How Prince Wills popped the question to his future Queen

Farewell Waity Katie! Eight years after they met, William went in secret to ask the Queen for Diana’s ring… then he got down on one knee in the foothills of Mount Kenya

If you go out with someone for quite a long time, you get to know each other very, very well. You go through the good times. You go through the bad times.’

Not the words of a relationship counsellor but the thoughts of Kate Middleton during her first joint interview with William after their engagement was announced ten years ago this month.

Undoubtedly, she was thinking back to the time the couple had reunited in 2007 after a period when they broke up having dated for four years.

Prince William and Kate Middleton dancing on his 26th birthday night in club Boujis tent at the Beaufort Polo club near Tetbury, Gloucestershire.

Back together, William had reassured her that they would get married but the months ticked by. He was putting his Army career first and Kate sometimes wondered if she had made the right decision.

Of course, she was well aware his military service gave him a sense of purpose and was part of every young frontline Royal’s apprenticeship. She respected and supported him. But it was tough.

Ironically, she felt her growing status – yet still unofficial – obliged her to give up her job at High Street fashion chain Jigsaw. In its place, she wanted to do something she was passionate about – photography.

Having approached celebrity portrait photographer Alistair Morrison, she was cheered when an exhibition to raise money for Unicef that she curated was hailed a success.

By now, she was mostly living at William’s flat in Clarence House, his father’s London home.

The new year in 2008 heralded a fresh start for the couple – and they celebrated Kate’s 26th birthday in January with a quiet dinner at home.

William, who had wanted to fly ever since a little boy, was due to begin a four-month pilot-training course at RAF Cranwell in Lincolnshire. He was on a fast-track course to get his ‘wings’, entailing early morning starts and late-night cramming for exams.

The intensity of the training left little time for high-jinks. No more Bouji’s, Mahiki, K-Bar and visits to other late-night party venues.

William would return to London on a Friday night where Kate had supper with a glass of wine waiting for him.

Though now more mature, it was a reminder of the domestic bliss they had enjoyed when they first got together as students at St Andrews University.

In April, she watched in pride as William received his wings at his graduation ceremony.

Matters were beginning to move fast as the next month saw another significant step up in Kate’s public profile.

William asked her to attend his cousin Peter Phillips’s wedding on his behalf as he would be in Kenya at the wedding of his ex-girlfriend Jecca Craig’s brother.

Princess Anne’s son was marrying in St George’s Chapel, Windsor, and Kate had tea afterwards with the Queen.

It was around this time that, with William starting a two-month assignment with the Royal Navy at the Britannia Naval College in Dartmouth, the cruel tag ‘Waity Katie’ was aimed by some at his long-time girlfriend. This implied that she was simply happy waiting for a marriage proposal and didn’t feel the need to fill her life with anything else.

Understandably, Kate felt caught between a rock and a hard place. If she showed her own photography work, or organised more exhibitions, she would be accused of cashing in on her status. Alternatively, do nothing, and she would be labelled a latter-day Jane Austen character – waiting meekly for a ‘good marriage’.

As ever, mum Carole came to the rescue. She suggested that Kate might put her photographic skills to good use in the Middleton family firm, Party Pieces, by shooting pictures for a new online catalogue. It was a perfect stopgap.

Another wise matriarch had made a similar, parallel move. The Queen had also quietly suggested that Kate should be steered into charity work.

As a result, she made secret trips to the Naomi House Hospice in Hampshire, close to her family home, taking gifts for the children with whom she spent hours reading and playing.

One of her friends said later: ‘It upset us a lot when it was suggested that Kate was workshy when, in truth, she was doing a lot of charity work that no one knew about.’

In September 2008 she joined her jockey friend Sam Waley-Cohen to help organise a charity roller-skating disco to raise money for a new ward at Oxford Children’s Hospital in memory of his brother Tom who had died of bone cancer aged 19.

Kate and Tom had been at Marlborough together and she was profoundly affected by his death after ten years of treatment.

Photos of Kate dressed in thigh-skimming, neon-yellow shorts and a sequined green halter-neck top that left little to the imagination went around the world, showing her falling over amid bursts of laughter and with her legs akimbo before Sam lifted her back on to her feet.

Her good-sported efforts helped raise a lot of money for the hospital ward and Place2Be, a mental health counselling support service which later became one of her first Royal patronages.

On November 16, 2010, Kate posed with her engagement ring for the entire world 

Meanwhile, the news broke that William, who had spent the summer with the Royal Navy, wanted to join the RAF and become a search-and-rescue pilot.

The Clarence House announcement was made on September 15, taking everyone by surprise, for it had been widely assumed he would quit the Household Cavalry and become a full-time working Royal.

But he explained: ‘The time I spent with the RAF earlier made me realise how much I love flying. Joining search-and-rescue is a perfect opportunity for me to serve in the Forces operationally.’

Some had another interpretation: that he was becoming a ‘reluctant Royal’. Others, too, sensed no imminent wedding and there were more ‘Waity Katie’ jibes. The simple fact was that joining the RAF meant William could postpone official duties for at least five years.

According to her friends, Kate was surprised. The last time William had decided to put his career first, the couple split up.

The couple officially announced their engagement in November 2010 following a great deal of speculation , where it was announced they would continue to live in North Wales while William continued with the RAF as a search and rescue pilot

William endeavoured to reassure her, saying that if they survived this they could survive anything. By July 2009, William was well into his 18 months of RAF training, and for him there was simply no time to even think about a wedding. Besides, he had used up all his holiday that year with a skiing trip with Kate’s parents in the French Alps and the couple had spent New Year in Scotland at Birkhall.

