Prince William and Kate Middleton's rocky university romance

The royal romance rockier than anyone realised: The boys-only trip that made Kate Middleton see red, how she refused to join Prince William at Sandringham, and how she finally got her man. ROBERT LACEY reveals the untold twists before the couple wed

  • Kate joined William at St Andrews University where they both studied art history
  • She decided to take a gap year and change university to join him there
  • They became friends and lived together, with Kate wowing him on the runway
  • But it was not plain sailing for the young couple, who temporarily split 

In the final part of our serialisation of his sensational new book, distinguished royal historian Robert Lacey charts the eventful courtship of William and Kate, from their happy university days to their traumatic break-up while she was working for Jigsaw — and how William finally decided he needed Kate, and her family, permanently in his life.

Just how accidental was it that Catherine ‘Kate’ Middleton ended up at the University of St Andrews in the autumn of 2001 — at precisely the same time as Prince William? 

In August 2000, Kate’s A-level results arrived in the post — two As and a B — exactly the grades she needed to secure her place at her first-choice university, Edinburgh. This was where she and two of her best friends from Marlborough College, Alice and Emilia, had long planned to study, and the three girls had already travelled up to Edinburgh together to set up their lodgings. 

Out in Belize, where he was on military exercise with the Welsh Guards, Prince William received similarly welcome news — he’d achieved the A, B and C grades that he needed to secure his place at St Andrews to study history of art the following year. 

Kate Middleton’s relationship the young Prince William started at the University of St Andrews, pictured on the day of their graduation in 2005

When this was made public, it was the first time the world knew of it. Kate immediately changed her mind about going to Edinburgh. She told Alice and Emilia that she wouldn’t be joining them after all. 

She’d decided to apply to St Andrews to study history of art, like William — and also to take a gap year ‘off’. If she did manage to secure a place, she’d go up at the same time, and join the very same course, as the prince. 

‘If’ was the operative word. The moment news of William’s intentions became known, applications to St Andrews rocketed by 44 per cent — with many of the new applicants being female and from America. But Kate persevered. 

That autumn, Kate wrote formally to Edinburgh to turn down her place. Then she made a new application to join the history of art course the following year at St Andrews. But what was the reason for her life-changing decision? 

Did Catherine Middleton, 18, suddenly discover the virtues of the history of art course offered by the University of St Andrews? Or did she apply to St Andrews because she wanted to meet a prince? 

Tuesday, March 26, 2002: The date has passed into royal folklore — it was the moment when Prince William first set eyes on Kate sashaying down a fashion runway in her underwear. 

Out in Belize, where he was on military exercise with the Welsh Guards, Prince William received the welcome news that he’d achieved the A, B and C grades that he needed to secure his place at St Andrews to study history of art

Everyone agrees that it all started on that catwalk in an austere and draughty Scottish student union. But it was not quite as simple as it sounds…

For a start, that evening was very far from being the first time that Kate and William had encountered each other. They’d almost certainly met while they were still at school — Wills at Eton and Kate at Marlborough College — and during her gap year, Kate had herself confided to acquaintances that she’d already met the prince ‘once or twice before’. 

Then, as a fellow student on the smallish history of art course, she’d clearly seen a lot of William in autumn 2001, since both were living in the same old Gothic-looking hall of residence — St Salvator’s Hall, affectionately known as ‘Sallies’ — with rooms quite close to each other. 

Just a month or so into their first term together, they attended a party at which William was getting seriously hit upon by a pushy female student. The prince was being polite, but he couldn’t shake her off, and the girl didn’t get the hint — until Kate appeared out of nowhere behind him and put her arms around William. 

‘Oh sorry,’ he said, ‘but I’ve got a girlfriend,’ and he and Kate went off giggling together. ‘Thanks so much,’ he mouthed to her. 

When William got back to ‘Sallies’ early in 2002 after his Christmas break, he invited Kate to join the house-share that he was putting together for that September with fellow Old Etonian Fergus Boyd and another female student. 

