Is Kate a Queen in the making?

DESPITE THE hundreds of thousands of words written about her in the press, hours of airtime on TV and radio, and 1.5m results on Google, Kate Middleton remains something of an enigma. Some people have fallen in ...

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Published: Fri 23 Mar 2007, 11:59 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 8:46 PM

love with her; others wonder what the fuss is about; anyone with even a passing interest in current affairs would find it hard not to recognise her face, so widely is it featured. She has become a one-name brand - in conversation and in print, people are referring to the 25-year-old simply as 'Kate', in the style of Madonna, Elvis and Marilyn, encroaching on territory belonging once to Kate Moss.

So how did a girl from Berkshire, in the home counties, wind up at the centre of this high-voltage furore, and how will she cope? What is life like for Kate Middleton, celebrity and fashion icon? And is Prince William's girlfriend really going the royals' saviour, as some have breathlessly suggested?

The young men and women who surround the Prince and Kate were largely unwilling to be named in public for this article, but several were prepared to speak anonymously about the couple. 'William and Kate have talked about the future and intend to spend it with one another,' says one. 'William is in no hurry to propose, and while Kate would obviously like a ring, she's prepared to wait. They're in love.'

The prince and his girl were first pictured together in April 2004, skiing on the slopes of Klosters. Since then she has evolved from a figure of fleeting, flirtatious interest to a fully-fledged obsession ('Kate Can Save The House Of Windsor!'). Right now, her fame is reaching tipping point. She can no longer leave a nightclub without a police escort charged with protecting her from the paparazzi, who list her high among their most desirable subjects. 'She's of huge public interest,' says Alan Williams, who runs the London-based Big Picture Agency. 'She's young, good looking and dating a prince. It must be pretty obvious to everybody that she's an interesting subject for the press.'

The tabloid newspapers and celebrity magazines have been in search of a young, glamorous royal since the Princess of Wales was snatched away from them. Sally Cartwright, director-at-large at Hello! magazine, says Kate can add thousands to circulation, and that, 'If she were to become engaged to Prince William we'd expect to see sales rising by more than 100,000 when she is featured.'

Dylan Jones, editor of men's style magazine GQ, calls Kate the ultimate cover girl. 'She is probably the most intriguing woman in Britain right now, principally because we know so little about her,' he says. Indeed, in the absence of an authorised appearance in the magazine, April's GQ carries an approving analysis of her style, with a leggy, mocked-up illustration.

Anyone looking for an insight into Kate's life should start at Boujis, the nightclub where she likes to hang out, particularly on a Tuesday, its big night. Boujis has been at the centre of London's young Sloane scene for the past few years. 'It's safe to come here. You know you're not going to get a hard time and you're likely to meet people like you,' says a regular. 'Army boys up for the weekend, a smattering of Eurotrash types, locals.'

Kate and her boyfriend, the recently commissioned Second Lieutenant William Wales, go to Boujis because it is a sensible place for people like them to drink and dance. The club's manager, Jake Parkinson-Smith, is happy to talk about how well he protects his members' privacy but unwilling to discuss the regular royal clubbers.

As Geordie Greig, editor of soceity magazine Tatler, which keeps a close eye on Prince William's set, explains: 'They may party late, but they aren't going to break the law.' According to friends of the Prince, Kate is the most sensible of his crowd and the least likely even to get tipsy. Another Boujis regular remembers finding Kate applying make-up in the loo in the middle of the night, before leaving to face the media scrum. 'It's a rough, tough rite of passage,' says the Queen's biographer, Robert Lacey. 'But she seems to be surviving it well.'

Boujis serves as a focus for much Kate-related activity. It was here, for example, that she was snapped at the start of the year wearing a $79 monochrome-print dress from high street chain store Topshop. The following day, when those snatched images found their way on to the front pages of the papers, the frock promptly sold out. This was a significant moment in the course of Kate's fame trajectory - the first time she had exercised a palpable influence over the country's look. This, of course, would be exciting for any twenty- something woman. But, a former courtier warns: 'The pressure of expectation becomes a burden very quickly. What can be fun one day is a strain the next and she has no power to switch this attention on and off.'

Proof comes from the more mundane images of Kate that have caused such a stir. Last November, paparazzi shots showing her putting out her rubbish appeared in almost every national paper ('Bin there, done that. William's Girl Mucks In,' said the London paper, the Evening Standard). Seven months earlier, film of her waiting for a bus made it on to the TV news. And when, last December, she turned up at Sandhurst military academy for William's passing out parade, ITN hired a lip-reader, who reported that she'd confided in her mother that she thought the uniforms 'sexy'.

Kate Middleton left St Andrews University, in the small sleep town of St Andrews, in northern Scotland, in June 2005 at the age of 23. She'd met William there four years earlier, while she was reading for a degree in Art History. She moved to London, where her parents Michael and Carole bought her a flat in Chelsea, now worth $2m. Kate has always spent a lot of time with her mother, and they speak every day. But she also devoted herself to William. 'When we first came down from St Andrews, it was exciting for us all to be in London together,' says an old university friend. 'But as it turned out we didn't end up seeing much of Kate. She spent a lot of time with William's friends and sort of stopped coming to our girls' suppers. I don't even think she dropped us deliberately. But she has to be so careful about where she goes now and all the arrangements that it became more trouble than it was worth.'

