Off the leash. Prince William takes to the dance floor with a blonde girl in a sexy basque after having knocked back shots of tequila, sambuca and several vodka and tonics.
It’s 3am and it seems he hasn’t a care in the world. Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean blasts out as William and his friends whoop in delight.
No wonder the second in line to the throne is revelling in this night out at the K Bar in a basement at the wrong end of London’s fashionable Fulham Road.
After having to endure the turmoil of his parents’ toxic divorce and living his whole life under pressure of dynastic expectation, his name constantly linked with every eligible young woman, the yoke of responsibility was off his shoulders in the early hours of that September morning in 2007.
William, 25, on his last evening out as a single man, dancing at 3am with the girl in a basque at the K Bar in a basement at the wrong end of London’s fashionable Fulham Road. Kate had told him to ‘let off steam’
Slightly worse for wear and with his shirt hanging outside his jeans, William, 25, gave it his all. He twirled his dance partner with his hand on her slender waist. The pair held each other again, before laughingly spinning apart.
Where, any observer might have asked, was Kate Middleton?
After all, she was the woman who had shared his life for the past five years. But they had split earlier that summer. William had got cold feet, feeling pressured into a marriage for which he was not ready.
He had phoned Kate at her London office of the high-street fashion chain Jigsaw. Utterly crestfallen, the 25-year-old was a vortex of mixed emotions. On the one hand, her years of devotion to her beloved Prince had seemed wasted. But on the other, there must have been a slight feeling that she had escaped the cauldron of public scrutiny and duty that came with such a relationship.
William and the girl spin around the dance floor – but the Prince, a little worse for wear, left the West London club on his own
Regardless, life went on and she had licked her wounds at the Middleton family’s cocoon-like Berkshire home.
To the rest of the world, the great Royal love story of the generation had crumbled.
Undaunted, in public, Kate had tried to make it clear she was not pinning hopes on a reconciliation with William. She attended several events – albeit displaying what many noted was her ‘See-What-You’re-Missing-William’ look.
A typical night out was at another West London club, Boujis. On one occasion, a self-help book was seen peeking out of Kate’s designer handbag, entitled Love Is Not Enough: A Smart Woman’s Guide To Keeping (And Making) Money. Among the advice in its pages is: ‘Prince Charming and his bank balance just aren’t coming to bail us out.’
William gave it his all. He twirled his dance partner with his hand on her slender waist. The pair held each other again, before laughingly spinning apart
Meanwhile, the separation meant warehouses across the country had shelved – or even smashed – commemorative china prepared to celebrate their hoped-for wedding.
Intriguingly, though, in the run-up to William’s big night out at K Bar, the couple had, behind the scenes, reunited. How they came to realise that life was poorer without each other is something obviously only they know. But a hint at their thinking came in the TV interview after their engagement was announced three years later.
Kate said: ‘I think if you go out with someone for quite a long time, you get to know each other very, very well. You go through the good times. You go through the bad times.’ She added that people ‘can come out of that stronger and learn things about yourself’.
For his part, William gave a clue by saying of his eventual decision to show his ‘romantic side’ and propose to her: ‘As any guy knows, it takes a certain amount of motivation to get yourself going.’
Secretly, the couple had formally reunited that summer during a holiday at a luxury resort in the Seychelles. They even agreed to marry – but only after William had finished his Army training and then his Navy and RAF duties. Reassured, Kate allowed her boyfriend to ‘let off some steam’ – although she wouldn’t have known the details of his long night and final fling in a clinch with a blonde wearing a silver basque.
Never one to lose control herself, Kate would not have approved of the sight of him later that morning, slumped outside the men’s toilets and propped up by his chums.
William eventually went home alone – supported by his police protection officers as he stumbled into the street.
The rest, as we know, is history. Those makers of commemorative wedding china were back in business. The great Royal love story of the new millennium was back on.
No one will ever forget Prince Charles’s brutally callous reply, when asked on his engagement to Diana Spencer if he was in love, of ‘whatever love means’. His son, William, had learnt the lessons of that tragic relationship.
Long gone into history were William’s old flames, such as fox-hunt master’s daughter Rose Farquhar, polo club boss’s daughter Arabella Musgrave and Carley Massy-Birch.
Catherine Elizabeth Middleton, from the Home Counties village of Bucklebury, was to be the one. A picture-perfect future Queen, who has since provided William with the close-knit family he never had and three lovely children.
Now, in this exclusive Mail on Sunday series, we will tell you the full story of how it all unfolded.
A drizzly Wednesday afternoon at a small Berkshire preparatory school in spring 1992 and an under-10s boys’ hockey match is about to begin.
