A Quiet ‘Middletonian’ Revolution, or the ‘Last Hurrah’ of the Windsors? The Royal Wedding of 2011 Twelve Years On.

Another Royal Fairy Tale – William & Kate, 2002-2022:

The sun was coming up over Westminster Abbey on Friday 29th April 2011, and on the Mall, some of the visitors were sleeping on chairs near the road, and others were standing and talking. They came from all over the capital city, as well as from other towns and cities all over Britain, and from other countries too. Later in the morning, Catherine Elizabeth Middleton was getting ready for her very special day. Her parents, sister and brother, were staying in the same hotel – the Goring Hotel in Belgravia. She would soon have to put on her specially designed dress.

At the same time, not far away, Prince William was getting ready too. He and his brother, Prince Harry, were putting on their uniforms – red for him, black for his brother.

Prince William was then second in line to the throne of the United Kingdom, after his father, Prince Charles. William and Kate came from two very different families, the Windsor-Mountbatten royal family, and the Middletons, an upper-middle-class family. Kate’s parents were Michael and Carole Middleton. They met when they worked for British Airways. Kate is their eldest child and she has a sister, Pippa, and a brother, James. When Kate was six, Carole Middleton began a business called Party Pieces and later Michael Middleton worked with her. It made a lot of money for the family.

But although she was from a perfectly respectable, wealthy family, Kate was a ‘commoner’, had no title and was not therefore a member of the aristocracy. Before William’s great-grandmother, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon married the then Duke of York, the future George VI, marriages like this, between princes and ‘commoners’ could not happen. When his grandmother, as heir to the throne, married Philip Mountbatten in 1947, she was marrying into the Greek royal family. His father had originally married Lady Diana Spencer, who was from a ‘stately home’. But modern princes and princesses from countries around the world do not always, or even usually, marry people from other royal families, or even the aristocracy.

Carole, James, Michael and Pippa Middleton.

Kate was born in January 1982, six months before William, in Reading. The Middletons had lived in the (Home County) Berkshire village of Bradfield Southend since 1986 when they returned from two years in Amman, Jordan. Kate went to primary school in the village before the family moved to a large detached house in Bucklebury in 1995. She then went to Marlborough College in Wiltshire, where she played hockey and tennis for the school teams, and succeeded academically. When she left Marlborough in 2000, she took a gap year during which she went to Florence, Italy and to Chile in the New Year of 2000, arriving there, by coincidence, a few weeks after William had returned from there on his gap year, so they didn’t meet. She worked as a teaching assistant before returning to England to get ready to go to the University of St Andrew’s in Scotland as a student of art history. The University is the oldest in Scotland, first opened in 1413, and the third oldest in the UK after Oxford and Cambridge. It has a student population of over eight thousand. William and Kate lived in the same building, were both students of art history and had some of the same friends.

In March 2002, Kate was in a fashion show at the university, and William and some of his friends went to watch. First, Kate modelled a colourful jumper, and then she walked out in an exciting black dress, catching William’s attention. William and Kate soon became good friends and remained so for over a year before, in the summer of 2003, Kate turned twenty-one (she was six months older than William), and he went to a party at her parents’ house in Berkshire, together with other friends from St. Andrew’s. Later that year, Prince Charles had an ‘African’ party for William’s twenty-first, and Kate was one of the guests. In September 2003, they began their third year and William moved to a house in the country called Balgrove House, not far from the town and the university, but a quiet place, away from photographers and reporters. Then in March 2004, William and Kate were in the news together. They went on a skiing holiday to Klosters in Switzerland with some friends and William’s father. Soon, newspapers from all over the world had a photo of William and Kate. Now everybody wanted to know, Who is Kate Middleton? The newspapers started to write about Will and Kate as a couple.

September 2004 was the beginning of their last year at St. Andrew’s. There were often photos of William at parties and weddings but without Kate. As she was not part of the royal family and its official entourage, she couldn’t go with him, but they were still a courting couple. In 2005, they graduated and Her Majesty, Prince Philip and Prince Charles all came up for the ceremony. Kate’s mother and father were there too, but the two families did not meet.

Soon after graduation, William went to New Zealand for a second time, his first official visit overseas, which lasted eleven days. Then he went on a month’s holiday to Lewa Downs in Kenya, where he was later joined, for a short time, by Kate and some of their mutual friends. William then began to have a very busy time, working in the City of London and learning about banking. He also worked for the Football Association at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire. In December, he spent two weeks with a mountain rescue team and after another skiing holiday together at Klosters in January 2006, William and Kate agreed to ‘separate’ while they both established themselves in work. William went to Sandhurst to train as an army officer, where he stayed for almost the rest of the year, not seeing Kate very often. She was trying to find work, but as the girlfriend of the future monarch, she was plagued by photographers who waited near her house and ran after her in the street. For a lot of the time, she worked in her parents’ business; there she could get away from the newspapers. In November 2006, she began to work with a women’s clothes business called Jigsaw, which had a chain of high-street shops throughout the UK. The next month, William graduated from Sandhurst, and Kate and her parents were invited to the ‘passing out’ ceremony.

