribly wrong. It went really, really well and I was really pleased that she said ‘yes’,” the prince added. It paints an incredibly romantic picture of two young people in love and agreeing to share the rest of their lives together.
But a lot had transpired in the intervening seven years since the couple had first met, and certainly marriage was just a distinct dream for both of them in those early moments of their relationship. Indeed, as William had confessed, in the first moments, there was no relationship, other than a friendship. “We were friends for over a year first,” the prince admitted in the interview with ITV.
The interviewer actually asked the couple when they first set eyes on each other, and William’s response would clearly put into doubt Kate’s previous claims of her now-husband being a romantic. “Well it’s a long time ago now Tom, I’m trying to rack my brain about it all,” the prince clumsily admitted. It wasn’t the answer that most significant others would seek.
But it was an interesting question posed by Bradby, and certainly a question that the British public, and those further afield, were interested in hearing answered. How had this young woman from Berkshire in the south of England, a girl from a good family but certainly not royalty, attracted the eye of a prince? It was the kind of fairytale story in which Disney specializes.
In Marcia Moody’s book, Kate: A Biography published in 2013, Prince William was quoted as saying that there was definitely something about his future wife that immediately caught his eye. “When I first met Kate I knew there was something very special about her,” the prince admitted.
But as is often the case, a romance didn’t blossom immediately. “I knew there was something I wanted to explore there, but we ended up becoming friends for a while,” Prince William lamented in Moody’s book. Liking a girl at college, but then having to settle for friendship, is a situation that many men could identify with, whether they are royalty or not.
As for Kate, she recalled being timid in the prince’s company the first time she met him. “I actually went bright red when I met you and scuttled off feeling very shy about meeting you,” Kate confessed in the interview that was given to ITV News’ Tom Bradby shortly after the couple became engaged. Most would say Kate’s blushes were understandable in the circumstances.
These are the stories that the couple tell themselves, but there are certainly rumors of more humorous events surrounding their first meeting. In Christopher Anderson’s book, William and Kate: A Royal Love Story, the author tells a tale of a bashful girl clumsily curtsying in front of the prince, with the royal then inadvertently overturning a drink all over himself. Unfortunately, it cannot be confirmed if this story is true.
And then there is another story involving a student fashion show. Featuring in Moody’s book Kate: A Biography, the story is somewhat more familiar to anyone who has studied at university, or indeed anyone who has felt the first pangs of physical attraction. Certainly, it isn’t a story that the couple have ever confirmed and discussed openly themselves.
Despite being at the same university, and even living in the same accommodation, the pair’s paths hadn’t crossed too frequently. “Actually, William wasn’t there for quite a bit of the time initially, he wasn’t there for Freshers Week, so it did take a bit of time for us to get to know each other,” revealed Kate in the interview with Tom Bradby.
So what of this fashion show? Well, according to Moody in her book, Kate had been recruited to model a revealing number on the catwalk: a see-through dress no less, complemented by black underwear. The hot-blooded price purportedly turned to a pal, Fergus Boyd, and announced that “Kate’s hot”. Once again, this report cannot be validated, rather disappointingly.
Moody even went on to claim that the prince tried to kiss Kate after the show, but the object of his affection was having none of it. According to Moody, Kate was determined to remain the model of virtue, and not prove to be one of those girls who had simply gone to St Andrews in order to snare herself a prince.
Author and royal biographer Andrew Morton also discloses the story in his book Meghan: A Hollywood princess, about the wife of William’s brother, Harry. In the book, Morton makes reference to the fashion show. The author wrote that “the normally demure student Kate Middleton sashayed down the catwalk in a sheer shift dress over a bikini at a college fashion show.”
Whatever the truth, in the interview with Bradby, Kate was quizzed on the rumors that she had a teenage crush on the prince a long time before she met him. Unfortunately for William, this particular rumor proved to be unfounded, despite the prince’s protestations to the contrary. “There’s a story that goes around that you [Kate] had a picture of him [William] on your wall,” points out Bradby in the ITV News interview.
In response, William interjects cheekily. “There wasn’’t just one, there was about 20.” Kate remains unflustered. “He wishes. No, I had the Levis guy on my wall, not a picture of William, sorry,” she responds. Still William tries to get in on the act. “It was me in Levis, honestly,” the prince adds. It is clearly the banter of a couple in love.
But William does go on to reveal how the romance eventually began. “We moved in together as friends because we were living together, we lived with a couple of others as well, and it just sort of blossomed from there really. We just saw more of each other, and you know, hung out a bit more, and did stuff. So um ,yeah,” the prince coyly admitted. The rest is history, although there were a couple of speed bumps along the way.
Indeed, it hasn’t all been plain sailing for the couple. As is so often the case with relationships, things didn’t run smoothly from that budding romance back in university to a trip down the aisle. In 2007, it was reported that the couple had split up. William and Kate had been together for four years at that stage, and it was assumed by many that the relationship was set to last.
Details surrounding the events of the breakup are unknown, unsurprisingly. And at the time, William’s spokesman declined to comment on reports which surfaced in the British media. The rumors were that William had declined Kate’s invitation to spend New Year’s Eve in the company of her family. One can only imagine the response the decline would have prompted.
Yet in later years, the couple were a little more candid when talking about the problems that they went through. Indeed, they were the types of problems that nearly all young couples face at one time or another. In the interview with Bradby on ITV, William gave some details of the split. “Well I think to be honest, I wouldn’t believe everything you read in the paper but in that particular instance we did split up for a bit,” the prince began.
“But that was just, we both were very young, it was at university, we were sort of both finding ourselves as such and being different characters and stuff, it was very much trying to find our own way and we were growing up, and so it was just sort of a bit of space and a bit of things like that and it worked out for the better,” William revealed.
As for Kate, she was understandably very hurt at the time. “And I think I, at the time, wasn’t very happy about it, but actually it made me a stronger person; you find out things about yourself that maybe you hadn’t realized, or I think you can get quite consumed by a relationship when you are younger, and I really valued that time for me as well, although I didn’t think it at the time. Looking back on it,” Kate honestly remarked.
Happily the couple were able to reconcile their differences, whatever they were, and not long after they were seen together again out and about in public. And within three years, they were engaged to be married, thanks to a romantic African proposal. For all of those who have followed the William and Kate love story, we should be thankful that they managed to patch up their differences, whatever they were. And of course, that they overcame that first meeting.