Prince William Said He Took So Long to Propose to Kate Middleton Because He Was “Trying to Learn from Lessons Done In the Past”

The couple were together for nearly eight years before his rather spectacular proposal in Kenya in 2010.

Prince William, Kate Middleton
(Image credit: Getty)

While we do know when Prince William and Kate Middleton met—in 2001, as first-year students at the University of St. Andrews—it’s unclear exactly when they began their romantic relationship. Some say 2002, some say 2003. But, regardless, whether it was seven years or eight years, William took a long time to propose to his girlfriend, which he eventually did in 2010. Their engagement was announced on November 16 of that year, and the couple married on April 29, 2011, becoming the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in titles gifted to them by the late Queen Elizabeth. (After her death in September 2022, they’re now the Prince and Princess of Wales.)

Prince William, Kate Middleton

William and Kate, together for about 22 years total, have flexed their "in sickness and in health" vow this year, and are reportedly closer than ever through Kate's health scare.

(Image credit: Getty)

So, okay, why did William take so long to propose? (There was even a breakup thrown in there, in 2007, though it was short-lived in nature.) Per The Mirror, William “was acutely aware of the stresses of being tied to a royal and wished to give her a chance to ‘back out’ if she felt she wouldn’t have been able to cope with life as a Queen,” the outlet writes.

Take it from William himself, speaking to ITV’s Tom Bradby in an interview at the time of his and Kate’s 2010 engagement: “I wanted to give her a chance to see in and to back out if she needed to before it all got too much,” he said.  

Kate Middleton and Prince William engagement

The couple announced their engagement on November 16, 2010, after his proposal about a month prior.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Poignantly, he added “I’m trying to learn from lessons done in the past,” likely referring to his parents’ mismatch and eventual divorce, “and I just wanted to give her the best chance to settle in and to see what happens on the other side.”

William’s parents, Prince Charles and Princess Diana, married in 1981, but, truly, barely knew one another; they also had a 12-year age difference and were just not the right fit for one another. It also didn’t help matters that Charles, even on his wedding day, was in love with someone else, and had been since the early 1970s: his current wife, Queen Camilla, who was then Camilla Parker-Bowles. After 11 years of marriage, the then Prince and Princess of Wales separated in 1992; their divorce was finalized in 1996, just one year before Diana died in a car accident in Paris. William, one of his mother’s closest confidantes, had the behind the curtain look at all of it, and what marrying into the royal family did to his mother—so it’s understandable he wanted to give the woman he loved the best chance possible to see what life in the royal family was like before she signed on for a lifetime of it.

Kate Middleton Prince William Engagement portrit

William and Kate released an engagement portrait in the leadup to their April 29, 2011 wedding.

(Image credit: Mario Testino / Clarence House)

That said, when William did propose, he did so spectacularly, The Mirror writes. Though their engagement wasn’t announced until November 16, he proposed on October 20, 2010, during a romantic getaway in Kenya, “where the couple was spending time in a cabin hut on a wildlife reserve,” The Mirror reports. “The reserve, which was approximately 10,500 feet above sea level, served as a stunning staging ground for his proposal.”

As for why then and why there, William told Bradby that he and Kate had spoken about marriage for some time (likely since they got back together and rekindled their relationship in 2007), and said he “just decided” when the time was right: “We had a little private time away together with some friends, and I just decided that it was the right time, really,” William said.

Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2008

The couple, seen here in 2008, met in 2001 as first-year college students and began dating a year or two later.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

He added, “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 I proposed.” Kate, for her part, felt the proposal was “very romantic”; William, for his part, admitted that the proposal wasn’t a totally off-the-cuff, spontaneous act, and that he wanted to share his “romantic side” by putting some thought into the proposal itself.

“It just felt really right to ask in Africa,” he said. “And I had done a little bit of planning of sorts to share my romantic side.”

Royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton

In addition to a romantic proposal, William also planned their two-week honeymoon to the Seychelles after their wedding day.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

We all know what happened next: she said yes, and six months later, the two were husband and wife. Speaking of William planning romantic occasions, he also planned their very romantic honeymoon to the Seychelles, and he decided to keep all of the details of their post-wedding getaway—which lasted a relaxing two weeks—a secret from Kate until after the wedding. A romantic, indeed.

Rachel Burchfield
Senior Celebrity and Royals Editor

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.