Today, seven years ago, Clarence House announced that Prince William and Catherine Middleton were engaged and set to be married in the “spring or summer of 2011, in London.” By the time the news was made public, the couple had been engaged for about three weeks, the proposal having come during an October trip to Kenya the two made with friends. Shortly after the announcement, CH followed up that the couple were expected to continue to live in Anglesey, Wales until 2013 while William continued to work with the Royal Air Force.
That morning the Queen gave her formal consent to the marriage during a privy council meeting, a nod that was followed up by public congratulations by British Prime Minister David Cameron. While carrying out an engagement that day, the Prince of Wales stated that he was “thrilled,” joking that the two had been “practicing long enough.” Indeed, the relationship commenced during their sophomore year at St. Andrews University in 2002-2003, and made public when they were photographed together skiing at Klosters in early 2004.
After a brief break their senior year, the two continued to date through graduation. 2005 saw Kate’s move to London while William continued his military training. While they had been given a modicum of privacy during school thanks to an arrangement worked out between the press and the Palace, the next two years saw a considerable uptick in the amount of media attention the relationship received. The fact that this University relationship had segued into the “real world” indicated to many it was serious, though for Kate it meant battling press attention while trying to figure out what exactly she wanted to do with her life.
Kate had trouble nailing down a professional track for herself, though in the fall of 2006 she began working part-time for Jigsaw as an accessories buyer. The move was criticized by many as too little too late, and a set up that essentially allowed her to be at William’s beck and call when he was in town. It is from these years that today’s commentary on Kate’s work ethic stem, however that is arguably quite unfair. While this no longer happens thanks to Kate being behind Palace gates, when she was living in London without security, she was photographed coming and going from her home, shopping, walking, meeting friends, etc. There was absolutely a security risk attached to her having a set routine, not to mention wherever she worked would have to accept that a horde of photographers might very well be following her. It was a tricky situation, and one which saw her eventually leave Jigsaw and work for her parents’ company.
By the time Kate’s 25th birthday rolled around in January 2007, many were sure that an engagement was forthcoming. None was. Instead, after a rather stilted showing at the Cheltenham races in March 2007, the couple split up the following month. What followed was a slew of stories about Kate having grown too attached to the limelight, commentary that her family was too “middle class” and a general consensus that she was the right girl at the wrong time. In short, William was perceived as not being ready to get married and resentful of the amount of pressure put on him to propose.
Kate spent the spring and summer of 2007 running around London in mini-dresses and knee-high boots, joining an all-girl dragon boat racing team and losing a noticeable amount of weight. By late June the two were back together, with a seeming understanding that this time around would stick. In 2008, Kate represented William and Peter Phillips and Autumn Kelly’s wedding where she met the Queen for the first time. She also attended more public functions with William, signaling the seriousness with which he took the relationship and its staying power.
Kate retreated from public view in 2009 and 2010, some of which may have had to do with the recession and the fact that it was no longer deemed appropriate for her and William to be coming and going from London’s most expensive night clubs in times of austerity. They were also in their late 20s, their friends were getting married and when William moved to Wales for the RAF, Kate followed him. That the two were allowed to live together without considerable public commentary was indicative of how things had changed since the days of William’s parents.
The two were snapped in October 2010, freshly back from Kenya. While no one knew it at the time, the two were engaged. I distinctly remember seeing the photo below and thinking how different Kate looked, though I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. She looked remarkably tan and slim and altogether more polished. Someone was ready for their international debut.
William and Kate did a photo-call at St. James’s Palace on November 16, 2010 where it was made clear that William had given Kate the late Princess of Wales’s sapphire engagement ring. It was a touching gesture and one that I’m certain came from William himself, because I’d bet good money it isn’t personally Kate’s style.
These, of course, are the famous photos of the engagement beamed around the globe, understanding that for many, the day marked an introduction to an unknown figure. Kate wore a blue Issa dress, her favorite brand in her late 20s. Unfortunately we haven’t seen much of it since her marriage thanks to the brand’s partnership with the Al Fayed family.
Following the photos, the couple gave an exclusive television interview to Tom Bradby with ITN. Seven years later it still marks their most in-depth and revealing media interview. At the time, however, it was the first time most had ever heard Kate speak, their exposure to her hitherto having come from paparazzi shots or the odd snap of her accompanying William at an event.
