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Standing before a vast ornate fireplace in the red and gold grandeur of St James’s Palace, dazzled by hundreds of camera flashbulbs but glowing with love and excitement.
It was 16 November, 2010, and as Prince William presented his fiancée to the world with all the pomp befitting a future king, he also ensured it was an intensely personal moment for both of them.
For there, on Catherine Middleton’s finger, was the iconic sapphire and diamond engagement ring that his father, the Prince of Wales, had presented to Lady Diana Spencer three decades earlier. And as it glinted in the light, the world knew William had found The One… and made his late mother proud.
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“It’s very special to me,” he said of the 18 carat ring. “And as Catherine is very special to me now, it was right the two are put together.
“It is my way of making sure my mother didn’t miss out on today.”
William and Kate’s engagement, after eight years of courtship, was a truly sparkling moment for the monarchy – a new jewel in the Crown. For, unlike the stiff formality of Charles and Diana’s 1981 betrothal and that awkward “whatever love is?” moment, this was clearly a true romance between real soulmates.
It shone through the official engagement portraits, taken a few days later by Diana’s favourite photographer Mario Testino, with one touching shot showing the couple wrapped, cheek-to-cheek, in each others arms.
Both families were overjoyed by the engagement – and apparently relieved that William had finally got around to proposing. Buckingham Palace issued a statement saying the Queen was “absolutely delighted”. She later told a guest at Windsor Castle, “It is brilliant news. It has taken them a long time.”
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Prince Charles joked, “I’m thrilled. They have been practising long enough. It makes me feel very old.”
And William’s stepmother Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, agreed, “I’m just so happy and so are they. It’s brilliant. It’s wicked!”
William called his brother to tell him the happy news. Prince Harry said, ”I am delighted my brother has popped the question. It means I get a sister, which I’ve always wanted.”
Kate’s parents Michael and Carole Middleton were also thrilled. “They make a lovely couple,” said her father. “They are great fun to be with and we’ve had a lot of laughs together.”
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The formal announcement had come in a written statement from Clarence House at 11am on the morning of 16 November.
“The Prince of Wales is delighted to announce the engagement of Prince William to Miss Catherine Middleton. The wedding will take place in the spring or summer of 2011 in London.”
The news was also posted on the Queen’s Facebook page and on the royal Twitter account. Souvenir sellers celebrated as the mugs, tea towels and memorabilia began hitting the production lines. But others were waiting for the first photos of the lovebirds together at the 4.45pm press call inside St James’s Palace.
The Entrée Room, one of the plush State Apartments, was chosen for Kate’s introduction to royal life. We learned she would be known by her full name, one day becoming the nation’s sixth Queen Catherine.
William appeared first, smartly dressed in a Savile Row suit, and Kate followed a few paces behind in a royal blue Issa wrap dress, her chestnut curls gleaming. As they posed, beaming, for photographers, Kate slipped her left arm through William’s, dangling her perfectly manicured fingers to show off the priceless oval sapphire and 14 diamonds set in a white-gold band.
The Prince revealed that he had nervously hidden the ring in his rucksack as he and Kate set off on holiday to Kenya the previous month. Then, towards the end of their trip, they flew by helicopter to Rutundu Lake high on the slopes of Mount Kenya and William popped the question in a little wooden hut.
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Tellingly, when he slipped the ring on her shaking finger, it proved the perfect fit. “It was very romantic,” Kate revealed later. "There’s a true romantic in there.”
The couple kept their engagement secret for almost a month, due to the death of Kate’s grandfather, Peter Middleton. On 24 October they attended the wedding of friends Harry Meade and Rosie Bradford in Cheshire, prompting “Will they be next?” headlines.
Wanting to stick to tradition, William then asked Michael Middleton for his blessing before approaching the Queen, then shared the news with Prince Charles and Prince Harry.
ITN’s Tom Bradbury, a friend of William’s, secured the engagement interview later that day. And as the happy couple chatted to him with relaxed informality, it was clear the future of The Firm was safe with this warm relatable pair.
Asked about starting a family – an “heir and spare” – William laughed and said, “I think we’ll take it one step at a time. We’ll get over the marriage first and then maybe look at kids.”
Everyone wanted to hear about the proposal though. “I’d been planning it for a while,” William said. “But as any guy out there will know, it takes a certain amount of motivation to get yourself going. Then it just felt really right out in Africa. It was beautiful at the time. I had done a bit of planning to show my romantic side.”
Kate had no idea and said “it was a total shock… and very exciting” when William produced the ring. William said, “I had been carrying it around with me in my rucksack for about three weeks before that and I literally would not let it go. Everywhere I went,
I was keeping hold of it because I knew this thing, if it disappeared, I would be in a lot of trouble. You hear a lot of horror stories about proposing and things going horribly wrong, but it went really, really well and I was really pleased when she said yes.
“It’s my mother’s engagement ring, so I thought it was 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. "
“It’s very, very special,” agreed Kate. They also talked candidly about the early days of their romance at the University of St Andrews. “We were friends for over a year first and it just sort of blossomed from then on,” William said. “We just spent more time with each other, had a good giggle. She’s got a really naughty sense of humour, which kind of helps me because I’ve got a really dirty sense of humour. We had a really good laugh and then things happened.”
“Well, I actually think I went bright red when I first met you,” Kate said. “I sort of scuttled off, feeling very shy.” Bradby asked about reports that Kate had a picture of William on her bedroom wall before they met. “There wasn’t just one, there was about 20,” William interjected with a smile. “He wishes!” laughed Kate.
”No, I had the Levi’s guy on my wall, not a picture of William – sorry.”
“It was me in Levi’s, obviously,” quipped the Prince. The couple went on to open up about the time their relationship cracked.
“We did split up for a bit,” William said. “We were both very young… both finding ourselves… and we were growing up.” But after “a bit of space” it “worked out for the better”.
Kate admitted, “At the time I wasn’t very happy about it, but actually it made me a stronger person. You find out things about yourself that maybe you hadn’t realised. I think you can get quite consumed by a relationship when you are younger and I really valued that time for me as well… although I didn’t think it at the time.”
Kate was asked if she felt intimidated by Princess Diana’s iconic status. She said, “Obviously, I would have loved to have met her and she’s obviously an inspirational woman to look up to.”
“There’s no pressure, though,” William added. “It is about carving your own future. No one is trying to fill my mother’s shoes – what she did is fantastic. It’s about making your own future and your own destiny and Kate will do a very good job of that.”
The Prince then went on warmly, “We are hugely excited and looking forward to spending the rest of our lives together and seeing what the future holds."
"It’s obviously nerve-wracking, because I don’t know the ropes really,” Kate admitted. “But I’m willing to learn quickly and work hard. I really hope I can make a difference, even in the smallest way. I am looking forward to helping as much as I can.”
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