Royal wedding: Is Kate Middleton the new media darling?

William, a king for a different age, has chosen his bride in a different way.

In the past, royal wives came from the aristocracy or foreign royalty. But Kate Middleton is a middle-class woman from Berkshire.

After a comfortable childhood and a private education - at boarding school she was said to have had a photo of William up on her wall - she met and fell in love with her prince at St Andrews University.

But even before they met, they'd followed similar paths.

It's not widely known that they shared an identical gap year experience. In 2001, Kate worked at a project in Chile where Prince William had been just the month before.

Rachel Humphreys, who looked after Kate and the other volunteers, remembers that even then, the soon-to-be princess stood out.

"She had a certain presence," said Ms Humphreys.

Start Quote

We gave them four years in which they could find themselves and find one another ”

End Quote Dr Brian Lang Former vice chancellor of St Andrews University

"She was a very mature girl. She was a very attractive girl, she was a very popular girl, particularly popular with the boys, and she was a great member of the expedition.

"But she was always very in control of herself and impeccably behaved."

A new 'fairytale'?

After the gap year, Kate chose the same university as William and, for a while, they studied the same subject.

The vice-chancellor at the time isn't surprised they've become engaged. Dr Brian Lang has told the BBC that St Andrews gave them four years of normal life.

"Four years," he said, "in which they could get to know one another, free of intrusion, glare and publicity. We gave them four years in which they could find themselves and find one another."

But what will the response be to this union? Will Kate Middleton become the tabloids' next "Queen of Hearts"?

Back in 1981, when Prince William's parents tied the knot, "Di-mania" was a distraction from the riots and rising unemployment of the time.

Much was written about a "fairytale" wedding, but little about the challenges a 20-year-old bride and a 32-year-old prince, with not much in common, would face.

But these upcoming nuptials, again announced at a time of economic woe, are likely to provoke an intense, but possibly more measured response.

'Control'

Since the 1980s, we've watched the royals wash their dirty linen in public and we've lived through the War of the Wales, Camillagate, Squidgygate and toe-sucking.

Whatever the reaction, this is an important moment for the House of Windsor.

Aside from his personal happiness, this is about Prince William ensuring the royals have a future.

He's always insisted he's not a reluctant king, but he's not rushed to embrace his destiny.

"Control" is a key word in William's vocabulary. He wants to take his time.

He's helped by the fact that he's second-in-line to the throne. His father, as heir, was less fortunate when William's age. Prince Charles delivered his first speech, in Welsh, aged 18.

With this marriage, Prince William is moving centre stage. He may resist it, but it's inevitable.

'Waity Katy'

And what awaits his bride? Kate Middleton has been transformed from private citizen to princess-in-waiting.

We may also have to get used to calling her Catherine. She'll receive the protection afforded by palaces and police bodyguards.

She's already poised and groomed. She knows how to flash a smile for the cameras. Silent until now, we'll get to know her voice.

Once married, Kate will have to find something to do - a charitable cause to embrace.

People aren't likely to tolerate someone in their 20s resting on their royal laurels.

Highly qualified and, at times, under-employed when William's girlfriend, she was called "Waity Katy" by some. It was a label which irked her and recently, she's worked for her parents' mail order business.

But paid employment and royals are uncomfortable bedfellows.

The Countess of Wessex still bears the scars from her disastrous attempt to run a PR company as the Queen's daughter-in-law.

Will Kate follow the example of William's mother and embrace her own good works? Or will she be inspired by his stepmother and decide her primary role is to support her husband-to-be?

As a royal couple, they'll attract intense international interest. For William, it's the curse of being the son of Diana.

He is wary of the media, but understands both its importance to the royals and its destructive power.

Much is likely to be written about Prince William and Kate Middleton as the future of the British monarchy.

In just over a decade, Catherine Elizabeth Middleton has gone from having a schoolgirl crush on a prince to being his fiancee.

Soon, she'll be a princess - and one day, a queen.

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