Once William and Kate had left the protective cocoon of St Andrews University in the summer of 2005, life – as individuals and as a couple – got a lot tougher.
No longer in the seclusion of Balgove House on the Strathtyrum estate where they lived during their final year, the reality of his public role started to loom large to the second in line to the throne.
It was, he reluctantly told friends, ‘time to join the real world’.
William, now 23, undertook his first solo Royal tour abroad, flying to New Zealand to represent the Queen to mark the 60th anniversary of Allied victory in the Second World War. Happily for the rugby-loving Prince, the British Lions were playing on the islands at the same time, which enlivened the ten-day tour.
Hordes of screaming girls greeted William wherever he went, in scenes reminiscent of the 1953 visit by the Queen and her dashing new husband, Prince Philip.
Once William and Kate had left the protective cocoon of St Andrews University in the summer of 2005, life – as individuals and as a couple – got a lot tougher. Pictured: Kate returning to her parents’ home after split with William
The jolt of a changed lifestyle hit Kate, too. Back with her family in Berkshire, she could only watch as reports of her boyfriend being feted like a rock star appeared on every TV news bulletin.
Even though their graduation had been just a few weeks before, she was sorely feeling the effect of their St Andrews bubble having burst. Armed with a History of Art degree and good contacts, Kate knew she had to broaden her horizons.
Of course, William’s post-university path was already rigidly mapped out. Following in the footsteps of younger brother Harry, he would enrol at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst at the start of 2006.
Prior to that, he was to undertake a series of work placements – or ‘Prince-in-training’ roles – as he learned land-management skills on the Chatsworth Estate, owned by the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, followed by three weeks at the Bank of England and the head offices of the bank HSBC.
Camilla told Kate how to hang on to a Prince… fit your life round his
He also took on his first Royal patronages – with the homelessness charity Centrepoint and the African conservation organisation Tusk Trust.
But what was Kate to do? A schoolfriend confided: ‘All Catherine ever wanted was a husband, a house in the country, loads of kids, a dog and an Aga stove. Pippa [her sister] was going to be a hot-shot lawyer or work in the City – she had the ambition and drive of her mother. Catherine was much more like her father. She wanted a happy, domestic setting, looking after everyone.’
That said, at a time when every member of the Royal Family was expected to earn their keep, even a potential future Queen could not be seen to be idle.
Camilla, newly married to Prince Charles, had confided to Kate the secret of hanging on to a busy Prince. It was: fit your timetable – your whole life even – around his.
That left Kate with a conundrum: she needed her own life but by necessity it had to revolve completely round that of her Royal boyfriend. In other words, a regular job would not have allowed the flexibility to drop everything when William was free. That said, she sent her CV to a number of London galleries, hoping to put her Art History degree to good use.
The jolt of a changed lifestyle hit Kate, too. Back with her family in Berkshire, she could only watch as reports of her boyfriend being feted like a rock star appeared on every TV news bulletin
Yet as time ticked on, spending her days with friends, or shopping near the Chelsea flat that her parents had bought her, was not going to be enough.
Party Pieces – the online party goods business her mother Carole had started from the family kitchen table – provided the answer.
With the help of her parents, Kate set about trying to create her own company that would design and sell high-quality but well-priced children’s clothes online through Party Pieces.
Significantly, the Royal Family recognised that her relationship with William was serious and made sure she was included in some Royal events. Charles sent her a personal invitation to his November birthday party and she was invited on winter shoots at the Sandringham estate.
Kate excused herself from a meeting at work to take a phone call from William. An hour later it was all over, …and she was heartbroken
There seemed every reason to expect the announcement of an engagement before too long. Except for one thing: badly scarred by his parents’ divorce, William wanted more time to think matters over so as not to risk repeating the mistakes of the past. He had made it perfectly clear, to anyone who had the gumption to ask, that he was not going to get married ‘until I’m at least 28 or even 30!’.
On this, he had the support of both the Queen and Prince Charles.
Marrying into the Firm puts intense pressure on even the most harmonious of relationships, and, treasuring his friendship with Kate, he did not want her crushed by the weight of expectation.
In any case, his year-long training at Sandhurst in 2006 meant he would be all-consumed with the Army. And once he had graduated, he hoped to be posted with the elite Blues and Royals regiment, alongside his brother.
Distance, it seems, made the hearts grow fonder. During that year, the couple’s relationship visibly went from strength to strength. Kate’s status as Princess-in-waiting seemed sealed with an appearance in the Royal Box at the Cheltenham Gold Cup with Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall.
She chatted with Camilla and her children, Tom and Laura Parker Bowles. Her position was cemented when she was William’s guest at Laura’s wedding that summer.
The Royal Family recognised that her relationship with William was serious and made sure she was included in some Royal events
A key factor in their relationship was the Middletons’ family home – a modern five-bedroom detached house in the village of Bucklebury where they had lived since the mid-1990s. During weekends off from Sandhurst, William enjoyed the warm, casual domesticity – so different from the formality of his own childhood.
Against a background of laughter and family bonding, he was expected to muck in, clear the table and do the washing-up. Michael and Carole Middleton were becoming much loved parent figures.
William had his quad bike transferred from Highgrove to Bucklebury – he felt so at ease there.
He liked talking to Michael, whose quiet affection and counsel he greatly valued. And he enjoyed the family holidays – the Middletons rented villas for summer breaks in southern Europe, now a favourite feature of the Cambridges’ normal summer routine.
