For four years they enjoyed a cosy and largely anonymous life – blending in with their 7,500 fellow students as their romance quietly blossomed.
But today the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were very much the centre of attention as they made a trip back to St Andrews University
The couple were on hand to meet students and staff, to hear more about how their lives have been affected by the pandemic.
It was also a personal trip down memory lane. After all, it was at St Andrews – in St Salvator’s halls, in fact – where Kate Middleton first met William Wales.
Ten years after meeting the couple were engaged and now, 20 years on, they are parents of three juggling all the demands placed on the future king and his queen consort.
Here, FEMAIL looks back at the special place St Andrews holds in the couple’s love story.
University sweethearts: Prince William and Kate Middleton on the day of their graduation ceremony at St Andrews University in June 2005. The couple met as freshers four years prior
William and Kate both initially enrolled to study History of Art (he switched to geography after that) and lived in the same hall of residence, St Salvator’s – known as Sallies.
As Kate recalled in their engagement interview: ‘I turned bright red and sort of scuttled off, feeling very shy about meeting him.’
It wasn’t too long, however, before, seeing him every day around the campus – and in the university pool where they often swam together early in the morning – she was as relaxed with him as he was with her.
William had hoped that by avoiding a big metropolitan university he’d be able to merge into local life relatively unnoticed. Now he was finding that in a small town like St Andrews the opposite was true.
He was weary of avoiding eye contact with strangers and pointedly declined invitations to join university clubs.
The young prince reportedly struggled with homesickness but found a listening ear in Kate, although there was initially no romantic involvement.
Centre of attention: It was in 2002 that Kate reportedly caught William’s eye when she sashayed in a see-through sheer dress with visible black underwear down the runway at a university charity fashion show, prompting Wills’ much-quoted comment, ‘Wow, Kate’s hot!’
At the time she had a boyfriend, Rupert Finch, a dark and handsome fourth-year student reading law. (These days Rupert is a company lawyer with Johnson Matthey, the science and tech company, married, with three children, to Lady Natasha Rufus Isaacs, dressmaker daughter of the Marquess of Reading.)
But then, William also had a girlfriend, second-year English student Carley Massy-Birch, a Devon farmer’s strikingly attractive daughter who was, according to her mother Mimi, ‘definitely an item’ with the prince for a couple of months.
Meanwhile, meeting around the campus as friends, William and Kate were entirely relaxed in each other’s company. The tall, slender brunette who liked an early morning jog soon became one of the group who joined William for breakfast before lectures.
The budding friendship, it must be said, did not go unnoticed. Fellow students would joke to her, ‘Bet you’ll be wearing a tiara soon’. Certainly, some of the other girls in her year, a number of them from well-connected families, were positively suspicious of the middle-class girl’s easy closeness to the Queen’s grandson.
Graduating into royal life: Kate Middleton at her graduation in 2005, by which time her relationship with Prince William had been made public. He proposed five years later
It was in early 2002 that Kate reportedly caught William’s eye when she sashayed in a see-through sheer dress with visible black underwear down the runway at a university charity fashion show, prompting William’s much-quoted comment, ‘Wow, Kate’s hot!’
Unsurprisingly, perhaps, that was the night their relationship matured from friendship into romance. Later that evening after the show they were drinking together, and reported to have been seen kissing.
She was different from the kind of girls he had dated in the past – the socially ambitious offspring of his father’s polo-playing circle – and he found her natural and unaffected ways comfortingly reassuring. When he missed a seminar she would cover by letting him copy her notes.
Meanwhile, in his uncertainty at St Andrews, William had been talking to his father and to his former housemaster at Eton, Dr Andrew Gailey, about dropping out at the end of the first year in 2002. And yet, tellingly, it was after talking to Kate about it that he made up his mind to stay.
Taking a swing at love: Prince William practises golf on the beach at St Andrews in 2003
She had also been uncertain about whether to remain at St Andrews, she told him, but on the whole thought it better to stay. She felt that having invested so much time there, it would be mad to chuck it in.
When William told her he thought his biggest mistake was his degree course, it was Kate who suggested switching to geography. Which he did.
Not even when Kate and William, together with two others, shared a flat in their second year – in aptly named Hope Street – did anyone think they were an item.
The foursome were William, his Eton chum Fergus Boyd – a godfather to Prince George – Army officer’s daughter Olivia Bleasdale, and Kate. William had asked Kate to join the group.
Over the next three university years their relationship deepened. One of their circle, Michael Choong, who played rugby with William and is these days a property developer in Scotland, recalls, ‘They never showed any affection in public. Kate was good for him.
‘She was very loyal and did not gossip. William was naturally gregarious – he’d always get a round of beers in at the pub – but Kate was less so and hated having her picture taken.’
Young romance: Kate Middleton and her father Michael leave a shop in St Andrews in 2005
As university flatmates, no one saw anything special about William being one of the guests at Kate’s 21st birthday party, a 1920s-themed extravaganza with flapper girls and the Charleston. William arrived a bit late.
That was the moment he was first introduced to Carole and Michael Middleton. And Kate would attend William’s Out Of Africa 21st birthday party at Windsor Castle.
Significantly, however, he had already had her as a guest at Wood Farm, the royals’ favourite bolthole on the Sandringham estate in Norfolk.
When the prince gave an interview marking his coming of age, he was evasive about his love life. ‘There’s been a lot of speculation about every single girl I’m with,’ he said. ‘It’s a pain for the girls.’
But he couldn’t keep Kate a secret forever, try as he might. Skiing in the Swiss resort of Klosters with his father, he agreed to a photocall on the understanding the photographers would leave him alone afterwards.
None of the media there knew Kate was present too. Photocall over, she joined him at the ski lift and – flash, flash, flash – suddenly the world knew Diana’s boy was in love. Kate’s life would never be the same again.
Royally good fun: Prince William at his graduation from St Andrews University in June 2005
Proud father: Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall at Prince William’s 2005 graduation
Granny was there, too! The Queen attended her grandson Prince William’s 2005 graduation
By now they were in their third year at St Andrews, and installed in a comfortable farmhouse on the nearby 400-acre Strathtyrum estate. Not alone, of course. Two other discreet chums joined them, Alasdair Coutts-Wood and Oli Baker.
Here Kate’s natural home-making skills were allowed to flourish – she ran up some new gingham curtains. There in the kitchen was her dream – an Aga cooker – and not only that, in the baronial dining room was a table that could seat 18. More dinner parties followed.
Even so, William was beginning to show the first signs of unease at being tied down so young. It was a constant in his mind in the early years of the relationship. They agreed to spend the summer break apart.
He slipped away to America, flying to Tennessee to join the family of an old (and platonic) friend, Anna Sloan, a department store heiress who was at Edinburgh University. Kate went to the Dordogne as a guest of the family of one of their old flatmates, Fergus Boyd. One evening she disclosed that their being apart was something of a trial separation, adding, ‘I miss him.’
She didn’t have to wait too long before seeing him. At summer’s end they were back together again sharing the same house in their final year. Judged on what happened next, William had been missing her too.
The couple graduated in 2005 and five years later – after spending a summer apart – William proposed while on holiday in Kenya.
They made their engagement public in November 2010 and married the following April. The couple celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary this year.
BY RICHARD KAY and GEOFFREY LEVY. A VERSION OF THIS STORY FIRST APPEARED IN WEEKEND MAGAZINE