A few weeks later Tom Bradby, the interviewer, would write a behind-the-scenes piece, noting that he believed he was chosen because he and William had established a professional friendship built on mutual trust. Frankly, I find the article fascinating and highly recommend reading it in full, but below are some key highlights:
William’s officials were pretty smart in the way they dealt with it. They gave us a lot of time. I went in early and we looked around the room they had set aside. It had been largely cleared for an evening function, so we moved some furniture back into place and made it look cosy. The couple came down and had a look around. They seemed in high spirits, happy and relaxed.
‘Are you OK?’ William asked Kate once or twice.
‘I’m fine,’ she told him. ‘I’ll be looking after you!’
After that, we went next door to kick back and relax while the crew finished setting up. William made a lot of jokes. It may be stretching things to suggest that he has an alternative career ahead of him as a comedian, but he’s quite funny and has a very good sense of humour, a trait he shares with his soon-to-be wife. They certainly don’t take themselves too seriously.
We talked a little about how the interview would run. I said I’d need to address a few tricky areas, but I wasn’t going to try to turn this into a rottweiler–style political interview.
‘People are curious about you,’ I said, ‘and I’m here to unobtrusively lead a conversation. It’s your happy day and I’m going to try very hard not to mess it up.’
William smiled drily at this. ‘That would be helpful, Tom,’ he replied.
As the interview wore on, I did find myself thinking about all the things that have been said about them – and about Kate in particular – over the long vacuum of the past eight years. Here sat a couple who know that they can never, ever divorce and who have responded to this by taking an incredibly long, hard and very, very thoughtful look at the question of marriage.
And how did a lot of us respond? By dubbing her Waity Katie. Kind of pathetic, isn’t it?
I thought of my wife Claudia, who collaborated with Kate on a series of jewellery pieces at Junior Jigsaw (Claudia is a designer) and reached a pretty firm conclusion in that period: ‘She’s a diamond; kind, loyal, decent, very beautiful. The Royal Family is exceptionally lucky to have her.’
As we neared the end, William made a joke about being ‘relieved when this interview is over’, which I know him well enough to take as code for: ‘She’s nearly done enough, Tom.’ And not long afterwards, I stopped and said thank you.
Kate let out a huge sigh of relief, leant her head back and groaned: ‘I’m no good at this.’
But she is and was and, I suspect, will be. She’s not a showy woman, Kate. She doesn’t like the limelight and won’t much care for the fame. But as I said at the start, she showed that she has some serious bottle and is not to be trifled with.
Fifteen days later, William and Kate returned to St. James’s for a photo shoot with Mario Testino, a photographer famous for his images of Diana in the ‘90s. Nearly five years later, the couple would call on Testino again for the official christening photos of their daughter, Princess Charlotte. The choice was once again nod to Diana, given that Charlotte was given “Diana” as one of her middle names and she was christened on the Sandringham estate in the same church that Diana was back in 1961.
The engagement photos were published on December 12 and featured Kate in a white ruffled Reiss dress that she has repeated in subsequent years.
So, what can we glean from this that might apply to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle? Well, it’s a good bet that the news will be tweeted out. There will likely be a photo-call, though it’s a possibility that if the couple decides on a more low-key affair for their wedding they will forgo a television interview. We can assume formal engagement photos will be released a few weeks later.
But one thing that I think we can safely assume is that the announcement will come in the blink of an eye one morning and there will be very little indication in the days leading up to it that anything noticeable has changed. By the time the Palace switches into gear, Meghan will need to be living in London – not because of “protocol,” but because the logistics of managing her security and schedule will be much easier if she is local and not based in Toronto. She will also have protection officers that accompany her everywhere from that point onwards, which I would imagine will be the most noticeable day-to-day change for her.
The Royal Family doesn’t do long engagements, so whenever the announcement is made, it’s fair to guess that the wedding will be on the books for about six months from then, give or take a month. The favorite theory these days is that the couple will marry at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor, though my fingers are crossed for St. Paul’s Cathedral (a longshot, I know).
As for William and Kate, their wedding came five-and-a-half months later at Westminster Abbey. For this next royal wedding, Kate will have just given birth to their third child and it’s highly likely that Prince George and Charlotte will be reprising the roles of page boy and bridesmaid that they debuted at Pippa Middleton’s wedding in May.
But this day back in 2010 was an exciting moment for the BRF, one which welcomed in the true start of the next generation coming into their own.