But the media’s invasion of Kate’s privacy got worse in 2007 and at twenty-four, William was not ready to get married. He was still very busy in the army in Dorset, and Kate was working in London, a hundred miles away. Sometimes photos appeared in the papers of William with other girls. Couples in the public eye often stop being together in these circumstances, and of the Queen’s four children, three had divorced. Only Edward, her youngest, was still in his first marriage. In April 2007, they decided to announce that they were no longer a couple. Kate probably needed time to decide whether she wanted to be a future queen consort, and went back to her parents’ house, away from London and the cameras. But she did not stay at home for very long, and she was often seen out shopping with her sister, Pippa. Nor did she stay away from William for long, since on 1st July she accepted his invitation to be among his guests at a special concert organised by Harry and himself to honour their mother, Diana, on her birthday. She did not sit next to William but was not far away and seemed happy again. After two months, they were back together again and flew to The Seychelles for a week together.

Kate goes shopping with her sister, Pippa.

William next spent twelve weeks with the RAF, learning to fly, and he then had two months with the Royal Navy, before returning to the RAF to learn how to fly a helicopter, like his father and uncle, in the autumn of 2008. Meanwhile, Kate continued to work for her parents’ business, taking photographs for them, and people took an interest in her clothes. In January 2010, William finished his helicopter training and went to the island of Anglesey in North Wales to train with the RAF in search and rescue work. He lived in a little house on a farm, and Kate visited him there frequently. William’s training ended in September 2010, and soon after that he and Kate went to Kenya for a three-week holiday.

For some of the time they were in Kenya, William and Kate were with friends. But near the end of the holiday, they had some time alone as a couple again. William had taken his mother’s engagement ring with him, gold with a big blue sapphire surrounded with little diamonds. He carried it carefully with him all through the holiday, and on 19th October, he proposed to Kate with it. She agreed to marry him, and the couple returned to the UK, but could not tell the exciting news to their friends, and Kate could not wear the ring. Finally, on 16th November, the couple appeared on TV at St. James’ Palace and announced their engagement to the public. Kate wore a stunning blue dress to match the sapphire in her ring. William had already asked the Queen and Kate’s father for their consent to the marriage. Both of them gave it.

The Royal Wedding of 2011- A Gallery:

At the time of the royal wedding, Britain was not just becoming increasingly divided over immigration and EU membership, but it was also in recession, following the international financial crash of 2010. Some businesses were forced to close and people were losing their jobs, and it was difficult for young people to borrow enough money to buy or rent their first home. The royal wedding cheered everyone up, but the royal family were concerned that it should not be too lavish. The wedding was meant to be very traditional, but simple.

William and Catherine’s wedding day was set for 29th April 2011, in Westminster Abbey. The Queen asked about nineteen hundred people to attend the wedding. Many of these guests were family and friends, but she also invited kings and queens from around the world. A wedding ring was made of Welsh gold, a tradition within the royal family going back to his great-grandmother. William’s brother Harry was to be his best man, and Kate’s sister, Pippa, her chief bridesmaid. Then there were to be four little bridesmaids and two-page boys. On the eve of the big day, thousands of people began to arrive in London, determined to camp near Westminster Abbey and on the Mall. The Duchess of Cornwall and Prince William himself came out to meet them. The day of the Wedding was warm and dry. Hundreds of thousands waited on the streets, and five thousand police officers were deployed around the route. Spread over different parts of the capital, there were more than eight thousand radio and television reporters, ready to tell people around the world about the wedding.

At eight o’clock the news came from Buckingham Palace that William and Kate would be known as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. At mid-morning, William and Harry came into the abbey, William wearing an Irish Guards uniform and Harry the uniform of a captain in the Blues and Royals. Minutes later, Kate’s mother arrived and soon after that, the Queen and Prince Philip. Then, just before eleven, people saw Kate leaving the hotel to get into a Rolls-Royce with her father. Unlike previous royal brides, brides, Kate did not arrive at the wedding in a horse-drawn coach. Ten minutes later, she arrived at the Abbey and everyone could see her dress, by British designer Sarah Burton, for the first time. It was made from ivory and white satin, with a V-neck bodice with lace detailing. It had a big skirt and long lace sleeves. The train measured 270cm, 110ins. Kate wore a white veil over her face, held in place by a diamond tiara, lent to her by the Queen. It was originally given by King George V to Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, in 1936. They had given it to the then Princess Elizabeth on her eighteenth birthday. According to reports, a blue ribbon was stitched inside the dress. In her hands, Kate carried small white flowers.

As she walked in with her father, there were hundreds of white and green flowers lining the abbey nave, and eight tall trees. Her sister Pippa walked behind, carefully carrying the long train of the dress. Pippa almost stole the show, wearing a simple white shift dress with buttons down the back. The ceremony took a little more than an hour. Then the new Duke and Duchess walked out of the abbey with the four children, bridesmaids and pages, Prince Harry, Pippa, Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, and Kate’s parents. The bells of Westminster Abbey were rung for three hours after the wedding.