By now William was based at RAF Shawbury in Shropshire and, although they managed to see each other most weekends, the couple’s time together was, for Kate, depressingly fleeting.

It was a difficult period, dividing her time between her flat in London and her parents’ Berkshire home, where she still slept in her old bedroom. Significantly, just before Christmas that year, Kate’s mother Carole had a quiet word with William during one of his visits to the Middletons’ home in Bucklebury. Her daughter was nearing 30 and still not engaged. Diplomatically, she wanted reassurance from William that the relationship was still on track and there would be an engagement soon. She was also worried that the Middletons risked losing Kate to ‘The Firm’.

She was reassured on both counts. William duly arranged for the Middletons to spend Christmas at Restormel Manor in Cornwall, where his father stays for engagements in the county. Another key sign of Royal approval.

At the beginning of 2010, William still had eight months of training ahead and he enrolled at RAF Valley on Anglesey.

A new phase in the couple’s courtship began with them renting a farmhouse on the island near the base. It was an idyllic opportunity to road-test married life in privacy. Their routine involved beach walks with a new pet, cocker spaniel Lupo (which sadly died earlier this month), and trips to Waitrose.

There was no ring on Kate’s finger, but they were living together as man and wife. By the end of June, Kate had given up working for the family business, Party Pieces, and William graduated as a fully qualified search-and-rescue pilot three months later.

Now 28, William was exactly the age he had once said he expected to be when he married. Kate was also 28, by which age her own mother had already had her and her sister Pippa. No wonder there was fevered speculation about the couple’s future. William was even asked about his intentions during an official tour to Australia and New Zealand.

Among Royal-watchers, the following year– 2011 – seemed a good bet for a Royal Wedding, as 2012 was likely to be dominated by celebrations for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympic Games. Bookmakers stopped taking bets on a 2011 wedding after it was reported that senior courtiers had been in touch with Westminster Abbey about a ceremony.

Unnoticed, William paid a private visit to his grandmother at Buckingham Palace, arriving discreetly by motorbike. He wanted to procure a special piece of jewellery from the vaults.

And so it was that no one, except the Queen, knew that William planned on taking his girlfriend to Kenya with his mother’s sapphire and diamond engagement ring hidden in his rucksack. For he planned a surprise at the end of the couple’s safari holiday in October 2010.

The Masai-run Il Ngwesi Lodge is neither glamorous nor luxurious, but its rustic cabins offer the most stunning views over the game reserves and Lake Rutundu.

It was there, on the slopes of Mount Kenya, by one of the secluded lakes, that the 28-year-old Prince got down on one knee and proposed to his girlfriend of almost nine years. He wanted the moment, he later explained in an interview, to ‘really mean something’. Also, the location was perfect. ‘I regularly daydream. Africa is definitely one of the places I go to. It does completely settle me down. [Kate] understands what it means to me being in Africa, and my love of conservation,’ he said.

‘I didn’t really plan it that far in advance. I just knew I wanted it to feel comfortable where I did it.’

Kate was apparently ‘speechless’ and was totally surprised by the ‘very romantic’ gesture. The couple vowed to keep it a secret until William formally asked Michael Middleton for his daughter’s hand.

When Kate signed the guest book as they left the lodge to head back to the UK, she betrayed no hint of how her life had suddenly changed, already showing the discretion of a future Royal.

‘Thank you for such a wonderful 24 hours,’ she wrote. ‘Sadly no fish to be found but we had fun trying. I love the warm fires and candle lights – so romantic. Hope to be back soon.’

Home in Anglesey, Kate arranged to leave the ring in a safe – it was too recognisable to wear it in public. So, ringless, they attended a friend’s wedding in Gloucestershire. But Kate’s glowing appearance – and not just her African suntan – was remarked upon as she and her secret fiance strolled to the church together. On previous such occasions, the couple had arrived and departed separately.

The next weekend, William invited Michael and Carole Middleton to Birkhall for a Highlands shooting weekend. There, he asked Michael for his permission, with the couple set to go public just a few days later. Wednesday, November 3 would have been the day but Kate’s only surviving grandfather died suddenly the day before. So after the funeral and William’s trip to Afghanistan for a Remembrance Sunday service with British troops, it was finally time.

On Tuesday, November 16, the Queen was thrilled to receive a phone call from her grandson. Next call was to Prince Charles at Highgrove. Meanwhile, Harry, at his Army base in Hampshire, apparently ‘turned the air blue’ with joyful expletives. ‘It took you long enough!’ he teased his brother.

Kate then called her parents to warn them that the news was about to be made public. At 11am, an official statement was issued: ‘The Prince of Wales is delighted to announce the engagement of Prince William to Miss Catherine Middleton.’ The wedding would take place on Friday, April 29, at Westminster Abbey.

That afternoon, Kate and William met the media. As for the ring, William explained: ‘It’s my mother’s engagement ring so I thought it was quite nice, because obviously she’s not going to be around to share any of the fun and excitement of it all – this was my way of keeping her close to it all.’

And why did he wait so long?

‘I’m trying to learn from lessons done in the past and I just wanted to give Kate the chance to settle in and see what happens on the other side. I wanted to give her the chance to see in – and back out if she needed to before it all got too much.’

There was no chance of that. Catherine Elizabeth Middleton is made of steely stuff.

Their happy marriage, with three delightful children and the couple’s inspiring appearances during the Covid crisis, is seen by many as the relationship that has saved the Monarchy. It is the bedrock of the future Crown. All down to a British Airways flight dispatcher’s daughter from Berkshire.

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