William and Kate’s private anniversary party

Behind closed doors, the future king and queen quietly celebrated two blissful decades together

The Prince and Princess of Wales marked their 10-year wedding anniversary with much fanfare in April 2021, but friends say the still-smitten couple privately celebrated what they consider a much more significant milestone.

The end of 2022 marked a full two decades of William and Catherine’s love story, with the pair getting together in 2002 after meeting at Scotland’s University of St Andrews.

Speaking exclusively to Woman’s Day, a source close to the couple says, “It was a year of quiet celebration for Wills and Kate. They didn’t want a fuss, but they did want to honour a very special – and surprisingly up and down – 20 years of loving each other.”

Despite Prince Harry recently taking a sly dig at the couple, claiming members of his family tend to “marry someone who would fit the mould, as opposed to somebody who you are perhaps destined to be with”, we’re told Wills and Kate still enjoy a fairytale romance.

And things have only got better since William, 40, and Kate, who turns 41 on 9 January, moved their family of five from London’s stuffy Kensington Palace to cosy Adelaide Cottage at Windsor Castle.

“It’s been nothing flashy, but after 20 years and the rigours of royal life, they’ve just made an effort to spend more time with each other,” says an insider. “Now they’re closer to Kate’s parents, they’ve been calling on them for babysitting duties so they can get out more.”

Walking on air as Wills gets his RAF wings in 2008.

According to our source, Wills has been “treating Kate to date nights”, including Sunday roasts at their favourite country pub, The Old Boot Inn, in Stanford Dingley, near where Michael and Carole Middleton live.

“William and Kate are often seen out and about together here,” says a villager. “You see them in the pubs or strolling with their dog. Everyone leaves them alone and lets them get on with it. We’re proud they’re so comfortable here. William has been coming here near on 20 years since he got together with Kate and we just treat him like a normal person, which he seems to appreciate.”

In 2001, the polo-playing prince, then 20, opted to attend St Andrews, where he studied art history – a decision that changed the course of his life.

At the time, eligible blue-blooded bachelorettes were clamouring to meet the future king, who hadn’t had a serious public relationship at that stage.

Little did he know that when he was enrolling in his course, so too was one Catherine Middleton, a quiet, studious yet sporty brunette from Berkshire.

The royal pair have been going on dates to nearby The Old Boot Inn for special Sunday roasts.

The pair became friends in their first year as William set about cultivating an inner circle of people he could trust – with Kate among them. They began secretly dating in 2002.

According to folklore, William realised his school chum was “hot” when she flounced down a catwalk wearing a see-through dress at a charity fashion show, however, the reality is they were likely already casually seeing each other, having moved in together with friends that same year.

“There’s no doubt Kate’s dress – or lack thereof – helped things along, though!” quips one insider close to the pair. “She did look absolutely incredible.

But more than that, William was falling in love with her because of her down-to-earth attitude and obvious smarts. It helped that she wasn’t intimidated by him at all.”

Hitting the slopes for a cosy skiing holiday in Klosters, Switzerland.

Whispers that the prince had found himself a “serious contender” began to travel from the centuries-old Scottish university into the pages of London’s newspapers, helped along by periodic sightings of Wills’ mystery woman at his family’s numerous properties.

“Kate was a frequent guest at both Balmoral Castle and Charles’ private home Highgrove, where she impressed everyone on hunting trips with her excellent markswomanship,” says a source. “She wasn’t formally introduced to William’s family as his girlfriend and was usually there as part of a group from school, but everyone knew what was going on. Charles liked Kate immediately and he had his fingers crossed that everything would work out between them.”

Kate was finally officially introduced as the royal girlfriend in 2004, when the pair allowed themselves to be photographed on the ski slopes of Swiss resort village Klosters.

The images sparked a global frenzy. The world’s most eligible bachelor and heir to the throne seemed smitten – and with a normal girl from the Home Counties, no less!

A wedding to remember on 29 April 2011.

For most mere commoners following the story with breathless fascination, Kate bagging Princess Diana’s handsome son was a fairy tale come true.

But William’s choice in partner left heiresses and even celebrities such as Britney Spears with dashed hopes and dreams, and it wasn’t long before an inevitable collective jealousy from Britain’s high society kicked in.