The need to justify her lifestyle to an anonymous public must have come as a nasty shock to someone unused to such demands. Sources close to Kate put it about that she was considering setting up a mail-order firm selling children's clothes. But the company never materialised. 'Kate seems at a loss over her future and just seems to be waiting for Wills to pop the question. She has not settled on a career path,' said a friend at the time. Aware that the press and public were beginning to get fractious, William suggested Kate ought to find employment. Last May, shortly after he had taken her to stay in Mustique, at the hideaway owned by John and Belle Robinson, friends of both his and her parents, it was reported she was going to start working for their clothing chain, Jigsaw. Initial rumours suggested Kate would be a 'brand ambassador' for the label; she was, in fact, employed in the more defined role of buyer for Jigsaw's accessories range.

While Kate's look relies on high-street labels far more than designer pieces, she does demonstrate an extravagant streak where handbags are concerned. She has 'the biggest collection of Longchamp I've ever seen', according to one fashion writer. Longchamp bags - chic but square, elegant but practical, unobtrusive and yet, at $800 a pop, not exactly cheap - could not have been better suited to Kate's brand if they'd been chosen by an image consultant, which they may have been. She has reportedly enjoyed a degree of media coaching from royal helpers, and sources suggest she's used a personal shopper. Her wardrobe is definitively sensible. But, though the clothes are seldom ostentatious, the sheer number of outfits suggests she has plenty of disposable income.

In truth, however, her background is fairly unexciting. Carole and Michael, both previously employed as airline cabin staff, now run a mail-order company that supplies cheap party toys. Although they have registered Party Pieces as a limited company, they have left it dormant, operating instead as a private partnership, thus avoiding the need to file public accounts. It is a canny move for people who want to avoid public scrutiny - as is their decision to retain Harbottle and Lewis, a firm of lawyers that specialises in keeping privacy-seeking celebrities out of the tabloids.

'Kate has never been hard up. Her parents packed her off to St Andrews with a generous allowance,' says another friend who does not want to be named. 'The money to buy the London flat was obviously found from somewhere, but it's not as though her parents have a pad there of their own. You're not looking at trust funds and vast amounts of inherited cash.'

The Middletons could, of course, be paying into a hefty mortgage. If they are, it might turn out to be a smart move. After all, if Kate becomes Queen, what's a few hundred thousand pounds here or there?

Kate's parents have clearly not been ruined by whatever arrangements are in place. They live in a substantial, but not grand, house in the village of Bucklebury in Berkshire - a reassuring lifestyle that holds its attractions for the Prince, who lost his mother amid the cold corridors of castles and palaces, to divorce and then death. According to local gossip, the Middletons talk fondly of 'William's favourite sofa'.

Born into this solidly middle-class home on 9 January 1982, Kate's passage to St Andrews University was not quite smooth. She was sent to a local fee-paying school, St Andrew's in Pangbourne, Dorest. A contemporary remembers her as one of the most beautiful girls of the year. 'She made such an impression that she became something of a legend in local public schools when we moved on.' These schools included Eton College, where a young Prince William may well have heard her name. At 11, Kate went on to Downe House, a girls' senior fee-paying school, which she left in the middle of the academic year when she was 14. In the intervening period, Kate's contemporaries had grown up and she no longer stood out. She is remembered to have been 'pale, quiet, shy, a little bullied'. Her parents responded by moving her to Marlborough College, a co-educational, fee-paying senior school in the Wiltshire countryside.

At university, Kate continued to grow in confidence. She co-founded a girls' drinking society, 'annoyed that the old ones excluded women' - but no one remembers her getting very drunk. Images of a slim, slightly gawky Kate striding down a catwalk in lingerie have been sold to the press, but friends insist she was no exhibitionist. 'It was just a student charity event,' I'm told. 'Tickets were $40, not $400 as reported, and the room was basically full of friends. It was no big deal.' At this point, William and Kate were no more than friends and it was in that capacity that they started living together in 2002, with two others, away from the university's own student accommodation.

Those close to Kate say she believes herself to be a prize catch. 'He's lucky to have me,' she is said to have responded to friends impressed by the romance. And - at least in terms of the people who run in William's set - he is. Kate is, after all, someone who is prepared to wait years for him to be ready to propose. She is also unlikely to embarrass herself, and is happy to join him on shooting expeditions, despite no previous recorded love of country sports. For all these reasons, author Penny Junor, who has written several books about the royal family, considers Kate and William to be a couple with excellent prospects. 'She has made no mistakes at all. She seems self-assured. She's got poise and grace. She could be a perfect bride for William.'

Whether or not Kate delivers on the heavy expectations imposed on her by impatient royalists and a hungry press remains to be seen. It is also dependent on Prince William proposing. Although both William and Kate want and expect to get married, nobody close to them predicts an announcement is imminent.

In the meantime, Kate will continue to get more famous, sell more papers, smile at more parking attendants, inadvertently flog more Topshop and Jigsaw frocks, and spend her Tuesday nights in Boujis. She certainly does not seem to mind too much about all that. And nor, surely, should we.

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