Hidden away behind the red-brick walls of her parents’ substantial house in the Home Counties village of Chapel Row in Berkshire, Kate Middleton spent the evening of Friday, 13 April 2007 mourning the end of her love affair with Prince William.
While her former boyfriend drowned his sorrows in the nightclub Mahiki, Mayfair’s latest celebrity haunt, quaffing champagne and drinking its legendary Treasure Chest cocktails, Kate, then 25 years old, spent a quieter and more subdued evening with her family.
It was barely a week since Britain’s most famous romance had drawn to a close – and hours before their separation hit the news-stands – yet the couple’s behaviour could not have been more different, underlining just how far apart they had grown since leaving university. Whereas Kate was looking for more commitment from William, the 24-year-old army officer, who had just left Sandhurst, was not ready to settle down.
News of the couple’s split came as a shock to the public, who had been following every twist and turn in their relationship since they had begun dating at St Andrews University four years earlier. An engagement announcement had been widely expected and few had noticed signs that the relationship was on its way out.
It had all seemed so different four months earlier in mid-December, when Kate and her parents had been invited to watch the prince pass out from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, a ceremony that must have been heart-warming for the Middletons, who had grown close to their daughter’s boyfriend. A regular visitor to their home, William would drive the 33-mile journey around the M25 to visit his girlfriend after training exercises and must have relished the time he spent with her tight-knit family, something he had missed out on to an extent during his own childhood. But everything changed the moment he left Sandhurst and embarked on the next stage of his army career.
For those who looked closely, the cracks began appearing over the festive season, when Kate’s parents decided to rent a £4,800-a-week mansion in Scotland for their extended family. Despite speculation that she might be, Kate had not been invited to spend Christmas with the royal family at Sandringham – only fiancées are afforded that honour, not girlfriends. Instead, the Middletons decided to invite William to spend Hogmanay with them at the Georgian mansion Jordanstone House on the outskirts of Alyth in Perthshire. Set in rambling grounds, the eighteenth-century mansion, which had belonged to the Conservative politician Sir James Duncan and his second wife Lady Beatrice (an actress known in her heyday for being the voice of Larry the Lamb in the Children’s Hour series Toytown), was certainly fit for a prince. Crammed with antiques and old masters, the house still has its original two staircases (one for staff ), a vast kitchen and laundry downstairs, a library of rare books and wood-panelled reception rooms with vast fireplaces upstairs, and thirteen bedrooms furnished with four-poster beds. But William, who spent Christmas at Sandringham, 400 miles away, failed to make an appearance.
It would not be until the following weekend that Kate was reunited with her boyfriend, at Highgrove, but even then it was more of a farewell party for William than a birthday celebration for Kate. The future king was about to follow his younger brother into the Blues and Royals, a regiment with one of the longest histories of any in the British Army. He would wholeheartedly embrace his new role, teasing Harry that he would rise faster through the ranks because he had a university degree.
One of two regiments that make up the Household Cavalry (the other is the Life Guards), the Blues and Royals were formed in 1969 when the Royal Horse Guards (known as the Blues for the colour of their tunics) and the Royal Dragoons, both of whom could trace their origins back to the seventeenth century, were amalgamated. The only mounted cavalry unit in the British Army, the regiment has the unique role of guarding the Queen on ceremonial occasions as well as serving around the world. Its regimental emblem – an eagle worn on the left sleeve of the blue tunic – commemorates the occasion on which it seized an eagle standard from one of Napoleon’s infantry battalions at Waterloo. Now stationed at Combermere Barracks in Windsor, its Colonel of the Regiment is the Princess Royal.
Kate was working at Jigsaw on the morning of 8 January 2007, when Second Lieutenant Wales reported for duty. Little did she realise how much their lives would change in just a few months.
Stepping alone out of her front door 24 hours later to go to work on her 25th birthday, wearing a £40 black-and-white dress from Topshop (which subsequently sold out within days), she was greeted by a barrage of photographers fired up by the conviction that she and her royal boyfriend would soon be announcing theirengagement. For the first time, she showed that the pressure was getting to her and she scowled.
