Michael and Carole Middleton, self-made millionaires who run a mail order company selling children's party toys, raise their three children in the genteel village of Bucklebury, England. Their oldest daughter, Kate, attends the $35,000-per-year boarding school Marlborough College and excels at field hockey and cross-country running.
Middleton attends the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, where Prince William of Wales is also a student. Both major in art history before becoming close friends (William will later change his course of study to geography). That March, the dashing prince forks over $200 to sit front row to cheer on Middleton in a student-run charity fashion show. Middleton's walk down the runway in a sheer black sheath over a bandeau top and bikini bottom marks her first brush with the British press.
Middleton and William, along with the Prince's Eton College pal Fergus Boyd and another female student, move into a four-bedroom apartment near the town center. Middleton doesn't see their platonic arrangement as "a big deal," says a pal. One local begs to differ, telling PEOPLE, "Everybody knows he is with Kate. They are together."
After keeping a low profile, William, 21, and Middleton, also 21, are photographed cozying up on a Swiss ski trip. The pair finally confirms that they are, in fact, a couple, which prompts the media to speculate on William's marriage plans. "Look, I'm only 22 for God's sake," William tells British tabloid The Sun. "I don't want to get married until I'm at least 28 or 29."
Middleton and William host a lunch for Prince Charles, his wife Camilla Parker Bowles and Middleton's parents after their college graduation. The event jump starts the media's interest on their possible engagement. Woolworths creates commemorative plates and mugs with the couple's photographs. "She is princess material and 21st-century queen material, I have no doubt about that," veteran royals writer Robert Lacey tells PEOPLE. "So far she's not put a foot wrong. And if she is excited by what is happening to her, she is managing to hide it very well."
Middleton, now an accessories buyer with British clothing chain Jigsaw, attends William's graduation from the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst, England. It marks the first time the princess-in-waiting, who walks to the historic parade ground with William's private secretary and two of his closest pals, has been a guest of her boyfriend at an official royal engagement with the Queen present.
After nearly five years together, Middleton and William surprisingly call it quits. Sources close to the couple claim the pair have grown apart since their university days, and the media attention on their relationship was an ongoing source of trouble for the couple.
Bringing years of speculation to an end, Prince William and Middleton, both 28, announce their engagement, with plans to wed on April 29, 2011 in London. The prince proposed to his girlfriend of eight years with his late mother Diana's engagement ring while the couple vacationed in Kenya in October.
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