Royal Corner

Will and Kate's Engagement - Ten Years On

A decade has passed since the engagement of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, a moment which redefined the monarchy and finally put the spectres of the past to bed.

NOVEMBER 16th, 2020

© Getty Images


peculation had been rife from the moment they were first photographed on the slopes of the Alps in 2004, on whether Prince William and the then Kate Middleton would eventually walk down the aisle. Throughout their seven-year long relationship, constant headlines had adorned the newspapers claiming that an engagement announcement was imminent, and numerous opinion pieces unashamedly questioned why William and Kate were taking so long. These articles gave gravitas to the unjustified nickname of “Waity Katy”, something Kate certainly was not. The fascination in the woman, who potentially could be the future Queen Consort also resulted in frightening comparisons with the press intrusion suffered by Princess Diana.

After the rumour mill had all but spun out of motion, the announcement, which had long been hoped, finally blazed across all news channels – Prince William and Kate Middleton were engaged. Although ten years have passed since the historic and iconic moment that a young and understandably nervous Kate Middleton walked into the State Room of St James’s Palace alongside her future king, the magic of that royal moment continues to radiate through history, and more so, put to bed the regurgitated mistakes of the past.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's engagement interview - © Sky News/ITV

Whilst November 16th marks the public anniversary of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s engagement, the act of proposing actually happened three weeks prior in Kenya. Amazingly, not much is known around the details over how Prince William proposed, with the couple ensuring that the special moment remained – and continues to remain – private.

The refusal to divulge any details, of what is a special moment between any couple, proved that William and Kate hoped to keep the more personal elements of their relationship solely for themselves. It signalled loud and clear that this partnership was a private affair within a public setting, and if anything, it continued a similar approach to the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.

The announcement of the engagement prompted worldwide celebrations, with excitement exploding over the impending royal wedding. For historians too, the significance of William and Kate’s commitment could not be understated. Kate would become the first royal bride to marry into a position held previously by Princess Diana. Yet unlike her mother-in-law, Catherine Middleton was not born into aristocracy. She was a middle-class woman who was now destined to be Queen – a monumental and nerve-wracking predicament for a woman who, by her very nature, is unassumingly shy.

That shyness, however, was missing as William and Kate struggled to keep their eyes open against the wash of flashing bulbs from the photographers at the engagement’s official photocall. Though, according to Arthur Edwards, royal photographer to The Sun Newspaper, although Kate seemed to hide her nerves, there was a moment when the mask slipped. “She was so nervous,” he said. “Her hand was shaking. He [William] had to hold her hand steady so I could photograph it.”

Of course, no one could judge Kate for being nervous, as overnight the pressure and responsibility thrown upon her shoulders was astronomical. Kate Middleton would become the next Princess of Wales, and eventually the future Queen, two positions which hold historic significance and real-world responsibilities, but equally for William, there was also a lot riding on his marriage, and a self-professed ambition to finally lay to rest the ghosts of the past.

William and Kate announced their engagement in State Rooms at St James's Palace in 2010 - © Getty Images

It is of no shock that William’s childhood wasn’t always full of joy and harmony. His parents, Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s, marriage breakdown was both volatile and public, with William and younger brother Harry very much in the eye of the storm. The behaviours of both parents had a profound effect on both their sons, with William outright refusing to rush into any engagement or commitments if he didn’t feel ready. This refusal wasn’t just for self-preservation, but also to protect the woman he loved.

William had seen first-hand the immeasurable strains and stresses his mother endured as a member of The Royal Family. He had borne witness to the results of his father marrying for duty in place of true love, and the consequences had been catastrophic. For William, neither he nor Kate would face the same fate as his parents.

“I want her to have the best guidance and chance to see what life has been like,” said William in the couple’s engagement interview. “That’s why I have been waiting this long, as I wanted to give her a chance to back out if she needed to before it all got too much, because I’m trying to learn from lessons in the past, and I wanted to try and give her the best chance to settle in to see what happens on the other side.”

Whilst the ghost of Charles and Diana’s marriage had played on William’s mind, the engagement interview exorcised any remaining spectres. Unlike his parents, the interview with ITV’s Tom Bradby showcased a young couple, deeply in love and very much singing from the same hymn sheet. For nearly seven-years – minus a brief separation – William and Kate had formed a close, loving and deep connection, which clearly transcended the dutiful nature of the monarchy. If anything, it signalled a new era for The Royal Family, one where true love and duty could live harmoniously instead of being at odds. It was therefore no surprise that The Queen was delighted, stating to a close friend that “the monarchy is in safe hands with those two.”

That safety is not only down to William’s understandable reluctance and willingness to take his time, but also to the grounding effect of Kate’s presence. Raised by a loving, stable and fiercely private family, Kate has the unique experience of knowing what a “normal” life really is. Her childhood wasn’t ruled by protocols or historic significance. Every misstep or mistake as a teenager isn’t recorded in the history books for the public to laud over. Privacy wasn’t a daily battle to obtain, and she understands, perhaps more than most, the pleasure of anonymity. Her preparedness to freely throw those trinkets away for a life of duty for the man she loves is a testament to her resolve and understanding of the role which her engagement became the starting whistle for.

Weeks later Mario Testino took official portraits of the happy couple - © Mario Testino

Ten years on from William and Kate’s engagement, the couple have gone from strength to strength. Becoming parents to three children have taken their lives into new areas, and their changing positions in the monarchy further show the stability the couple harbour. It is of no surprise that the Cambridge’s are the UK’s most loved royals behind the Queen; it is an accolade both the Duke and Duchess have rightly earned.

What William and Kate have shown since their engagement, is that royal happiness is obtainable. The marrying of both protocol and love isn’t impossible, and a decade on from the joyous announcement, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge appear stronger than ever. They’ve weathered unflattering biographies, gossipy rumours, criticism and shameful invasions of privacy, and they’ve achieved it with the same level of grace and – in areas – good humour as their engagement interview.

A decade is a huge achievement for any relationship, and for William and Kate, who technically have actually been together almost twenty-years, their engagement was a moment for the country and wider Commonwealth to celebrate, to bring the monarchy into the modern era, and effectively remind us all that future kings and queens can marry for love and not just duty.

Next year marks the tenth anniversary of the couple’s spectacular wedding, with two landmark documentaries already in production to mark the event. It will be a time for the nation to reminisce and fall in love all over again with the royal couple that many feel have saved The Royal Family. That anniversary, as well as this one, should remind us all that the monarchy is in safe hands with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, a couple who may be measured by duty, but are never defined by it.

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