Striking, private, and almost royal: Kate’s Story

LONDON (AP) - She’s a country girl who loves the late-night club scene. A reluctant fashion icon who says she doesn’t fuss over her clothes _ but looks stunning in just about anything.

Kate Middleton has kept her thoughts to herself and a circle of trusted friends during her long romance with Prince William.

Until she spoke out about her love for the 28-year-old prince and her admiration for his mother, the late Princess Diana, on the day their engagement was announced, Middleton had kept totally mum about her relationship and her thoughts about joining “The Firm,” as the royal family is popularly known.

So who is the future queen, and what matters to her?

Only her closest friends know if she has hoped for years to marry William, as some schoolmates say _ pointing out that she went out of her way to catch his eye their freshmen year at college. Or if she was content in her role as the on-again, off-again girlfriend of one of the most eligible men in the world.

In the absence of words there have been images.

Kate glamorous in evening wear, Kate lounging on a yacht in a white bikini and _ most surprisingly _ Kate in black bra and panties topped by a sheer dress at a charity fashion show in early 2002, when she and the prince were just friends. That event prompted William, according to biographer Katie Nicholl, to tell a friend that “Kate’s hot.”

Shortly afterward, Nicholl said, the prince made his move, setting in motion the events leading to next year’s gala royal wedding.

After romance blossomed, Middleton made an effort to keep out of the public eye so she and William could enjoy each other’s company in private, Nicholl said.

“They tucked themselves away,” she told The Associated Press. “They ordered curries from the local curry shop at the end of the road. They called in DVDs. They had a very successful understanding that they would never be photographed together, they wouldn’t be pictured holding hands. When they turned up together, it was separately. And that stood them in good stead. They could keep that relationship clandestine for the best part of a year.”

It has not always been smooth sailing. The prince pursued several other young women while dating Middleton, and the college sweethearts separated several times over the years _ once in 2004, when William reportedly complained of claustrophobia in the months before graduation; and later in 2007, when William was photographed dancing the night away with other women at nightclubs.

Middleton, 28, now describes that as an unhappy time, but she did not sit home and mope. She was photographed partying in a thigh-skimming mini-dress with friends and devoted time to training for a challenging charity rowboat race.

The couple soon reunited _ and have spent as much time together as possible since, although William has been busy with his military training, which often keeps him away for weeks at a time.

Now that their relationship is back on track _ and her entry into the royal inner circle assured _ Middleton’s family background is coming under increased scrutiny.

She is a commoner who does not come from the highest segment of British aristocracy, where birth has been rewarded with great wealth for generations. But Middleton’s parents have made millions from their party supply business, Party Pieces.

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