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Chapter 16
A Royal Flatmate

Kate Middleton looked the belle of the ball in a stunning flapper-style dress as she stood in a marquee in the grounds of her parents’ grand red-brick house at a party to celebrate her 21st birthday. Sipping champagne and greeting guests, she chatted to friends from Marlborough College and St Andrews University, all dressed, like her, in ’20s costume, and kept an eye out for Prince William, who was guest of honour.

Although the couple had been sharing a flat in the university town during the previous academic year, William’s appearance at Kate’s party in June 2003 – five months after her actual birthday – underlined how close they had become. He arrived late and left soon after the sit-down dinner, before dancing got under way, returning home to Highgrove to prepare for his own coming-of-age party the following week.

Royal commentators have speculated that Kate’s birthday party saw the beginning of a romance that has gripped the nation for many years. But only a handful of the couple’s close friends really know when their friendship turned to love.

Rumours about the nature of William and Kate’s relationship first began to emerge after the spring vacation in 2002, towards the end of their first year at St Andrews, when William announced that he was planning to move out of the hall of residence and into a flat with three friends, one of them Kate. At that stage, Kate and William laughed off suggestions that they were dating, insisting that they were ‘just good friends’, although William was young, free and single, and Kate on the verge of becoming so. Her relationship with Rupert Finch was on the wane – and her love affair with William was on the horizon.

William and Kate teamed up with Fergus Boyd, the son of a country solicitor from the village of Broughton Gifford in Wiltshire, and olivia Bleasdale, who was also studying history of art, and found a flat in one of the most sought-after streets in the town.

Fergus, who was William’s closest friend at university, had bonded with the prince on the rugby pitches of Eton and was now studying the same geography module as him at St Andrews. He had modelled with Kate in the university’s charity fashion show and been on a cricket tour that summer with her boyfriend Rupert in South Africa. Now a financial advisor at Smith & Williamson, he has always remained protective of the royal couple; he is one of the few people who know whether their friendship turned to romance during their second year at university. Certainly, when Kate and William moved in together there were persistent rumours that they were more than friends, prompting the palace to deny that they ‘lived together’, meaning they did not share a bedroom.

William’s presence in St Andrews had a marked effect on the rental market as wealthy American students arrived in the seaside town, willing to pay over the odds to catch a glimpse of their hero. Prices began to rival those in London and students were known to camp on the pavement outside letting agents in their sleeping bags in order to be first in the queue for a flat.

With their connections, the well-heeled trio managed to secure a maisonette in a traditional Georgian terraced house. The friends moved into the apartment in the heart of St Andrews’ old town before the start of the Martinmas term on 23 September 2002. It was the perfect venue for the four students to relax in after spending the day at lectures. The new flatmates took turns preparing supper, a task that William found difficult, despite having had cookery classes at Eton. ‘I cook quite regularly for them and they cook for me,’ he said, in an interview at the end of the academic year, ‘although we haven’t had a house supper for quite a while because everyone’s been doing exams and working quite hard. I’ve got some very good cooks in my house, but I’m absolutely useless, as my paella experience, which was filmed at Eton a while ago, proved. We tend to have chicken, curries and pasta. But we go out to eat quite a lot – whatever we feel like at the time.’

On the whole, the four students kept a low profile, walking or cycling to lectures, shopping at Safeway and spending the evenings at home, listening to William’s R&B music or Fergus’s jazz thumping from their stereos. The prince rarely ventured out during the week – unless it was to attend lectures or visit the university library – apart from on Wednesday afternoons, when he played sport. Both William, who had been voted the university’s water polo captain, and Fergus trained for two hours on Thursday nights in the pool of St Leonards School.

Speaking about living in a communal house, he said: ‘I do a lot of shopping – I enjoy the shopping, actually. I get very carried away, you know, just food shopping. I buy lots of things and then go back to the house and see the fridge is full of all the stuff I’ve just bought . . .We all get on very well and started off having rotas, but, of course, it just broke down into complete chaos. Everyone helps out when they can. I try to help out when I can and they do the same for me, but usually you just fend for yourself.’

The only signs of the town’s most famous resident and his flatmates were the round-the-clock presence of a blacked-out people carrier outside the property, police patrols up and down the street and increased security cameras overlooking the flat, leading locals to describe it as the second most protected street after Downing Street. Security officers would follow William to university, waiting for him in the kebab shop down the road from the lecture hall.

Not long after Kate moved in with William, in late November 2002, her parents bought a flat in the heart of Chelsea. The timing may simply have been coincidental, but it meant that their daughter had a base in London for society parties.

Less than a week later, Kate was spending her first weekend at a shooting party, hosted by William at Wood Farm in Sandringham, Norfolk. She was one of six girls and ten boys, including the prince, who crammed into the six-bedroom cottage. What the sleeping arrangements were was unclear, leading to more speculation about William and Kate’s friendship. That weekend, guests included olivia Bleasdale and Virginia Fraser – who lived in the same street as Kate and William during term time – and Natalie Hicks-Lobbecke, called ‘Nats’ by her friends, an army officer’s daughter who was studying at Bristol University. There had been speculation at various points linking each of the girls romantically to the prince.

