By Priya Kumar
While it is a stretch to call the former Kate Middleton a Cinderella-in-waiting, the now Duchess of Cambridge does have a quite un-royal family tree. While pursuing a Bachelors degree in Art History at St Andrews University in Scotland, she was pursued by the world’s most eligible bachelor, HRH Prince William of Wales. Her story unfolded nothing short of a modern day fairy-tale and has brought new life into a monarchy, once dwindling in popularity with its people
During the summer of 1953 Dorothy Harrison, 18, married deliveryman Ron Goldsmith in a modest church in the Southall neighbourhood of west London. Known today as the epicentre of the South Asian community in the British capital, the Goldsmiths began their humble marriage in the lower-income community amongst other blue-collar workers and their young families. The bride’s hair was worn pinned up with a single orange blossom; it matched the traces of rural County Durham she would carry in her speech her whole life.
That same summer another young lady participated in a religious ceremony of equal significance only on a much (much) grander scale. The summer of 1953 marked the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II at Westminster Abbey. The Queen wore a sapphire encrusted crown for the occasion and a gown embroidered with floral emblems to represent each of the Commonwealth nations. Her husband the Duke of Edinburgh watched on with pride. Although living only 15 miles apart, these two couples existed worlds away, separated by status, social rank and pedigree.
Almost six decades later—against all odds—the descendants of these individuals would marry. Titled wedding of the century, Prince William of Wales wed Catherine Elizabeth Middleton at the very same abbey Queen Elizabeth was coronated. An audience of one million lining the streets and two billion around the world via television bore witness to the event. They wed on April 29, 2011—St. Catherine’s Day. It was declared a bank holiday in the United Kingdom in celebration of the nuptials.
The couple got engaged on a trip to Mount Kenya in Africa the year prior. “I had been carrying [the ring] around with me in my rucksack for about three weeks before that and I literally would not let it go, everywhere I went I was keeping hold of it because I knew this thing, if it disappeared I would be in a lot of trouble and because I’d planned it, it went fine,” gushed the Prince in a rare television interview. “It’s my mother’s engagement ring so I thought it was quite nice because obviously she’s not going to be around to share any of the fun and excitement of it all – this was my way of keeping her close to it all.”
His sentimental words are certainly evidence of the hold the now Duchess has over him. He hailed from a monarchy that has prided itself on suitable marriages between blue-blooded royals for centuries. This union was thus without question unexpected with the Middleton blood showing no trace of nobility so to speak. Given the tumultuous decade for the institution of marriage endured by British Monarchy in the 1990s, William was widely speculated to have been shown leniency for his choice of spouse.
Popularly known by the media as simply Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge was conferred three titles by Queen Elizabeth II on marrying her heir. Kate’s modest upbringing would have in times past prevented such a union. Her parents Carole (née Goldsmith) and Michael Middleton had met as flight attendants for British Airways in the late 1970s. During the children’s early childhood, BA moved the family to Jordan. Although only two, Kate learned how to sing Happy Birthday in Arabic before English. On their return to the UK, Carole founded the party-planning company Party Pieces. The mail-order retailer offers party kits and planning supplies. The venture proved to be a massive success, affording the Middleton children the very best for their education at top independent schools and ultimately universities.
The royal couple met at St Andrews University in Scotland where they were both studying the History of Art. Renowned as ‘Britain’s top match-making university’, the picturesque campus is the ideal backdrop for student romance. One in 10 students will find their lifelong mate on campus. It was a period in the young prince’s life when the paparazzi stayed at bay to give the future monarch a chance to be educated. Both students and professors were requested not to speak to the media and it was the first time William was able to lead a normal life.
The two were placed in the same ivy-clad student residence St. Salvators Hall, Kate living one floor below William. Kate quickly became known as the prettiest girl in the dormitory. An avid runner, she would go on long-distance jogs every morning, slipping in late for breakfast. William took noticed of the rosy-cheeked athlete and one day mustered up the courage to invite her to join him and his friends at breakfast—a group called the Sallies Boys. “I actually think I went bright red when I met you and sort of scuttled off, feeling very shy,” Kate admitted in the same TV interview following their engagement.
“When I first met Kate I knew there was something very special about her,” William divulges. “I knew there was possibly something that I wanted to explore there. But we ended up being friends for a while and that was a good foundation.” Sparks began to fly between the two classmates at a school charity fashion show. Kate was walking the runway in a student designer’s creation and William paid £200 for a front-row seat. Kate won his heart that night in the sheer number that was not soon to be forgotten. Without missing a beat, William made his move on Kate that night at the after party. “She was, I think, as shocked as she was flattered. And she pulled away, because, at the time, she was dating a fourthyear student called Rupert Finch,” royal historian Katie Nicholl recounts. “Well that was the start of their relationship, and poor Rupert Finch. Well, he didn’t stand a chance.”
The media speculated about couple’s relationship for years, but in 2004 the pair were pictured skiing together at Klosters in the Swiss Alps. Although questions surrounding their status were put to rest, Kate and William had a long road ahead of them before marriage. It was a situation Kate had to come to terms with quickly. In April 2005 she was not invited to Prince Charles’ wedding to his long-time partner Camilla Parker Bowles, giving her a bitter taste of the monarchy’s odd sense of hospitality.
Over time the families began to warm to one another, having dinner during the summer of 2005 after the couple’s graduation from St Andrews. While Kate made her first official appearance as the royal girlfriend at William’s military graduation from Sandhurst a year later, the true test of their bond was the paparazzi’s relentless pursuit of photos. Not unlike her late mother-in-law, Kate was hounded by the paparazzi in London going shopping, socializing with her younger sister Pippa and simply heading to work as an Accessories Buyer at Mayfair’s Jigsaw boutique. Legal action was taken on numerous occasions—by 2006 she and William shared the same lawyer. William went so far as to do his own research on privacy laws on how to best protect Kate from the constant harassment.
After a short break from their relationship in 2007, the world’s most high-profile couple was back together and stronger than ever. About the spite, Kate admitted, “I, at the time, wasn’t very happy about it but actually it made me a stronger person. You find out things about yourself that maybe you hadn’t realised.” William concurred with her assessment: “We were both very young…and we were both defining ourselves as such and being very different characters, it was very much trying to find our way and we were growing up, it was just a bit of space…things worked out for the better.”
The wedding of the century was soon followed by the announcement of the birth of a new prince, Prince George of Cambridge. He now stands third in line for the throne and is also Queen Elizabeth II’s first great-grandson. Not unlike his mother, Prince George has his way with the media, appearing on hundreds of magazines and newspapers across the globe almost every day of his now 18-month life. The clothing he wears on outings with his parents, sell-out within hours. Although he has barely started talking, the impact the cherub-cheeked prince has had on the British public and Commonwealth’s approval of the monarchy is undeniable. This surge in positive PR for Buckingham Palace can all be traced back to none other than the Duchess of Cambridge herself. She has successfully courted the media since the age of 20. Her unremarkable lineage which once served as her biggest obstacle in her relationship with William has become her greatest ally as she ascends the throne of the world’s most formidable monarchy.
Cover photograph: Corbis Images
Photographs by: Getty Images