The unprecedented paparazzi turnout provoked comparisons with the treatment of Princess Diana in the final years of her life and led the royal family to swing into action. While Kate’s lawyers Harbottle & Lewis, who also count Prince Charles among their clients, tried to work out a compromise with the media, Prince William authorised his press officer to make a statement on his behalf. ‘Prince William is very unhappy at the paparazzi harassment of his girlfriend,’ he said. ‘He wants more than anything for it to stop. Miss Middleton should, like any other private individual, be able to go about her everyday business without this kind of intrusion. The situation is proving unbearable for all those concerned.’
It was a terrible day for Kate to have to face the overwhelming attention. Now working in London, she could no longer escape the limelight by retreating to the sanctuary of her parents’ home and she had to leave her flat each morning to go to work. Without William by her side, there was little that the royal family could do to help her, as she was not entitled to Scotland Yard protection until they became engaged. The pressure would soon prove too much.
At first, William remained the gallant boyfriend, driving up to London to visit his girlfriend and party in the capital, and Kate put on a brave front, donning a stunning £800 silver dress by BCBG Max Azria to attend a party at Mahiki with the prince on 1 February. Run by nightclub impresario Piers Adam and club promoter Nick House, and designed to resemble a Polynesian beach bar, it had become a firm favourite with the couple after they spent a night there before Christmas with Tom Parker Bowles and his wife, Sara. William’s party-loving friend Guy Pelly was the club’s marketing director, and Henry Conway, the son of the now disgraced MP Derek Conway and flamboyant self-styled ‘Queen of Sloanes’, ran Thursday-night parties there.
During his first few weeks at the barracks, William managed to make another two trips to the capital, for a night out at Boujis – when he reportedly gave his girlfriend an antique Van Cleef & Arpels diamond-framed compact as an early Valentine’s Day gift – and a trip to Twickenham on 10 February to watch England beat Italy in the Six Nations Championship. He and Kate cheered on rugby hero Jonny Wilkinson’s record-breaking comeback: he scored 15 points in the team’s 20–7 victory.
However, William’s nights out with his girlfriend gradually dwindled as he threw himself into the life of a Household Cavalry officer, enjoying the feeling of being young, free and single. Torn between spending time with his girlfriend and partying with his fellow officers, it seemed there was no contest. It was a testing period for their relationship.
Kate put on a brave face, clubbing with her girlfriends at Mamilanji on Monday, 26 February, but the writing was on the wall for the relationship as she slowly tired of having an absent boyfriend.
On 4 March, in a last-ditch attempt to shore up their romance, William whisked Kate of on a make-or-break holiday to Zermatt, a village at the base of the Matterhorn in the Swiss Alps, where they stayed in an exclusive £1,500-a-week chalet. But instead of going alone with Kate, he invited some friends along, including Thomas van Straubenzee and Guy Pelly, the man often described as the princes’ ‘court jester’. From the outside, it appeared as if William and Kate – who missed out on a family holiday in Barbados in order to spend quality time with her boyfriend – were on the verge of an engagement announcement, staying in their chalet while their friends hit the nightclubs, and embracing and kissing on the slopes. In reality, however, things were far from rosy, and an engagement must surely have been the last thing on their minds.
Their last public appearance together was on 13 March 2007, the opening day of the National Hunt Festival in Cheltenham, which had been a favourite with the late Queen Mother, who rarely missed a festival, attending latterly in a buggy painted in her racing colours. Arriving in William’s black Audi saloon, Kate looked comfortable chatting with Zara Phillips and drinking champagne in a box belonging to racehorse owner Trevor Hemmings. But William and Kate’s body language was strained, and fashion writers criticised the pair for looking like ‘lamb dressed as mutton’. It was the first fashion faux pas by Kate, and possibly an indication of her unhappy mood.
