Attention That's Fit for a Queen

Prince William's girlfriend, Kate Middleton, slips past photographers outside her apartment Tuesday, her 25th birthday.
Prince William's girlfriend, Kate Middleton, slips past photographers outside her apartment Tuesday, her 25th birthday. (By Gareth Cattermole -- Getty Images)
By Kevin Sullivan and Mary Jordan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, January 10, 2007

LONDON, Jan. 9 -- Kate Middleton took one look at her lanky boyfriend, a young officer graduating from Britain's military academy last month, and purred approval to two friends.

"I love the uniform," she said. "It's so, so sexy."

Under most circumstances, such a comment would remain private.

But the dish in question was Prince William, heir to the British throne, eldest son of Princess Diana and Prince Charles.

And such is interest in the Future King's love life that television network ITN hired a lip reader to decipher his girlfriend's every utterance.

Welcome to the world of the woman who might someday be Queen Catherine.

William hasn't proposed yet, or even signaled such intent. But speculation was so intense that he might pop the question on Tuesday, Middleton's 25th birthday, that by 6 a.m. more than 50 photographers and camera crews were waiting outside her apartment in London's fashionable Chelsea neighborhood. Middleton does not have an official royal security detail, but police were called in to control the scrum, which blocked her way as she emerged to go to work.

Middleton has said virtually nothing in public -- at least not audibly -- since she and William, five months younger, met as students at St. Andrews University in Scotland.

But the English seem as sure as tomorrow's rain that a new princess fairy tale is in the offing. Woolworths is so confident that the retailer is busily designing commemorative royal wedding tchotchkes, from mugs to mouse pads. Store officials said the company "missed out" in 2005 during the two-month engagement of William's father and Camilla Parker Bowles -- a multimillion-dollar slip that won't be repeated.

Kate, as she is fast becoming known here (Kate Winslet and Kate Moss are still two-namers), is a middle-class descendant of a coal-mining family, with an art history degree and conservative hemlines. She is as English as thickly buttered toast, and roughly as controversial. Her courtship with William is chronicled by the press the way lions chronicle antelopes. They have been spotted smooching in the Alps, and they favor the London nightclub scene -- often in the company of little brother Prince Harry, the Wild Child of Wales.

But through it all, Middleton has not stirred a wisp of controversy. She doesn't smoke; she blushes. She shops with her mom (a former flight attendant who has an online business selling children's party supplies).

"She's a person you can relate to," says Lily Laban, a 20-year-old sales assistant at Jigsaw, the clothing chain Middleton works for as an accessories buyer. "She's not a million miles away from people her own age." In perhaps her sauciest public moment, Middleton appeared during her college days in a charity fashion show modeling lingerie. But she looked more like an athletic teenager than a Victoria's Secret model, and William was sitting in a $400 front-row seat adding a royal stamp of approval.

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