Ten years ago, Prince Charles celebrated his 60thbirthday with an official event at Buckingham Palace and then an intimate party at his country home, Highgrove Estate, with his wife, Camilla, his sons Prince William and Prince Harry and their respective girlfriends, Kate Middleton and Chelsy Davy.
Today, a decade later, Charles celebrates his 70thand a lot has changed. His new daughter-in-law Meghan Markle is now in the picture. His three young grandchildren—George, Charlotte and Louis—likely won’t attend the parties but they appeared in his official birthday portrait. And Middleton will be there—no longer as William’s girlfriend, of course, but as a senior member of the royal family.
To those who saw Middleton at the birthday celebrations back in 2008, it’s no surprise that she’s become such an important and popular member of the royal family.
“It was always a question of when not if William would ask her to marry him,” says Duncan Larcombe, who was at the event as royal correspondent for The Sun. “Kate being at the party fueled the rumors that they would get engaged soon—which were very premature.” William and Kate announced their engagement in November of 2010.
Birthdays are a big deal in the royal family, so it was notable that William brought his on-again, off-again girlfriend to the event. The royals were joined by actresses Judi Dench and Maggie Smith while Rod Stewart reportedly performed “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy.” A Daily Mail article from that time details a menu that included a cheese soufflé, fillet of Castle of Mey beef, and vanilla panna cotta with Highgrove fruits for desert. Prince Charles was sitting at a table with his sons and their girlfriends, the outlet reported.
Larcombe remembers Middleton fitting right in, especially because she and Charles had already developed a friendship by then, but that she was much quieter and more shy than she is when she’s with the royal family today.
“We saw on Sunday when Kate joined the Queen on the balcony watching the laying of the wreaths to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, there’s no question that Kate is a senior, well-established member of the royal family in her own right. She’s one of the main attractions,” says Larcome, the author of Prince Harry: The Inside Story.
That Kate attended Charles's 60th birthday celebrations also marks a stark difference between her courtship with William and Harry’s with Meghan. William and Kate were off and on for more than four years before William proposed, while just months passed between the news that Meghan and Harry were together and the announcement of their engagement.
“It’s very strange looking back 10 years because Kate’s introduction to royal life was the opposite of Meghan’s,” Larcombe says. “She and William had been long-term boyfriend-girlfriend; a lot had been written about Kate. She was very much a princess in waiting for a good three or four years before they announced their engagement in 2010. Meghan effectively burst onto the scene.”
What the women have in common, though, is unrelenting media attention. A Daily Beast article by former Daily Express royal correspondent Ashley Walton from 2008 says of Charles's 60th celebration:
The only people the photographers will be anxious to snap through car windows on their way to the party are Prince William’s girlfriend, Kate Middleton, and Prince Harry’s girl, Chelsy Davy. They are the ones who regularly make the front pages these days. Just as Diana used to steal the limelight from her husband.
Time will tell who'll be stealing the show at Charles's 80th birthday.