Three days later, William was off to the depths of Dorset to begin a ten-week tank-commander course at the army’s training camp at Bovington. But that did not deter Kate from attending the Cheltenham Gold Cup without him. Wearing a sky-blue jacket, brown skirt and matching beret, she looked much more relaxed – and more fashionable – than on her previous visit with her prince. Met on arrival by two plain-clothes police officers, she was escorted to the royal enclosure for a lunch hosted by the Queen’s Master of the Horse, Lord Vestey. There she laughed and joked with guests including van Straubenzee, jumping up and down when she picked a winner and covering her mouth with her hand when she lost. Her appearance that day in the same box as William’s aunt Princess Anne and Camilla’s former husband Andrew Parker Bowles seemed just another confirmation that Kate was on the verge of becoming an official member of the family. But some commentators thought she might have overplayed her hand by appearing in the royal enclosure, a move that was rumoured to have rankled with William.
In any case, it was while William was in Dorset that the couple’s relationship began to fall apart, strained by their constant separation. Instead of making the 130-mile journey to London at weekends, William seemed to prefer to spend his down time with his fellow officers.
During his first night out with the Blues and Royals – nicknamed the ‘Booze and Royals’ in Bournemouth, the nearest large town to the barracks – William pushed Kate beyond her limits. She had always ignored rumours of his roving eye and put up with his flirtatious behaviour towards the girls who threw themselves at him, but his cavalier behaviour at the Elements nightclub on 22 March had unfortunate consequences. Although there is no suggestion that the future king cheated on his girlfriend, two of the girls he encountered that night sold their stories to the tabloid newspapers, which must have been humiliating for Kate. That Thursday night, William and his friends painted the town red as they downed lager and sambuca chasers and flirted with girls in the nightclub, unbothered that they were taking photographs of the prince on their mobile phones.
Ana Ferreira, 18, an international relations student, was in the club when she heard that William was dancing in another room. After going to watch the commotion, she posed for a picture with him, only realising afterwards that the prince had touched one of her breasts. ‘Word went round that William was in a section playing cheesy ’80s music,’ she told The Sun, ‘so we went to look…There were a lot of girls hanging around him and he was posing for pictures. He had me on one arm and my friend Cecilia on the other. I was a little bit drunk myself, but I felt something brush my breast. I thought it couldn’t be the future king but now I’ve seen the picture it’s no wonder he’s got a smile on his face.’
Another girl, Lisa Agar, a 19-year-old performing-arts student with a lip ring, claimed that William pulled her onto a podium to dance with him. ‘He said something like, “Come on. Show us how it’s done. You’re too good for this place,”’ she told theSunday Mirror. ‘He was being very flirty and I was quite taken aback but just went for it. He was laughing his head off and waving his hands in the air.’ Lisa, who was dressed in a tight pink top, leggings and heels, claimed that William was following pints with shots of sambuca. ‘I call that stuff rocket fuel,’ she added, ‘because it does give you a huge hit very quickly and gets you rolling drunk.’
In the early hours, William’s friend invited her back to the barracks to continue the party. ‘When I said I wasn’t sure,’ she recounted, ‘Wills came over and said, “Are you coming back? It’ll be a laugh. Come on. We need to go.” I followed them all back to their base in a friend’s car and then we all went into a lounge area in the barracks, lying about on a leather chair and sofas. In the end, I only stayed about 20 minutes. Strangely, I felt a bit sorry for William and I thought maybe he was cheering himself up.’
William’s behaviour that night was by no means unusual for a serving soldier in his 20s, even one who is a member of the royal family. Two days later, Prince Harry showed his own excessive streak when he fell out of Boujis, having downed too many Crack Baby cocktails. The Blues and Royals officer had been in the club after spending a week on exercise with his regiment and was unwinding with friends, including former flame Natalie Pinkham, when he decided to try to avoid photographers by sneaking out the back. Angered that he had been spotted, he was reported to have lunged at one of the paparazzi, before falling over and landing in the gutter, although royal aides claimed he had simply lost his footing and stumbled.
Kate and William spent one last night together on 31 March, when they dined at the King’s Head, Bledington, with their friends Hugh and Rose van Cutsem, whose wedding they had attended the previous summer. However, at this point, the heart and soul had gone out of their relationship and it was drawing to a close.