The Duke & Duchess leaving the Abbey for the ‘breakfast’ party at the Palace.

The bride and groom got into an open-top gold and black coach, the 1902 State Landau, to go to Buckingham Palace, with the other important royal guests and Carole and Michael Middleton in the following carriages. After they arrived at the Palace, thousands of people began to walk up the Mall behind a cordon of police officers. Then everyone in the crowd watched the balcony and waited for the royal couple to appear. A royal bride and groom first did this in 1858, and William’s parents, Charles and Diana famously kissed there in 1981. So when Kate and William came out onto the balcony, the crowd expected them to do the same. The noise created by the crowd’s approval made one of the little bridesmaids put her hands over her ears (see below)!

Then there were the formal photographs inside the palace, with the bride and groom together, with their pages and bridesmaids, and with their families. After that, there was a party for 650 guests in nineteen rooms, and Prince Charles made a speech. There were further speeches at the dinner for three hundred guests, from Prince Harry, Michael Middleton and from Prince William. Two of the couple’s friends also spoke. In the ballroom, the guests talked and danced until 3 a.m., when the bride and groom left and the party ended. The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, gave the couple a tandem bike as a wedding present.

The big wedding cake was made from seventeen different cakes, but Prince William asked for a chocolate cake as well, to remind him of when he was visiting her from Eton, at Windsor, his grandmother would give him this cake.

Of course, the party at the palace was not the only one in the Kingdom. The day of the wedding was a bank holiday, and there were more than five thousand street parties across the different countries. In Scotland, at St Andrew’s, more than two thousand people came together to watch the ceremony on a giant TV. David Cameron, the Coalition Government‘s PM, also had a party in Downing Street, inviting elderly people and children to join him. His wife, Samantha, made the cakes. In cities and towns throughout the Kingdom, people closed their streets to traffic and came together for the day, watching the wedding together.

There were parties in many other places around the world, from Afghanistan to India to Canada. In a hundred and eighty countries, many millions of people watched the pictures from London with fellow members of the British armed forces, families and friends. In the early morning in Times Square in New York City, three couples got married just after William and Kate. However, there was no immediate honeymoon, and after three days away, they went back to Anglesey as, on the following Tuesday, William had to return to work with the search and rescue team. Ten days after the wedding, they flew to The Seychelles for ten days, away from the prying eyes of press photographers.

After the Wedding – The Working Duke & Duchess:

After their honeymoon, the couple returned to Anglesey, and a new life for Kate in the royal family. Before long they had their first visit as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, to Canada, from 30th June to 8th July. Again, thousands of people came out to see them as they attended official ceremonies. William gave speeches in both English and French. On leaving Canada, they went to California for three days, where they attended a big dinner in Los Angeles, meeting Jennifer Lopez, Nicole Kidman and other rich Hollywood celebrities. At these overseas functions, Kate wore dresses specially designed for her, but she usually wore things from British shops. So, when young women saw her wearing a new dress made in Britain of this kind, they went to their nearest high-street fashion store to see if they could get the same dress. Often, the shops sold out of these ‘Kate’ dresses within hours of her appearing on TV in it, so she was good news for the British clothes shops and fashion ‘houses’. But while in California they also spent time at the charitable foundation, Inner-City Arts, where children from poorer families went to have lessons in dance and the arts. The Duke and Duchess watched the dances and made pictures with the children.

Back home, too, many charities asked for ‘patronage’ from them as members of the royal family. The charity Centrepoint was sponsored by his mother, and William gave his time to it as well, including sleeping out on the cold streets of London for a night to learn something, firsthand, about the experience of homeless people. The Duchess also began helping four charitable organisations. One of them is the East Anglia Children’s Hospice, which helps seriously and terminally ill children and their families. Another, building on her background in art history, is the National Portrait Gallery.

When they got engaged, Kate said, “Family is very important to me,” and William said, “We want a family.” By 2022 they had two new royal princes, George (b. 2013) and Louis, and a princess, Charlotte. Had she been born first, Charlotte would have become third in line to the throne following a change in the law of succession to permit the eldest child of the Monarch to become heir to the throne, whether they are male or female. So it seems that British subjects will have two more kings after Charles III, William and George before they have another queen. In the meantime, after overcoming the difficult obstacles placed in their way in their courtship, the new royal couple has been in the news for all the right reasons over the past dozen years, balancing their private family life together with their public work for the Monarchy.

Together, while working in Canada

Prince William was a patron of a mountain rescue organisation and often did work for the Football Association, including joint bids for the British nations to stage the European Championships and World Cup. He also helped with the organisation of the summer 2012 London Olympic Games. It was a very busy time for the whole royal family, who greeted and talked with many famous visitors from around the world and went to the big opening and closing ceremonies.


Andrew Marr (2009), A History of Modern Britain. London: Pan Macmillan.


Igloobooks.com (2013), The History of Britain. Sywell, NN6 OBJ: Igloo Books Ltd.

Christine Lindop (2013), Factfiles: William and Kate. Oxford: OUP (Oxford Bookworms Library):

The book contains a full list of photo acknowledgements

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