The Prince and Princess of Wales celebrated their twelfth wedding anniversary yesterday but had known one another for nearly a decade prior to their wedding day of April 29, 2011. (They met as first year students at the University of St. Andrews in the fall of 2001; while it’s unclear exactly when their friendship turned romantic, they were platonic and even roommates prior to beginning their romantic relationship around 2003.) Outside of a brief split in 2007, the couple remained together until William finally proposed in the fall of 2010, and they married about six months later.
Of course, dating William wasn’t like dating your average stockbroker or lawyer or insert career path here—in addition to seeing a future with him, Kate also had to reckon with a future as Queen, and vis a vis, being one of the most famous women in the world. Twelve years of marriage in, it’s clear for so many reasons that William (and Kate) made the right choice, and their three children Prince George, Princess Charlotte, and Prince Louis have only made their bond stronger. But what makes Kate the right fit for William specifically, and for her future role as the wife of a King?
“I think that Kate is a bit like Prince Philip supporting the Queen,” royal biographer Penny Junor told People in 2020 (and per E! News), referring to Her late Majesty’s husband of 73 years. “She doesn’t outshine William but still has a lot to say herself.”
In her 12 years of marriage to William, Kate has emerged into the forefront on her own, taking on solo engagements (perfect example: to a baby bank last week) and even solo royal tours (where she inadvertently created a viral TikTok trend). E! News reports that she has “steadfastly stepp[ed] up as William took on more responsibility as time marched on,” and perhaps never more so than after the death of Her late Majesty last September and her elevation to Princess of Wales. And she’s had to do so on the world stage, “carefully toe[ing] the modern-but-traditional line, coming across as more relatable than their predecessors but by no means normal,” E! News reports.
When William and Kate first started noticing one another as more than just friends, while still back at university, “it was clear to us that William was smitten with Kate,” said a friend, who even noticed an awkward attempt on William’s part to kiss Kate, which visibly startled her. Kate, not wanting to make it too easy for William to swoop in whenever he so pleased, “played it cool,” the friend added. “She didn’t want to give off the wrong impression or make it too easy for Will.” (Good for you, girl.) And, again, though we don’t know exactly when the romance began, William said himself that he was single on his 21st birthday, which would have been in June 2003.
“If I fancy a girl and she fancies me back, which is rare, I ask her out,” he explained at the time. “But at the same time, I don’t want to put them in an awkward situation, because a lot of people don’t understand what comes with knowing me, for one—and secondly, if they were my girlfriend, the excitement it would probably cause.” In a rare refutation of a story about his private life that made it into the press, William said at the same time “There’s been a lot of speculation about every single girl I’m with, and it actually does quite irritate me after awhile, more so because it’s a complete pain for the girls.”
By the fall of 2003, William and Kate were beginning to be more out in the open together around St. Andrews, and photos of the two of them from a 2004 ski trip to Klosters, a Swiss village that is a longtime favorite of the royal family’s, made headlines. Kate was invited to the then Prince Charles’ 56th birthday party in November of that year and the two graduated from university together in June 2005.
Around the time of Charles’ wedding to Camilla Parker-Bowles in April 2005, reporters began asking William about whether marriage was on his mind. “I’m only 22, for God’s sake,” he said. “I’m too young to marry at my age. I don’t want to get married ‘til I’m 28, or maybe 30." (Coincidentally—or maybe not—William got married at 28 years old.)
As 2006 dawned, engagement pressure began to mount—not from Kate or their family and friends, but from the press. Kate moved into her own flat in London and started working as an accessories buyer for British brand Jigsaw, while William prepared for the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, where he would train to be a helicopter pilot. By early 2007, the pressure was so great that the Palace issued a statement on William’s behalf: “Miss Middleton should, like any other private individual, be able to go about her everyday business without this kind of intrusion. The situation is proving unbearable for all those concerned.” Behind the scenes, William went to Charles and the Queen for advice on his future; both advised him not to rush into anything. Then, in April 2007, William broke up with Kate.
“She was, understandably, devastated—but just as she didn’t let William think he could swoop in out of nowhere and make out with her after the student fashion show in 2002, she wasn’t going to let him (or, by then, all of Britain) think she was pining away for the prince,” E! News reports. “Kate signed up for a charity rowing challenge with an all-girl crew and started training hard.”
“Kate was very down, and I think the training became her therapy,” said Emma Sayle, the group’s leader. “Kate had always put William first, and she said this was a chance to do something for herself.” Her social calendar was full, she looked fantastic, and was no longer press-shy as before. Her younger sister, Pippa, moved in with her in London, and Kate taught a masterclass in how to handle a breakup like a confident woman. By June, William began to regret his decision, and on July 1, at the Concert for Diana at Wembley Stadium, Kate was there, sitting two rows behind William and Prince Harry in the royal box.
“I think at the time I wasn’t very happy about it,” Kate said of their breakup in her 2010 engagement interview. “But actually, it made me a stronger person. You find out things about yourself that maybe you hadn’t realized. I think you can get quite consumed by a relationship when you’re younger. I really valued that time for me as well, although I didn’t think it at the time.”
William added “We were both very young. We were both finding ourselves and being different characters. It was very much trying to find our own way and we were growing up, so it was just a bit of space, and it worked out for the better.”
William ultimately proposed in October 2010 with his late mother Princess Diana’s sapphire and diamond engagement ring. The engagement was announced that November, and the wedding was 12 years ago yesterday.
“She is an adoring mother, and she is contributing publicly in the way we would want her to,” a royal household source said of Kate, speaking to People in 2019. “You see it more and more. The young student has turned into our future Queen.”
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Rachel Burchfield is a writer, editor, and podcaster whose primary interests are fashion and beauty, society and culture, and, most especially, the British Royal Family and other royal families around the world. She serves as Marie Claire’s Senior Celebrity and Royals Editor and has also contributed to publications like Allure, Cosmopolitan, Elle, Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar, InStyle, People, Vanity Fair, Vogue, and W, among others. Before taking on her current role with Marie Claire, Rachel served as its Weekend Editor and later Royals Editor. She is the cohost of Podcast Royal, a show that was named a top five royal podcast by The New York Times. A voracious reader and lover of books, Rachel also hosts I’d Rather Be Reading, which spotlights the best current nonfiction books hitting the market and interviews the authors of them. Rachel frequently appears as a media commentator, and she or her work has appeared on outlets like NBC’s Today Show, ABC’s Good Morning America, CNN, and more.
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