When Catherine Elizabeth Middleton marries Prince William Arthur Philip Louis Windsor in Westminster Abbey on April 29, she will be scoring a number of firsts. Kate will be the first royal bride to have a university education, the first to live with her husband before marriage, the first to have a mother who used to be a flight attendant, and the first queen of the realm to have fallen over at a roller disco in a pair of yellow hot pants.
Over eight long years as William’s girlfriend, that roller-rink tumble is one of the very few times she put a foot wrong. Far from lowering the tone of the monarchy, the middle-class girl who endured the longest job interview in history could well save it, Allison Pearson writes in this week’s Newsweek.
Catherine Middleton is the eldest of three children born to Michael, 61, and Carole, 56, a former British Airways officer and flight attendant who made their fortune when the driven, immaculately groomed Carole set up a mail-order business called Party Pieces, which sells tableware, party bags, and costumes.
Kate was 19 years old when, in the fall of 2001, she met a fellow student known as William Wales during their first term at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. They became friends, but it wasn’t until eight months later—after William watched Kate take part in a fashion show, modeling a garment that can best be described as a spider’s web crossed with a bikini—that the prince decided the sweet girl who shared her lecture notes with him was definitely hot. Fast-forward eight years, and Kate is two months away from her 29th birthday when, smiling for England in a royal-blue Issa dress, she walks with William into an electrical storm of cameras at St. James’s Palace to announce their engagement to the world.
Over the course of those eight years, the quiet, sporty brunette with a tenacious character earned the humiliating nickname of Waity Katie. Why didn’t the art-history graduate find herself a proper job, the British press demanded. But, as a friend of the couple points out, Kate couldn’t risk accepting any job that made her look as if she was cashing in on her boyfriend’s name.
“Part of the reason he delayed so long in marrying her was being sure she’s going to be able to cope with it and that marrying him wouldn’t ruin her life,” says one friend.
Here was a modern young woman who suddenly found herself auditioning for a role in a cantankerous ancient institution that still runs according to rules that would make Queen Victoria feel at ease.
To be considered a suitable candidate for the not-very-merry-wives-of-Windsor club, you need to combine the aura of a silent-movie star with the personal discipline of a Cistercian nun. Only Jane Austen would have guessed that the perfect person for the role would turn out to be a Miss Catherine Middleton of Bucklebury, Berkshire.
“Kate has played a brilliant waiting game,” says one royal source. “Even when William dumped her in 2007 and she was terribly hurt, she acted with great dignity, kept her mouth shut, and didn’t go bleating to the media.” No, indeed. She did what any resourceful Austen heroine would do. She wore a spray-on miniskirt, got an edible caramel self-tan, and went out on the town looking like Cindy Crawford’s sexier kid sister, confident that she could provoke a jealous William to see what he was missing.
“William is very stubborn by nature, but Kate has this incredible ability to read him and predict how he’s feeling,” says a close observer of the couple. “So she is intuitive, she gets William in a way no one else does”—or perhaps only a mother would.
While William serves as a search-and-rescue helicopter pilot, he and Kate have been living in a remote farmhouse on the Isle of Anglesey. They prefer to get by without any domestic staff. Kate cooks dinner most nights, buys groceries in the local store, and when William was training, she even had a bath run by the time he came home.
All the instances of William’s inability to commit to Kate had nothing to do with his love for her and everything to do with his fears for her. He believes Diana was hounded to her death, and friends claim the single biggest driving force in his life is protectiveness. “Part of the reason he delayed so long in marrying her was being sure she’s going to be able to cope with it and that marrying him wouldn’t ruin her life,” says one friend.
Kate—who now prefers the more regal Catherine—was right all those years at St. Andrews. She knew it was worth waiting for. William is lucky to have her. And so is England.