For Prince William and Kate, a Fairy Tale Ended

By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, April 15, 2007

LONDON, April 14 -- Prince William and longtime girlfriend Kate Middleton have split, the British media reported Saturday, ending widespread speculation of an imminent wedding between one of the world's most eligible royal bachelors and the middle-class descendant of a coal-mining family.

William, 24, and Middleton, 25, who had met at St. Andrews University in Scotland in 2001, parted amicably -- and almost completely unexpectedly -- after succumbing to the massive pressures placed upon them by intense media scrutiny of their courtship, according to the Sun newspaper. Citing unnamed sources, the newspaper said the relationship had been dwindling since William, the older son of Prince Charles and Princess Diana and second in line to the British throne, graduated from Britain's elite Sandhurst military academy in December.

Especially since last month, when William began training as a tank commander on a remote English army base, the pair have seen each other increasingly less. William has also been photographed recently partying with other attractive young women. The paper reported that Middleton was increasingly frustrated that William seemed to prefer drinking with his army buddies to spending time with her in London.

The newspaper also reported that William considers himself too young to marry and bristled at media and public pressure on him to become engaged to Middleton, who appeared to many as a likable and intelligent young woman who would have brought new youth and glamour to the royal family. Many in England were virtually certain that Middleton would be the next fairy tale princess, and possible someday Queen Catherine.

Speculation that the couple would marry was so rampant that the retailer Woolworth's had already designed commemorative royal wedding collectibles, from mugs to mouse pads, featuring their photographs.

Paddy Harverson, spokesman for Clarence House, Prince Charles's office, said in an interview Saturday that Prince William did not want an official "running commentary" on his private life except for announcements of engagements, graduations, etc. "Even in something as high-profile as this, we have to hold that line," Harverson said, declining to comment on the media reports about the split.

But royal watchers said the fact that Clarence House did not deny the reports was essentially a confirmation of their accuracy, given the royal family's history of quick and forceful denials of stories they consider inaccurate.

"When something is not true the royal spokespersons deny it," said writer Robert Lacey, who has written extensively about the royal family, including a biography of Queen Elizabeth II.

Lacey said he believed the intense press scrutiny of the young couple's every move must have been at least partly to blame for the split.

"Maybe the relationship had to end anyway, but the intrusion and the pressure of the press must have been a factor," he said. "It is hard enough to be young and decide if something is right for you without that."

Lacey said pressure from the British media, which delights in stories about the royal family, was a factor in the engagement of William's parents. Diana was one of the most photographed women in the world, and she died in a car crash in Paris in 1997 while being chased by aggressive paparazzi. William was 15 at the time of his mother's death.

"It is a formidable challenge being a royal in the present day," Lacey said. "With what dread they must contemplate walking down the aisle," knowing how intensely they are being examined.

In recent months Middleton seemed to grow increasingly angry that photographers followed her every move.

On her 25th birthday, in January, speculation was so intense that William was going to propose that more than 50 photographers and camera crews had camped outside her London apartment by 6 a.m. Although Middleton did not have a royal security detail, police were called in to guide her through the pack of paparazzi who blocked her way to work.

Earlier this month, Middleton settled a harassment complaint against the Daily Mirror, another London tabloid, after the paper apologized for publishing a grim-looking photo of her. The paper said she looked upset because of stories about William's partying with other women; she said it was because she was being harassed by photographers.

Middleton may find the press attention subsiding over time -- as long as the couple don't rekindle the romance -- but for William it seems unlikely to abate, as royal romances are the stuff of dreams for tabloid editors here. According to the Press Association, British bookmakers have wasted no time taking wagers on William's most likely future bride, offering 6-1 odds that William would marry a female army officer. Others in contention suggest the torrent of silliness heaped on Britain's royals: Bookmakers are also offering odds of 14-1 that William will marry Australian pop singer Kylie Minogue or party girl Paris Hilton and 20-1 on troubled pop star Britney Spears.

To many observers here, the low-key Middleton, who favors conservative hemlines and stirs little controversy, was a far better match for William than Diana had been for Prince Charles. Diana was a 19-year-old kindergarten teacher when she became engaged to Charles, the 32-year-old heir to the throne. William and Middleton were college classmates, just five months apart in age, who seemed much more like contemporaries with similar interests.

Middleton also comes from a stable family background and is frequently photographed shopping with her mother. That stability also appealed to William, who watched his parents' own marriage end in a messy divorce.

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