Royal wedding: The Kate Middleton story

Nicholas Witchell looks back at the royal relationship

Kate Middleton has been the subject of intense press attention ever since she began dating Prince William, whom she met at St Andrews University in 2001.

Unlike her royal fiance, whose every move since birth has been obsessively tracked in the tabloids, life in the media spotlight has proved a new and unsettling experience for 29-year-old Catherine Elizabeth Middleton, born into a comparatively ordinary middle-class family from Bucklebury, in Berkshire.

But with the help of powerful friends in the royal family Kate Middleton has fought back, sometimes successfully, to maintain a modicum of personal privacy.

Her parents, Michael and Carole Middleton, run a mail-order business selling toys and games for children's parties from a converted barn close to their home.

'Popular and talented'

Marlborough College Kate was captain of the school hockey team at Marlborough College

The eldest of three children, she was educated at the exclusive Marlborough College in Wiltshire, where she was described as level-headed, popular and talented.

Her former classmate Charlie Leslie said: "Kate is an absolutely phenomenal girl - really popular, talented, creative and sporty.

"She was captain of the school hockey team and played in the first pair at tennis."

A college master said: "I don't think you'd find anyone in Marlborough with a bad word to say about her.

"She excelled in all her subjects and was an A-grade pupil across the board."

Her sister, Pippa, 25, is a party planner who was voted No 1 in Tatler magazine's 2008 poll of the "200 coolest kids in town".

Her brother, James, 21, has launched a baking company.

Kate met Prince William when studying art history at St Andrews, in Fife, where they shared accommodation for four years.

Kate Middleton, 19, modelling in a charity fashion show in aid of Oxfam and breast cancer, while at St Andrews University, Scotland, in 2002 Prince William attended a university fashion show where Kate was a model

She is credited with persuading him not to leave when he had a "wobble" at the end of his first year.

The prince attended a charity fashion show in which Kate modelled in her underwear in March 2002.

Their relationship apparently flourished during weekends alone on the Queen's Balmoral estate.

For a while, at least, William and Kate were guaranteed some privacy, following an agreement worked out between the palace and press while he was a student.

But the media silence did not last, and Kate was first brought to the public's attention after several tabloids pictured her beside Prince William and Prince Charles at the Swiss ski resort of Klosters in 2005.

The photographs appeared despite efforts by aides to keep the holiday private.

Newspaper interest grew when Kate graduated and moved to London.

In October 2005, after the publication of a photo showing Kate looking out of a window on a London bus, her lawyers wrote to newspaper and magazine editors asking them to respect her privacy.

They claimed photographers had followed her almost every day and night since she left university.

Photographers and camera crews wait for Kate Middleton to leave her Chelsea flat on her 25th birthday on January 9, 2007 in London Media interest in Kate Middleton has been intense

Speculation of an engagement was sparked in February 2006, when it was suggested she would receive her own royal security, which would only be available following an engagement.

The rumours were taken seriously enough for one high street chain - the now-defunct retail giant Woolworths - to put souvenirs into production to mark an anticipated announcement.

In December 2006, Kate was again in the headlines after she and her mother attended a ceremony at Sandhurst, to watch Prince William being commissioned as an officer in the British army.

The occasion was notable as the first time she had been seen at a high-profile public event attended by the Queen and other senior royals.

Media scrum

Rumours of an engagement reached a peak around the time of Kate's 25th birthday in January 2007, when the media scrum took up residence outside her Chelsea home.

The paparazzi free-for-all drew inevitable comparisons with the prince's late mother, killed in a car crash in Paris whilst being pursued by photographers.

Prince William and Prince Charles appealed for her to be left alone, and some newspapers agreed to stop using paparazzi shots of her.

In March, Kate's lawyers made an official complaint to the Press Complaints Commission over a photo published in the Daily Mirror.

It showed her clutching a takeaway coffee cup and car keys as she headed to work. The Mirror issued a public apology and the complaint was withdrawn.

Media pressure appeared to take its toll and was blamed when the couple split in April 2007, although no official statement was issued by either.

At the time, Kate was working as an accessories buyer for high street fashion chain Jigsaw, in Kew, a role she left in November 2007.

Following the break-up, negative stories about the Middleton family appeared in the press.

These included allegations Kate's mother had chewed gum at William's passing-out parade and had used the words "toilet" and "pardon" in front of the Queen.

Prince William (second left) and then ex-girlfriend Kate Middleton (right) in the crowd during the charity concert in memory of Diana, Princess of Wales, July 2007 Reconciliation rumours were denied after the Concert for Diana at Wembley

There were also reports some of William's friends would whisper "doors to manual" when Kate entered the room, in reference to her mother's past career as an air hostess.

Reports of a reconciliation were denied in June 2007, with the couple insisting they were "just good friends" after being spotted together at the Concert for Diana at Wembley.

They were then seen in public on a number of occasions.

Kate even attended two royal weddings without William in 2008.

Low profile

Kate was present when the prince received his RAF wings from his father at RAF Cranwell in April 2008 and in Windsor when he became a Knight of the Garter in June.

But aside from such official engagements, it seems she has been keeping a lower profile recently and has appeared less in papers and magazines.

Since resigning from Jigsaw, she has been working for her parents' firm and is pictured on its website.

She had been dubbed "waity Katie" by critics in the press who say she appeared to spend her time shopping and socialising while waiting for a proposal. That waiting is now over.

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