Pupils gather on the touchline to watch – one of them a normally reticent girl called Catherine. There is much giggling, chattering and shrieking.
Outside the school’s Victorian building, 4x4s disgorge parents. While outwardly poised, some are just as excited as their children, for this promises to be no ordinary fixture. The visitors from another Berkshire school, Ludgrove, have as their left-back a future King, Prince William.
The tendency to chart relationships with firsts – the first meeting, kiss, declaration of love – is universal and certainly true with Royalty. History records that the Queen first met Prince Philip at the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth when she was 13 and he 18; that Diana, as a bashful 16-year-old, met Prince Charles, then 29 and dating her elder sister, in November 1977; and that, seven years earlier, Charles encountered Camilla at a polo match.
Whether Catherine Middleton, aged ten that day in 1992, was one of the green-blazered pupils from St Andrew’s School near Pangbourne who clamoured to shake nine-year-old William’s hand, and perhaps exchange a few words, is not known. Yet the occasion was noteworthy, say her friends, for being the first time she laid eyes on her future husband.
And without doubt, one former classmate told The Mail on Sunday, Catherine joined in a rousing three cheers for William and his vanquished team as they trudged off the field at the end of the match.
‘All the girls, Catherine included, were desperate to catch a glimpse of him, and afterwards, at tea, they were all trying to speak to him,’ recalled a former pupil.
Born six months apart, they would not meet properly until years later, but the Prince’s visit certainly piqued young Catherine’s curiosity. Afterwards she spoke of it frequently, and later kept half an eye on William’s progress, though there is nothing to suggest that she did so because she entertained fairytale, Diana-like notions of marrying a prince.
Not then, anyway.
The eldest child of Michael and Carole Middleton, Catherine spoke a long time later of how she ‘adored’ her prep school, a rust-coloured Gothic pile set in more than 50 acres of playing fields. The school motto – ‘To seek higher things’ – might have been designed for her family of achievers.
The emphasis was on sport, and the tall, skinny Catherine excelled at swimming, netball and hockey. Academically bright, she was also kind, well-mannered and possessed of a supreme dedication, which expressed itself in the classroom and on the sports field.
Teacher Denise Allford recalled ‘a 100mph kind of girl who put full concentration into everything she did’. Friends attest to a modesty and reserve reminiscent of her father; her mother is more outgoing, a self-confessed ‘chatterbox’. Yet Catherine’s supposed shyness did not stop her bagging lead roles in school plays.
A year after William’s visit, Catherine, by then 11, played flower girl Eliza Doolittle in a production of My Fair Lady, the enchanting story of a commoner who learns to pass herself off as a duchess.
In video footage she is wrapped in a black shawl, her hair in a bun, and delivers an impressive rendition of Wouldn’t It Be Loverly. Having initially struggled in rehearsals with Eliza’s cockney accent, by opening night she was dropping her aitches like a true Eastender. Already in evidence are the striking good looks that would later turn William’s head.
Aged 13, she appeared in the Victorian melodrama Murder In The Red Barn, and in one scene a fortune-teller studies her palm and says: ‘Soon you will meet a handsome man, a rich gentleman.’
An excited Catherine replies: ‘It is all I have ever hoped for.’ Later in the play she marries a caddish squire… called William.
As for Prince William, he was just 20 miles away at Ludgrove. And while the upheaval of leaving home aged eight was unsettling at first, the boarding school provided constancy and routine, both in short supply at Kensington Palace, the battleground for his parents’ disintegrating marriage. How different to the home life of his future wife, which was stable and harmonious.
Although shielded from much of the turmoil that enveloped his parents’ marriage in 1992 (Ludgrove headmaster Gerald Barber banned newspapers from the school library and restricted TV access), this was a miserable year for William, with Charles and Diana formally separating in December. Around the time of the hockey match, Andrew Morton’s book Diana: Her True Story was published, revealing Charles’s adultery and Diana’s bulimia.
Some weeks earlier, William was photographed with Diana leaving the National History Museum chewing his bottom lip, his gaze fixed to the ground. It was hardly surprising that those around him noted he was turning into a ‘sensitive boy’.
But whatever his private sadnesses, he knew even at this young age it was his duty to grin and bear them and, as his mother did, turn on the charm for wellwishers. Doe-eyed liked Diana, he also inherited her winning smile. But to him, then as now, attention was something to be endured, not enjoyed.
Like Catherine, he excelled at sport, captaining the rugby and the hockey teams, as well as being one of Ludgrove’s best swimmers.
He shone in the classroom as no other Royal had done before him, and he shared his future wife’s love of the stage, becoming head of the school drama society.
