Prince William and Catherine, Princess of Wales, gave us the wedding of the year, if not of the decade, and probably even of the 21st century. On the day, the groom stood there, dashing in red — the color of his officer’s uniform. He was soon joined by his beautiful bride, resplendent in her white Alexander McQueen gown. But underneath all the ostentatious attire and the jaw-dropping spectacle were just two young people in love. And who would have dreamed that such an era-defining romance would blossom from such an unpromising first encounter?
Young royals in love
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 couple in love, and seemingly 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.
A world away from where they started
Of course, the royals lead incredibly busy lives, filled with engagements, charitable commitments, and not forgetting the daily duties that consume the lives of parents with young children. With three kids — Prince George, Princess Charlotte, and Prince Louis — no older than 10, it’s no doubt a hectic household for the Prince and Princess of Wales.
The inauspicious beginning
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 carefree days for William and Kate. Or at least as carefree as things can be when you are heir to the British throne or a young woman studying for a degree in art history in the presence of royalty.
The tell-all interview
But much has changed for the couple since the days when the pair found themselves as flatmates in Scotland. Just nine years later, for example, the couple announced their engagement. At the time, they gave an illuminating interview to ITV News’ 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 pair.
Two households, both alike in dignity
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. Oddly enough, his father, Captain Peter Middleton, was once a co-pilot of the late Prince Philip — Queen Elizabeth II’s husband and William’s grandfather.
Kate’s mother, Carole — born Carole Goldsmith — was an air stewardess who started her own party bag enterprise. It has since grown into a profitable party-supplies business that employs both of Kate’s parents. Kate — who was born in 1982 — is the oldest of three children born to the couple. Prince William was born in June 1982, too.
Growing up a non-princess
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. This was 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.
To meet a prince
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 after she embarked on her studies at St Andrews. Prince William was starting his college career at the same time, fresh from a gap year in which he had enjoyed numerous adventures, including teaching children in Chile.
Everyone wanted a piece of the prince
News of the future king enrolling at university certainly attracted the interest of the British media and the 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 students who had a romantic eye on the prince... although William didn't believe that.
He was not looking for love
William seemed unperturbed. “I suppose they’re saying that tongue-in-cheek,” the prince told the Associated Press. “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.
"I want to be an ordinary student"
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.
A tale as old as time
It seems the prince certainly managed to enjoy his time in Scotland. Although you'd never think his first meeting with Kate could have had such a happy ending. He told the story to Tom Bradby in November 2010 — after describing how he'd proposed to the girlfriend he met during 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 said.
It was a long time coming
Considering the couple had been together for seven years at this stage, many thought that it was about time. The prince revealed that the possibility had been discussed between the couple before he eventually popped the question, too. “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.
Kate said, “It was very romantic”
“It was very romantic. There is a true romantic in there,” Kate added. 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.
William put some thought into the proposal
“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.
It was the first day of the rest of their lives
“[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.
Friends first, lovers later
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. 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.
William couldn't even remember their first meeting
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.
It was a love story for the ages
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.
William has said he was smitten at once
In Marcia Moody’s 2013 book, Kate: A Biography, 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.
Sparks didn't immediately fly
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 said in Moody’s book. 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 with ITV News.
Clumsy Kate made a scene
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.
William missed his shot
What we do know is, 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 about that fashion show that people have made such a big deal about? According to Moody's book, Kate had been recruited to model a revealing number on a catwalk: a see-through dress complemented by black underwear. And after seeing Kate in the outfit, William reportedly turned to a pal, Fergus Boyd, and announced that “Kate’s hot.” Once again, this report cannot be validated.
Kiss me, Kate
Moody 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 gone to St Andrews in order to snare herself a prince. But the fashion-show story won't go away.
The proof was in the pudding
Author and royal biographer Andrew Morton talks about the fashion show in his book Meghan: A Hollywood Princess — which is, of course, actually about Meghan Markle. In the book, though, Morton 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.” There are pictures of this event, too.
Did Kate harbor a long-time crush?
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,” pointed out Bradby in the ITV News interview.
No space for William
In response, William interjected cheekily. “There wasn’t just one, there was about 20.” Kate remained unflustered. “He wishes. No, I had the Levi's guy on my wall, not a picture of William, sorry,” she responded. Still, William tried to get in on the act. “It was me in Levi's, honestly,” the prince added. It was clearly the banter of a couple in love. But William did go on to reveal how the romance eventually began.
From flatmates to spouses
“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.
A break-up before the make-up
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, for instance, it was reported that the couple had split up. William and Kate had been together for four years at that stage, and it had been 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 the reports that 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 such a refusal would have prompted.
Yet in later years, the couple was a little more candid when talking about the problems that they went through. 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.
"It worked out for the better"
“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.
A chance for everyone to grow
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 ever after
Happily, the couple was 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. We should be thankful that they managed to patch up their differences, whatever they were — and that they overcame that first meeting. Because whatever life as part of the royal family has thrown at them, this couple has managed to overcome it all.