Ten years ago, Kate Middleton married Prince William at Westminster Abbey while the world watched. At the time, it felt like a fantastical moment in a real-life fairy tale: the Alexander McQueen dress, the Gothic church, the horse-drawn carriages, the grand kiss on the Buckingham Palace balcony.
But, of course, fairy tales aren’t real—not even for the future King of England. In reality, Kate and William had a long, long journey before becoming husband and wife.
Depending on the way you view the world, the beginning of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s romance came down to either destiny or chance, a.k.a. a first-year dorm assignment at St. Andrews University in Scotland. William’s arrival to campus was met with a frenzied fanfare: A pack of photographers climbed over each other to get pictures of him and his father walking on the grounds. Then the teenager gave a brief interview with the press, which was soon picked up by papers all over the world. Meanwhile, Middleton had already quietly moved into St. Salvator’s Hall. It’s unfathomable to think about now, but at the time the world had no idea who she was.
But William soon did. He’d often run into her in the halls or on the way to class—like him, Kate was also studying art history. A friendship slowly built over that semester: They’d eat breakfast together with friends in the dining hall, bonding over how much they loved to ski. If William had to miss a lecture, Kate would share her notes. “When I first met Kate, I knew there was something very special about her,” William recalled years later. “I knew there was possibly something that I wanted to explore there.” But romance wasn’t in the immediate cards for the two.
During their second semester, however, sparks started to fly. Kate, a shy, girl-next-door type, became the talk of the campus after she strutted down the runway of a charity fashion show in lingerie. William, in the front row, reportedly whispered to their friend Fergus Boyd: “Wow, Fergus, Kate’s hot!”
The next year, William, Kate, and two other friends moved into an off-campus apartment. At the start, they were just friends. Yet William—a man used to getting the attention he wanted—found himself trying, and failing, to impress Kate. “I was trying to cook these amazing fancy dinners,” he said. “[But] what would happen was I would burn something, something would overspill, something would catch on fire. She would be sitting in the background trying to help and basically taking control of the whole situation.”
Over the next few months, a romance blossomed between the two. Eventually, they came clean to their fellow housemates. “I think at first they were a bit surprised that it had happened,” William admits. “Then they realized it was really nice.”
The group living situation gave them a temporary cover. But colleges are small, and gossip spreads fast. Soon, basically everybody at St. Andrews knew about their relationship, and the rumors reached the wider world. Reporters showed up at the Middleton family home in Bucklebury, England. “We are very amused at the thought of being in-laws to Prince William, but I don’t think that is going to happen,” Kate’s father, Michael Middleton, told them.
Yet a year later, the whole thing blew open. In March 2004, paparazzi captured the two skiing together in the Swiss Alps. The Sun blasted the news all over their April 1 front page: “Finally…Wills gets a girl,” read the headline. “Prince and Kate so close in Klosters.”
Just like that, Kate Middleton was thrust into the spotlight—and never left it.
In June 2005, both William and Kate graduated from St. Andrews. Kate’s father took a photograph of them together, wrapped in a tight embrace. They look young, beautiful, and happy.
But college, for the couple, was a bubble. The British press had agreed to a coverage blackout while William was at university, which allowed William and Kate to date (somewhat) privately. Now it was onto the real world, where that bubble would burst.
To the British tabloids, Kate’s nonaristocratic background was fair fodder. They called her family “the Middle-Class Middletons.” They dubbed Kate and her sister, Pippa, “the wisteria sisters” (because of how fast they could climb). Kate’s work ethic was also questioned—at the time, she was a buyer for the clothing chain Jigsaw. In 2006, when attending William’s graduation from military academy Sandhurst, Kate’s mother, Carole, was skewered for chewing gum.
By 2007, the pair was on the rocks. William had joined the Household Cavalry in Windsor and had little time to visit Kate. Meanwhile, pictures of him partying hit the tabloids. Come springtime, they officially split up. “At the time I wasn’t very happy about it, but actually it made me a stronger person,” Middleton says of the break.