The couple had almost certainly met while they were still at school — Wills at Eton and Kate at Marlborough College

No one makes that sort of offer to a person they do not feel they know and trust — and if you are William Wales, you make sure to select someone you feel quite confident will not blab. 

Here’s another question. Given all we know about the serious and purposeful young Kate Middleton being so ‘professional’ and ‘private’ and ‘careful’ — a real buttoned-up little William in many ways — aren’t we somewhat surprised to discover her sashaying down a catwalk in her underwear? 

And what about the prince? Have we ever heard of Prince William willingly sitting down in the front row of a fashion show before or since? The show that March was in fact a fundraising effort for the families of the nearly 3,000 victims of Osama bin Laden’s 9/11 attacks in New York the previous year. 

Only the very hottest chicks had been selected to parade — and Kate was determined to dazzle. At the last minute, she discarded the chunky knitwear she’d been given to wear over a see-through skirt and instead hoiked the skirt up above her boobs to create a mini-dress, with her black bra and knickers showing through. 

No wonder William was impressed. ‘Wow,’ he whispered to Fergus Boyd, ‘Kate’s hot!’ That very evening, at the aftershow party, William and Kate were seen kissing each other. 

At the fashion show, Kate hoiked up her skirt to create a mini-dress, with her black bra and knickers showing through

Love certainly struck at some time during the year they shared a flat, and it intensified in the following academic year when they moved to a romantic house near the famous St Andrews Golf Course. 

Balgove House stood in its own grounds with some two acres of wild meadow surrounded by a sixfoot-high stone wall. Here Kate became Queen of the Aga, presiding over a household of three male students — and they quickly earned a reputation for hosting premier parties. 

At the end of March 2004, news of the couple’s relationship finally broke. ‘Look, I’m only 22, for God’s sake!’ William exploded when asked about his marriage plans. ‘I don’t want to get married until I’m at least 28 or maybe 30.’ 

William was determined not to be prematurely pressured towards the altar as his mother and father had been. In interviews he insisted that he could not commit to marriage until he was 30 years old. 

So in the summer of 2004, with just a year to go until his graduation, he rather welcomed the mischievous suggestion of his friend from childhood, Guy Pelly, that he might leave Kate at home and join his friend on a ‘boys only’ sailing trip to Greece. 

Love certainly struck at some time during the year they shared a flat, and it intensified in the following academic year

And Pelly made another suggestion: that the yacht might be staffed and operated by an all-female crew. Kate was not impressed, and made sure William knew it. 

‘In that particular instance, we did split up for a bit,’ Prince William told ITV’s Tom Bradby in 2010. ‘We were both very young… We were both finding ourselves as such…’ 

But they’d committed to go back to Balgove House for their fourth and final year, so the end of September 2004 found them reunited — and actually stronger, on reflection, for the time spent apart. 

The couple’s occasional dinner parties in their dining room with its rustic open fireplace and long mahogany table that seated no fewer than 17 became sought-after invitations. Kate had organised some bright red and white gingham curtains, while William’s contribution was a glass-fronted champagne fridge and a large oil painting of his royal grandmother who presided solemnly — though surely with a mild touch of satire — over festive gatherings. 

By 2006, the couple had been dating seriously for the best part of five years. Yet when William invited Kate to join him that year at Sandringham for the Royal Family’s traditional Christmas lunch, she refused. 

William was determined not to be prematurely pressured towards the altar as his mother and father had been

It was the first time the Queen had extended such an invitation to an unregistered ‘girlfriend’, but Kate had her own take on that break with tradition: she would go to Sandringham on Christmas Day only when she was engaged and had a ring to prove it. Pressurising William, however, was not the way to make him change his mind. Indeed, the newly commissioned officer had begun to worry whether he had not found the right girl at the wrong time. 

His fun­-loving fellow cadets at Sandhurst had demonstrated how much living he still had to do before he settled down. Plus The Spectator had run an article cheekily anointing Kate as ‘The Next People’s Princess’, raising all the old anxieties about his parents’ over-rapidly-arranged marriage. 