A mile down the road, at Sandringham House, William’s father was hosting an altogether more sedate event in the Queen’s Edwardian mansion. Prince Charles’s guests included the Queen of Denmark, who left early because she was suffering from back pain, the Queen’s godson Sir Nicholas Bacon, a barrister who owns thousands of acres of land in Norfolk and shares with Charles an interest in gardening, Conservative MP Nicholas Soames, Jolyon Connell, editor of news digest The Week, and landowner Lord Cavendish.

There is no suggestion that Kate – or indeed any of William’s guests that weekend – met Prince Charles, although he did arrange for the catering staff at Sandringham to organise a deluxe takeaway service for his son’s guests. It would not be long, though, before she was introduced to her flatmate’s father.

Five months later, on 3 May 2003, the relationship between William and Kate appeared to have stepped up a pace when they attended the annual May Ball organised by the notorious Kate Kennedy Club, of which William was now a member. Having splashed out on VIP tickets for the charity event, they spent the majority of the ball, held at Kinkell Farm in the Fife countryside, huddled in a corner with their closest friends, sparking rumours that they only had eyes for each other.

A few weeks later, Kate went to watch William playing in a rugby sevens tournament sponsored by The Gin House. Cheering on his team – rival pub the West Port Bar – from the sidelines, Kate seemed more like a girlfriend in waiting than a flatmate. During breaks in the game, when William was not playing, the couple lay side by side in the spring sunshine, deep in conversation, and appeared so comfortable in each other’s company that they yet again created speculation that their relationship had moved on to a different level. Following the match, after which the runners-up – William and his team – took home a consolation prize of three crates of lager, they headed for the West Port Bar, where they downed shots and partied. Known for his generosity, William often bought a round for everyone.

Within a month, the Candlemas Semester was drawing to a close, ending Kate and William’s second year at the prestigious university. Having finished their exams, the two moved out of their flat, looking forward to the long summer ahead. But they would not be apart for long.

Although Kate had turned 21 at the beginning of the year, both she and William celebrated their birthdays during that idyllic summer in 2003. But while Kate’s birthday party was a private affair, attended by the prince and her closest friends, William’s celebration a few weeks later was, naturally, a grander and more public event, attended by most of the royal family as well as a smattering of celebrities. Organised by the Prince of Wales’s valet Michael Fawcett, it was held on 21 June 2003 – William’s actual birthday – at Windsor Castle. The oldest and largest occupied castle in the world was converted into an African jungle, with two giant model elephants towering over guests, their trunks intertwined to form an archway to the dance floor. Animal skins decorated the walls, a giant giraffe’s head took pride of place over the long golden bar, which snaked the length of the room, and a tribal mask stood out from the opposite wall. Three hundred guests, all in fancy dress, danced to the sounds of the band Shakarimba, a six-piece group from Botswana, and William got into the vibe by jumping on stage and playing the drums. Guests included his uncles Earl Spencer and Prince Andrew, who were both dressed as big-game hunters in safari outfits, comedian Rowan Atkinson and polo player Luke Tomlinson. William’s grandmother looked stunning as the Queen of Swaziland, in a white gown, tribal headdress and giant fur wrap, while his father wore a safari suit and hunting hat and his cousins Beatrice and Eugenie dressed in matching leopard-skin costumes.

The St Andrews set arrived in a battered white van decorated with balloons and tinsel. But Kate’s appearance barely merited a mention in the media, being overshadowed by two events. The first was the arrest of intruder Aaron Barschak, a self-styled ‘comedy terrorist’, who managed, dressed as osama bin Laden, to gatecrash the party and stumble onto the stage in the Great Hall, grabbing the microphone from the prince, who was thanking the Queen and Prince Charles for his party. While William maintained his calm, Barschak was hauled out of the hall and arrested, although he was not prosecuted.

The second was the attendance of Jessica ‘Jecca’ Craig, the daughter of a wealthy conservationist, and generally believed at the time to have been William’s first serious girlfriend. He had grown close to Jecca when he visited her family’s 45,000-acre wildlife reserve in the foothills of Kenya during his gap year, two years earlier – there were even reports that they had had a ‘pretend engagement’ – but only they know whether they still had feelings for one another when she flew into Britain for his out of Africa party.

Either way, the Prince seemed at pains to quash rumours about their involvement and prove he was single, releasing a public statement, approved by Prince Charles, denying any romance with Jecca – the first and only time that such a step has been taken. The statement was generally deemed to be a shot across the bows intended to stem the intense media speculation that surrounded their relationship, which intensified when her boyfriend, Henry Ropner, received only a last-minute invitation to the party.

But not only did William deny having a relationship with Jecca – he denied having a girlfriend at all. In an interview to mark his birthday, he said: ‘There’s been a lot of speculation about every single girl I’m with, and it actually does quite irritate me after a while, more so because it’s a complete pain for the girls. These poor girls, whom I’ve either just met or are friends of mine, suddenly get thrown into the limelight and their parents get rung up and so on. I think it’s a little unfair on them, really. I’m used to it, because it happens quite a lot now. But it’s very difficult for them and I don’t like that at all.

‘If I fancy a girl and she fancies me back, which is rare, I ask her out. But at the same time, I don’t want to put them in an awkward situation, because a lot of people don’t understand what comes with knowing me, for one – and secondly, if they were my girlfriend, the excitement it would probably cause.’

That summer, then, the prince was telling the world that he was single, but it would not be long before the glare of the media’s attention shifted to Kate and it became clear that a new royal romance had begun in earnest.

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