Celebrating William’s successful completion of his first term at Sandhurst, Kate arranged for them to borrow a villa in Mustique.
He enjoyed the life of a bachelor Army officer… with the Booze and Royals
It was the start of the couple’s love affair with the private island – echoing that of his great-aunt Princess Margaret – when they stayed at the hillside house of John and Belle Robinson, good friends of the Middletons. Later that year, they enjoyed time at Carole’s brother Gary Goldsmith’s Ibiza villa, Maison de Bang Bang. William was taught to DJ on a set of decks, performing in front of friends to much whooping and hollering.
The Kate and William love story seemed sealed in December 2006 when she sat in the front row at Sandhurst beside her parents at William’s passing out ceremony. Also there were the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall.
The Middletons were escorted by the Prince’s private secretary, Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton, and personal assistant, Helen Asprey.
Surely this was the sign an engagement was finally on the cards?
The speculation intensified as Kate’s 25th birthday approached in January 2007.
Ever wary of paparazzi, Kate was given lots of advice on how to deal with the cameras, which were permanently trained on the front door of her London flat.
Camilla, newly married to Prince Charles, had confided to Kate the secret of hanging on to a busy Prince. It was: fit your timetable – your whole life even – around his
By this point, Kate, having abandoned plans to launch her children’s clothes line, was working as an assistant accessories buyer in the children’s division of high street clothing firm Jigsaw. Owned by the Robinsons – the family friends who owned the Mustique villa – it was considered a ‘safe’ career for a future Princess.
Inevitably, the company’s offices in Kew, West London, attracted photographers. On Kate’s birthday on January 9, the cameramen were out in force, hoping for clues of an engagement. To no avail.
Kate did not enjoy running the gauntlet and she looked cowed as she walked into work with her head down. As an ordinary member of the public, she was not entitled to official police protection – that would only happen if she became a Royal fiancee. Royal courtiers, though, seemed to have learnt the lessons of Diana’s awkward pre-engagement days and six uniformed police officers were stationed outside Kate’s Chelsea flat. However, this intensified the interest in her – to many it was a sure-fire sign that an engagement was imminent.
No one could have known, but behind the scenes William was beginning to have doubts. The couple had been dating seriously for almost five years and his advisers counselled the only way to protect his girlfriend was to make their relationship official and propose. Yet William was enjoying the life of a bachelor Army officer. Indeed, his new regiment was well known as the ‘Booze and Royals’.
Was Kate the right girl at the wrong time?
It was at the Cheltenham Festival in March that the first public hint of this emerged.
Kate abandoned plans to launch her children’s clothes line and started working as an assistant accessories buyer in the children’s division of high street clothing firm Jigsaw
Dressed in matching tweed outfits, William and Kate attended the race meeting but looked unhappy and out of sorts. It was almost five years to the day since William had mouthed ‘Wow! Kate’s hot!’ as he watched her at that St Andrews student fashion show. Now, he had gone cold on her.
The fact that his heart had chilled was confirmed a few days later when William was spotted at Elements nightclub close to his barracks in Bournemouth. Normally so cautious in public, the Prince had clearly drunk too much.
Surrounded by glamorous, scantily clad girls, he was enjoying himself. In a photo that made its way into the newspapers, he appeared to be holding the breast of a fellow clubber, Brazilian Ana Ferreira. She was quoted as coyly describing his ‘big, manly hands… and certainly he knows what to do with them… I was a little bit drunk myself’.
Another female party-goer said William had made suggestive comments. Could any clearer public signal be sent that William was unsure of his future with Kate?
Of course, a lot of relationships reach a hiatus just before they take the final hurdle. It was no different for William. But he had the baggage of dynastic expectations and the spectre of his parents’ wrecked marriage to deal with.
Whether or not he was aware of it, his father’s own experience had followed a similar pattern. While wooing Diana, Charles’s relationship with her had reached a crossroads. Prince Philip told him that he needed to take action one way or another. Charles duly proposed.
Faced with a similar dilemma, albeit with a more mature girlfriend and a much longer courtship, William went the other way.
Commitment – a responsibility hard-wired into members of a hereditary monarchy – had frightened him and he had baulked. Too much of his future life was already mapped out in detail. He wanted some freedom to manoeuvre.
Dressed in matching tweed outfits, William and Kate attended the race meeting but looked unhappy and out of sorts. It was almost five years to the day since William had mouthed ‘Wow! Kate’s hot!’
He’d enjoyed his visits to London to party with Army pals. Why settle down? He was only 24, still four years away from 28, which he had pointedly said was a good age to get married.
Spooked by courtiers looking ahead for a suitable date for a potential Royal Wedding and the idea of a souvenir industry poised to commission commemorative porcelain sets ahead of an engagement, he made a decision. In part, it was based on advice from the Queen, who had seen the marriage of her sister and that of three of her children fail. Take your time, she counselled, and don’t be rushed into marriage.
What must have been going through Kate’s mind? She had committed five years of her life to her Prince. Had it been in vain?
There was nothing she could do but wait.
She didn’t have to wait long. In early April 2007, she excused herself from a meeting at Jigsaw to take a call from William in a conference room out of earshot of the other buyers.
The door was shut for more than an hour. At the end of the conversation, it was over. The couple agreed to split.
Kate was heartbroken.