William turned to his father and grandmother for guidance. The Queen had grown very fond of Kate, but she told him he shouldn’t rush into a commitment — and his father advised the same. In any case, William was enjoying the life of a hard-drinking Army officer. Not for nothing was his new regiment known as the ‘Booze and Royals’. 

In 2007, he was spotted in London dancing wildly at various nightclubs and also in Bournemouth, where one of his dancing partners described the experience vividly. ‘He has big, manly hands,’ reported 18-year-old Anna Ferreira, a glamorous Brazilian brunette. ‘And certainly he knows what to do with them. . . I was a little bit drunk myself.’ 

On April 11 that year, Kate excused herself from a meeting at Jigsaw, the fashion store with which she’d recently started working, to take a call from William in a room out of earshot of the other buyers. She shut the door for more than an hour. When she came out, she was single. 

Prince William finally made up his mind aged 28, when he went down on one knee during a 2010 safari holiday in Kenya

Guy Pelly proved an unexpected ally, quietly advising her to give his old friend some space. There were soon reports of William’s ‘ex’ being sighted enjoying herself on the London party circuit. Ms Middleton was not going to be seen as defeated. 

She started heading out for the Thames to practise with an all-female ‘Dragon Boat’ crew — the plan being to paddle the 20 miles across the Channel to raise money for children’s hospices. It was undoubtedly a good cause, but from Kate’s point of view, her mission was to convey a very definite message to the world, too — and to one particular person. 

That person got the message quicker than he or anyone else expected. William had found dating difficult, for a start, when a surprising number of young women from his circle turned him down flat. They could suss out the truth about where his heart lay, even if he himself could not. 

Suddenly girls from Brazil no longer seemed so glamorous, and the prince missed his family — which by now meant the Middleton family. One pillar of William’s year at Sandhurst had been his regular Friday night escapes to Bucklebury, where he could collapse and be mothered by Carole — and also fathered by the quiet and affectionate Michael who, whisper it, could provide a better ear for confidences, on some issues, than Prince Charles. 

Small wonder, then, that the phone calls between William and Kate should resume. Then, just ten and a half weeks after the Jigsaw conference-room call, the couple were seen kissing and dancing closely at a party in the prince’s barracks in Bovington, Dorset. 

A friend of the prince’s was happy to reveal that ‘William hasn’t stopped pining for Kate since they split up. He keeps saying she’s an amazing girl and the best thing to happen to him.’ 

Kate might have to put up with media derision for hanging around playing ‘Waity Katie’ — but Prince William had finally made up his mind. Aged 28, he went down on one knee during a 2010 safari holiday in Kenya to offer Kate his mother’s famous diamond-and-sapphire engagement ring — having cleared the gesture and the ring’s destination with Harry. 

Those Middleton matriarchs behind Kate’s mettle

A formidable role model in the life of the young Catherine Middleton was her grandmother on her mother’s side, Dorothy Goldsmith, known affectionately to some in her family as ‘Lady Dorothy’ — though she was no aristocrat. 

Her grandfather was a Durham coal miner, her father a joiner. Dorothy left school early to work as a shop assistant at the Dorothy ­Perkins fashion chain — and at just 18, she married Kate’s grandfather, 22-yearold builder Ronald Goldsmith. The couple settled in a council flat in Southall, West London. 

In 1955, their daughter Carole was born, and Dorothy was so delighted with her new baby that they bought little Carole ‘the biggest Silver Cross pram you have ever seen’. Today, in 2020, a Silver Cross Balmoral pram, complete with huge curved springs and wire-spoked wheels, will set you back £1,800. 

Doting: Baby Catherine with her maternal grandmother Dorothy Goldsmith, the mother of Carole Middleton

In 1955 you did not see many Silver Cross prams on council estates, and this seems to have been the moment when the nickname of ‘Lady Dorothy’ started to be applied to Mrs Goldsmith. 