“A lot of snarky comments were being made about Kate’s middle-class origins,” says an insider. “People were calling Kate’s mum, who was a flight attendant, ‘Doors-to-Manual’ and some even suggested Carole engineered the relationship with William by pushing Kate into St Andrews once she knew that’s where he’d enrolled. It was wild, but the Middleton family is a very strong unit and they weathered the storm together.”

As the years wore on, Kate silently endured relentless public attention and was even cruelly nicknamed “Waity Katie” for allegedly refusing employment while she waited to become a princess bride –

even though she worked part-time as an accessories buyer at Jigsaw and later helped with her parents’ multimillion-dollar Party Pieces events business.

Parental pride: The doting duo are royally proud of (from left) George, Louis and Charlotte.

“She stuck it out and for a time, despite it all, Kate and William were happy,” says a source. “He loved nothing more than moonlighting as a normal person on weekends with Kate’s family.”

But much to the delight of London’s more savage tabloid newspapers, it appeared the romance had cooled during the 2006 festive season, when William reportedly pulled out of visiting the Middletons at

the last minute.

“They split up soon after, with William citing new work pressures – he’d just gone into army training and he worried they’d grow apart anyway,” says a longtime friend of the prince. “Kate was heartbroken, but she got on with things.”

In her way of showing the world – and her ex – that she’d be just fine, Kate was spotted out in a variety of slinky dresses and reportedly even briefly dated William’s close friend Henry Ropner, a shipping heir.

“Whether she’d care to admit it or not, Kate wanted to show Wills what he was missing,” explains the insider.

And it worked. By mid-2007, she was seen sitting a few discreet rows behind William, his brother and Harry’s then-girlfriend Chelsy Davy at a tribute concert for Diana.

Ooh la la! Ramping up the glamour on an official visit to Paris in 2017.

In 2008, she appeared as his official girlfriend again at his Royal Air Force graduation and Waity Katie jibes re-emerged.

But this time, Kate knew something her detractors didn’t – William had promised that it was for keeps this time and he’d propose as soon as the time was right.

“He wanted to make absolutely sure she was ready for this life,” says the insider. “And she proved her mettle time and again.”

After he finally popped the question in 2010 with his mother’s sapphire engagement ring during a holiday in Kenya, William, with a hint of self-awareness about how long he’d taken to propose, said, “I’d been planning it for a while, but as any guy out there will know, it takes a certain amount of motivation to get yourself going. I was planning it and then it just felt really right out in Africa.”

Mere months later, in April 2011, Miss Kate Middleton became Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, after a lavish wedding in which they said their “I dos” in front of a global audience of millions.

In a nod to their decade-long low-key relationship, Kate did her own makeup “so she’d look like herself when she walked down the aisle”.

The princes and Kate shared a close bond, but that all changed when the brothers fell out and Harry left town.

The second half of their 20-year romance is much more well-documented, especially given they’re now the busy parents of Prince George, nine, Princess Charlotte, seven, and Prince Louis, four.

“Nothing can really prepare you for the sheer overwhelming experience of what it means to become a mother,” tells Kate.

“It is full of complex emotions of joy, exhaustion, love and worry, all mixed together.

“Your fundamental identity changes overnight. You go from thinking of yourself primarily as an individual to suddenly being a mother first and foremost.”

Life as Britain’s most popular royal couple hasn’t all been roses in recent years.The pair infamously fell

out with William’s brother Harry, now 38, and his 41-year-old wife Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex.

“Kate was close with Harry pretty much as soon as she started dating William – they were this amazing trio – and it was quite shocking how quickly it all fell apart,” says a source. “They’re both still very sad and quite angry about how it’s all panned out.”

But now, after the Queen’s passing last year, which saw Kate and William promoted to Prince and Princess of Wales, they’re looking to the future.

“Sometime in the next 20 or so years, they will be King and Queen – and Wills can’t wait to do this together, even though their lives will change dramatically yet again,” says our insider.

“When it all gets a little bit too crazy, they step back and reminisce about those blissful early years, when their love was only theirs and they had a few years to feel ‘normal’. They draw a lot of strength from those memories and they’ll cherish them for the rest of their lives.”

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