A few days later, Kate popped over to Ireland with her mother Carole for the private view of an exhibition by a close family friend, Gemma Billington. Mother and daughter slummed it, staying in Dublin’s cut-price three-star Quality Hotel. After looking at Gemma’s paintings, Kate chatted to drummer Ben Carrigan and guitarist Daniel Ryan of Irish indie rock band The Thrills. The following day, she went to the National Gallery of Ireland.
Her appearance at the exhibition of paintings, which took place at the Urban Retreat Gallery in the city’s Hanover Quay, brought in a flurry of publicity for Gemma, the 53-year-old daughter of a Garda sergeant from County Kerry. She and her husband Tim, 63, a farmer and racehorse breeder, are close family friends of the Middletons. They live just down the road, on a 320-acre farm in the village of Stanford Dingley, where William and Kate have become familiar faces in the local pub, the Boot Inn. Their seven children grew up alongside the Middleton siblings and went to the same school, while Carole and Gemma play tennis together.
‘Kate is a lovely girl who is just one of our kids who happens to be going out with a boy called William who happens to be a prince,’ she said in an interview with theSunday Independent to publicise the exhibition. ‘He is just a normal boy, really. I think it’s tough on her, but she handles it well. The Middletons are a very close family who have meals together, watch movies, play sports and go on holidays together. It’s funny how you think people are different, but we are all just muddling our way through life. Whoever you happen to be going out with, you have to take the rough with the smooth.’
While Kate was having a cultured time in Ireland, William was leading an altogether different existence. He spent the evening of 4 April at Bournemouth’s late-night wine bar Bliss with a group of his fellow officers from the Household Cavalry. That night, the place was packed with 200 fans watching acoustic guitarist Dan Baker playing a gig. But halfway through the two-hour set, one of William’s rowdy friends leapt on stage, saying: ‘Please stop playing these crap songs. The prince wants dance music.’ The singer, who halted the gig for ten minutes until the officers had left the room, told a newspaper: ‘I was staggered when this drunken man scaled the stage and ran up to me mid-song. It was the rudest thing I’ve ever experienced. This gig was the pinnacle of my career. I’ve practised for years in the hope of a chance to perform like this.’
Meanwhile, for William and Kate, it was the beginning of the end. The couple’s final showdown came when they met up a few days later over the Easter weekend. William had turned down an invitation to spend the holiday with Kate’s family but the couple managed to get together for a face-to-face conversation and realised they wanted different things out of life. While Kate was looking for some form of commitment from her boyfriend, William felt he was being pressurised to propose. It seemed as if there was only one way forward, but Kate still hoped that William would change his mind.
At midday the following Wednesday, any hopes she might have had of a reconciliation were dashed. It was reported that she had a lengthy conversation with William on her mobile, after which she left work early and disappeared for the rest of the week. Meanwhile, William was said to have phoned the Queen at Windsor Castle, shortly before she left to visit the Earl of Carnarvon at Highclere Castle, to tell her that his and Kate’s relationship had drawn to a close.
By the time William turned up at Mahiki on Friday the 13th, news of the couple’s break-up had not yet emerged. But the prince was aware that he would be on the front pages the following morning and it seemed he was going to ensure he was seen to be having a good time.
Arriving with friends at 11.30 p.m., he was shown to a private table next to the dance floor, where the party downed £450 bottles of 1998 Dom Pérignon champagne before working their way through the cocktail menu, called the Mahiki Trail because it is devised around a treasure map. If guests finish all 18 concoctions, they are rewarded with the club’s infamous Treasure Chest, a mixture of brandy and peach liqueur, lime, sugar and champagne.
At one point during the evening, William is supposed to have yelled, ‘I’m free!’, before performing his own version of the robot dance goal celebration that Liverpool striker Peter Crouch had shown him during a World Cup training session. As the opening chords of the Rolling Stones’ ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ rang out, his friends dragged him onto the dance floor. But the prince’s high spirits slowly turned maudlin, and at 3.30 a.m. he staggered out of the VIP exit to the club and got into his chauffeur-driven car. A royal-protection-squad officer settled the £4,700 bill and the prince went home. Within hours, the world would find out that Britain’s most eligible bachelor was back on the market…but for just how long?
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