‘We all thought Dorothy was a bit of a snob,’ recalled ­Ronald’s niece, Ann Terry, who at one point worked beside her in a jewellery store. ‘She always wanted to better herself.’ 

‘My grandmother used to grumble about Dorothy,’ remembered another relative. ‘She thought Dorothy always wanted to be the top brick in the chimney.’ 

After a dozen years of marriage, Dorothy and Ronald were finally able to move out of the council flat to their first proper house — in Norwood Green, at the smarter end of Southall. 

As for Carole, she left her local state school at 16, and went straight out to work for ‘the Pru’ — the ­Prudential Insurance Company in Holborn. The Pru and Carole Goldsmith did not get along. She’d never seen herself working in an office, so she asked her father to support her for two more years at school to get her A-levels — economics, English literature, geography and art. 

Carole Middleton, pictured with Kate,left her local state school at 16, and went straight out to work for ‘the Pru’ — the ­Prudential Insurance Company in Holborn

These helped her to win a place on the coveted retail trainee scheme of the John Lewis department stores — ‘Never Knowingly Undersold.’ Carole was keen on the idea of a career in merchandising — until she was instructed to knuckle down for a full six months as a sales assistant in the Peter Jones china and glass department. ‘Blow that — I’m not doing that for six months!’ she later recalled. ‘It was really boring.’ 

Still only 18 in 1973, Carole used her Pitman shorthand to get a job with the ground staff at British European Airways, just about to become the modern British Airways. There she met the handsome and genial Michael Middleton, working in a quietly responsible job as a flight dispatcher. 

The couple soon fell in love — and ‘Lady Dorothy’ thoroughly approved. The privately educated Michael Middleton was exactly the sort of husband that Carole’s mother had hoped her daughter would snag — charming, good-looking and rolling in class: a distant ancestor of Michael’s was Baroness Airedale, present at the 1911 coronation of King George V. 

The Middletons could trace their descent to Tudor times, while their money went back to Yorkshire wool production during the Industrial Revolution. Shrewdly invested through a variety of trusts, the inheritance had cushioned the family for generations. 

The privately educated Michael Middleton was exactly the sort of husband that Carole’s mother had hoped her daughter would snag

When the couple married in 1980, it was Middleton money that bought their first home, a Victorian semi-detached cottage in a village near Bucklebury in Berkshire, where they lived with their baby daughters Pippa and Kate. By 1987, Carole was 32 and pregnant with their third child, James. 

‘Oooh,’ she recalled thinking in an interview that she gave in 2018. ‘Bills to pay!’ 

Within months of James’s birth, Mrs Middleton created her own trading company, Party Pieces — a one-stop, mail-order destination from which you could order anything you needed for a children’s party. 

She went to the Spring Fair at Birmingham in 1987, hooked up with some suppliers of paper plates and cups, stuck up a self-designed flyer at Kate’s playgroup in Bucklebury — and began stuffing colourful party bags on her kitchen table. 

These were pre-internet days, and business was slow. But then Carole had the idea ofadvertising with a children’s book club which she’d subscribed to. She paid to send out 10,000 flyers, then later 100,000 — and the orders took off. 

After a year or so, Mike left his job at British Airways in order to help grow the business. Carole Middleton’s haggling skills became legendary in the direct-mail business. 

‘Butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth most of the time, but she was a ferocious negotiator,’ recalls one of her suppliers. ‘I remember her almost screaming down the phone on one occasion when I refused to drop my price on something. People could hear her on the other side of the office — and that was in my office with her voice coming through the phone from Bucklebury, or wherever.’ 

But Carole undoubtedly got results. The Middletons were already millionaires by the time Kate found herself at St Andrews University with Prince William in the early 2000s. 

  • Extracted from Battle Of Brothers: William, Harry And The Inside Story Of A Family In Tumult by Robert Lacey, to be published by William Collins on October 15 at £20. © 2020 Robert Lacey. To order a copy for £14 (30 per cent discount) go to or call 020 3308 9193. Free UK delivery on orders over £15. Promotional price valid until October 17, 2020.

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