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Waiting backstage at a charity fashion show, student Kate Middleton looked in the mirror at the outfit she was to model and had a flash of inspiration.
A long skirt made from sheer black silk had been teamed with a woollen sweater by the friend who had designed it.
But as she was about to step out on the catwalk Kate whipped off the jumper and pulled the skirt up over her black bra and knickers to turn it into a bandeau dress.
It was a split-second decision that may have changed the course of her life. For when Kate sashayed confidently down the runway in that £30 see-through frock, a college pal had a revelation too.
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“Wow, Kate is hot,” whispered Prince William to a friend sitting beside him at the University of St Andrews bash. Later that night, at the after-show party, the smitten prince made it clear he was interested in being more than friends.
It was Tuesday, 26 March, 2002, and the start of a royal romance that would lead to the wedding of the century… after a few bumps along the way.
By the time Kate and William left university three years later they were clearly deeply in love.
That is evident from a snapshot taken by Kate’s mum at their graduation ceremony which shows the two cuddling and laughing in their academic outfits.
William, meanwhile, had become close to Kate’s parents, Carole and Michael Middleton, her sister, Pippa, and brother James. And he loved spending time with his “second family” at their relaxed home in Bucklebury, Berkshire.
Michael, a former aircraft dispatcher, and ex-air hostess Carole had built a successful partyware business and sent their children to private schools. Kate went to St Andrew’s School in Pangbourne, where she excelled at sports and, at the age of 11, took the starring role of Eliza Doolittle in a production of My Fair Lady.
She moved on to Marlborough College in Wiltshire and, although shy at first, became a popular, hardworking student.
By the time she was studying for A-levels in chemistry, biology and art, she had blossomed into a beauty and had become “the most fancied girl in the school.”
Kate went up to St Andrews, on Scotland’s east coast, in 2001 to study art history – the same subject as her fellow fresher, Prince William. They also lived in the same halls of residence, St Salvator’s, known as “Sallies.”
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Shy William, 19, mixed with a trusted circle of old pals from Eton but soon spotted the girl nicknamed “beautiful Kate”.
She had grown in confidence while crewing on yachts during her gap year but admits she still “blushed and ran away” when he first said hello.
However, they soon became pals, although both dated other people. Kate went out with a fourth year law student, Rupert Finch, for a few months, while Prince William briefly dated Carly Massy-Birch.
When William “wobbled” over his studies, Kate encouraged him to swap subjects and take geography instead of art history and, by the start of 2002, they were good friends and confidantes.
“We spent more time with each other and had a giggle, lots of fun, and realised we shared the same interests,” William said later.
But his interest in Kate rocketed when he paid £200 for a front-row seat at the charity fashion show and saw her in that see-through frock – which sold for a staggering £88,000 after they married in 2011.
In the autumn of 2002 Kate joined a group of William’s friends for a shooting party on the Queen’s Sandringham estate in Norfolk, staying at Wood Farm. In May 2003 they were photographed in conversation at a rugby match, although Kate’s father told a journalist he could “categorically confirm they are no more than good friends”.
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The pair began sharing a flat with university pals in the aptly-named Hope Street, and behind the specially fitted bomb-proof doors and bullet-proof windows necessary to protect an heir to the throne, they fell in love.
They ate takeaways, watched films and entertained friends for dinner. They also got to know each other’s family homes, but their relationship remained a secret until they went skiing in Switzerland in March 2004.
William and Kate were photographed together in Klosters – and the images made front page news.
“Look, I’m only 22, for God’s sake,” William responded when asked about possible marriage plans. “I don’t want to get married until I’m at least 28 or maybe 30.”
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Kate coped well with the media attention, though, and they returned to St Andrews, where they moved into a new house as
After graduating, the prince and Kate attended the Oxfordshire wedding of William’s friends, Hugh van Cutsem and Rose Astor, before jetting off for a romantic holiday in Kenya. But then they had to face the real world and the next stage of their lives.
William went to the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, while Kate moved to London to work as an accessories buyer for high-street fashion brand Jigsaw.
She was seen watching William playing in the old boys’ Eton Field Game match in the spring of 2006 and they enjoyed a holiday with friends on the island of Mustique. And after both of Kate’s grandmothers died that summer the prince helped cheer her up by chartering a yacht to go sailing with friends off Ibiza.
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Kate and her parents attended William’s passing-out parade in December 2006 and the couple were spotted kissing during another trip to Klosters.
By 2007 an engagement seemed imminent, but William was fretting about the pressures they would face and was distressed by headlines that asked, “Is this the next
Kate was hurt when photos emerged of William on nights out with other girls and the couple separated over the Easter weekend
Devastated, but determined not to be “waity Katie”, she threw herself into training with an all-female dragon boat crew.
She also took her sister Pippa’s advice and started going clubbing.
Soon photos of her looking stunning and chatting with “a mystery male friend” emerged. William quickly realised what he was missing and, at a friend’s birthday party that June, they began talking.
The following month Kate was a guest at the Concert for Diana at London’s Wembley Stadium, organised by William and his brother, Harry. She and her brother James sat behind the princes.
Later the same year William whisked Kate off for a romantic getaway on the idyllic esroches Island in the Seychelles and it was there he promised she would always be part of his life.
Back in the UK, Kate left her job with Jigsaw for a role with her parents’ firm, Party Pieces, and she began appearing at William’s side in public.
She was a guest when he was given his RAF wings in 2008 and she represented the prince at his cousin Peter Phillips’ wedding, where she was snapped with Prince Harry’s on-off girlfriend Chelsy Davy.
When William decided to begin training as an RAF search-and-rescue pilot in Anglesey, the couple quietly moved in together.
In a whitewashed cottage with views of Snowdonia, there, they settled into a low-key lifestyle with a beloved spaniel called Lupo.
They strolled along the beaches, walked in the hills and shopped at Tesco and Waitrose. Kate seemed happy in their committed relationship, ring or no ring.
But in October 2010, William took her by surprise. On holiday in Kenya he flew her up to a romantic wooden hut on the shores of Lake Rutundu and, from his rucksack, produced a small box. Inside was his mother’s priceless sapphire and diamond engagement ring, which he slipped on her finger asking Kate to be his wife. “I really didn’t expect it all,” she said later. “It was a total shock when it came.”
The couple had come a long way from the student fashion show where the royal love story began, but Kate had at last got her own
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