Both William and Catherine were cocooned by their prep schools, and leaving them was a wrench.
William headed for Eton College. For Catherine, it meant a short-lived, miserable move to Downe House, an independent girls’ boarding school near Newbury, Berkshire. It is said by one friend that she was picked on because she was perceived ‘as quite a soft and nice person’. The headteacher at the time denied Catherine was bullied but conceded the ‘catty’ atmosphere may have left her feeling ‘like a fish out of water’.
Former pupil Emma Sayle, four years above Catherine, recalled: ‘There were a lot of girls who had come from private schools in London – in our year we had a gang called the London Trendies. It just wasn’t Catherine’s scene. She didn’t know anyone and she was very lonely.’
Whatever the truth, the official line was that she ‘didn’t fit in’ and left after two terms for the co-educational Marlborough College in Wiltshire, one of the finest schools in England.
On arrival, she was understandably ‘very quiet’ and was known as Kate. Her house tutor Joan Gall said: ‘Coming to a large school like Marlborough was difficult, but she settled in quickly. It was like a big, happy family. We would do things like bake cakes and watch videos.’ Housemistress Ann Patching said of Kate’s past experience: ‘She didn’t make a big deal about it. It was a concern, but she was determined to move on.’
The school’s ethos has been described as just the right cocktail of sensitive, stuffy and bohemian.
In the evenings, she and friends watched TV – often the sitcom Friends – and she would make her favourite snack: microwaved Marmite sandwiches.
With her friend Alice St John Webster, she was joint captain of the tennis team. It is said that she kissed Alice’s older brother Woody but it ‘led to nothing serious’. He went on to study geology at Edinburgh – the same university as Kate’s sister Pippa, who was also at Marlborough – before co-founding a tuition agency.
It has been claimed that Kate kept a picture of the future King on her dorm wall, and she is supposed to have told a friend: ‘There’s no one quite like William.’ But during their TV interview in 2010 to mark their engagement, Kate laughed off the story, saying her wall had been adorned instead with a photo of a Levi’s model.
Of boyfriends, it seems likely there were some low-key romances but nothing significant until the start of sixth form. Always pretty, Kate had blossomed into a demure beauty and was attracting ‘intense’ attention. Along with Pippa, she was included in a so-called ‘fit list’ which, according to one former pupil, was a table compiled of the school’s best-looking girls that was ‘hung on the wall next to the canteen’… and taken down just as quickly by teachers.
Around this time she dated rugby captain Harry Blakelock, who was in the year above and has been described as her first real love. When they broke up, she was heartbroken. ‘They had been seeing each other but he messed her around quite a bit, strung her along,’ a friend recalled. ‘She was hung up about him for ages afterwards.’ Harry went on to marry one of Kate’s friends, Sarah Follett, and is now an insurance broker.
When Kate left Marlborough in 2000, with A-levels in chemistry, biology and art, achieving two As and a B, the school yearbook records she was voted ‘Person most likely to be loved by everybody’.
Just as the friends she made at Marlborough would be her mainstay and support throughout her later Royal life, William was establishing a similar pattern at Eton, 60 miles down the M4.
Like her, he struggled at first with the transition. But while Catherine was given time and space to get over Downe House, William was changing schools against a background of tumult at home and unrelenting interest in his every move. He often found tourists outside his boarding house, and when he played sports, crowds formed to watch from a nearby public road.
All this would have been infinitely more bearable were it not for his parents’ troubled marriage. Each week seemed to deliver fresh misery and, inevitably, there was playground teasing.
His housemaster, Dr Andrew Gailey, looked out for him, as did a small group of trusted older boys, among them Nicholas Knatchbull, his father’s godson, and his cousin Freddie Windsor. Such protection alienated some of his peers, but when William ‘came out of his shell’, they discovered a ‘great guy’ who was ‘not at all arrogant’.
Over time, he acquired a small band of loyal lieutenants. But no one helped him more during this period than the Queen, whom he would meet at Windsor Castle, just over the Thames. ‘I’m going to the WC,’ he joked to friends.
Over Sunday afternoon tea, his grandmother encouraged him to discuss his problems. He came away armed with practical advice. ‘She instilled in him strength when it was needed most,’ a contemporary said.
By the time his Eton career ended, he had successfully achieved three A-levels in Geography (A), History of Art (A) and Biology (C) but had endured profound misery. And no episode, of course, was as painful as the loss of his mother at the age of 15.
A gap year at the start of the new millennium offered an ideal opportunity to take stock and reflect.
Back in Berkshire, Kate Middleton was planning to do the same.