Michael and Carole Middleton met when they both worked at British Airways (she as an air hostess, he as a flight dispatcher) and soon after their 1980 marriage they moved from a flat in Slough to a modest house in the Berkshire village of Bradfield Southend. Catherine (known as Kate) was the couple's first child and was born on the 9th January 1982 at the Royal Berkshire Hospital. In September 1983 Kate's sister Pippa was born and eight months later Michael Middleton was posted to Jordan with BA, where the family lived until Kate was four. In the autumn of 1986 the Middletons returned to their Berkshire home and the following April Kate's brother James was born.
James's arrival coincided with Carole's decision to start a business selling children's party bags, games and decorations to time-pressed parents. The business thrived and by the time Kate was seven her parents could afford to send her to a private coeducational preparatory school, St Andrew's School in Pangbourne. At St Andrew's Kate excelled at sport, spending many Saturdays playing netball and hockey, while she went skiing in the school holidays. She also won swimming races and broke the school record for her age group at high jump.
In September 1995 Kate moved to Downe House School, an all-girls boarding school in Berkshire, where she failed to thrive. Friends later said she was bullied and it's been noted that one of the charities Kate and William have nominated for donations, in lieu of a wedding list, is called Beatbullying.
In April 1996 Kate's concerned parents moved her to the coeducational Marlborough College in Wiltshire where she blossomed. Kate shone academically, gaining 11 GCSEs and three A Levels (in Art, Biology and Chemistry), gained her Duke of Edinburgh's Gold Award, and continued to excel at sport, representing the school at tennis, hockey, netball and athletics. Contemporaries recalled a good fun, yet naturally decorous pupil, who didn't have to step out of line to be popular.
In 2000 Kate Middleton took a gap year. She headed to Florence in September for an intensive 12-week course in Italian at the British Institute. There was also a family holiday in Barbados and a stint crewing Round the World Challenge boats in the Solent.
In 2001 Kate enrolled at St Andrew's University to read History of Art and moved into St Salvator's Hall of residence, alongside Prince William. The pair soon became good friends, mixing with the same crowd and recognising a shared passion for outdoor pursuits. William also cited her "nice sense of humour", as a big draw. In September 2002 Kate Middleton moved into a flat in St Andrew's with Prince William and two mutual friends. Kate and William's attended each other's 21st birthday parties and, in September 2003, the flatmates found new lodgings in a cottage on a picturesque farm outside St Andrew's and it's believed the romance started around Christmas.
Kate graduated from St Andrew's on 23rd June 2005 with a 2:1 in the History of Art. The Middletons were there to applaud Kate, but they didn't mingle with Prince William's Royal Family party. Kate's path after university was less clear than William's. She faced the hurdles of any arts' graduate looking for a job, but was further constrained by her relationship with the highest-profile young male in the country.
2006 was also the year that Kate first featured on a style icon list, when the Daily Telegraph made her their "Most Promising Newcomer." Over the next few years her increasingly chic, if conservative, dress sense would be hailed by other style arbiters, including Tatler, People magazine and Vanity Fair. Furthermore, Kate's relaxed air with William's intimate family circle was noted when, in March 2006, she appeared on the balcony of the Royal Box at the Cheltenham Gold Cup, alongside Charles and Camilla.
Kate started work in November for the women's fashion chain, Jigsaw, as an accessory buyer. The firm's co-founder, Belle Robinson, later said, "I was so impressed by her." In December Kate and her parents were Prince William's guests at Sandhurst Military Academy when he passed out as an army officer in the presence of his grandmother, the Queen.
By 2007 there were strains on the relationship, as the Prince concentrated on his military career and, following heartfelt talks during a spring skiing holiday, Kate and William agreed to split. That June William and Harry staged their memorial concert for Diana at Wembley Stadium and it was noted that an enthusiastic Kate was amongst the guests in the Royal Box, although she was two rows back from William. In October she was photographed with Prince Charles at Balmoral and a month later Kate left her job at Jigsaw and returned to her flexible working arrangement with her parent's company.
In April 2008 Kate was watching as Prince Charles presented William with his wings at RAF Cranwell, while in May she represented her boyfriend at Peter Phillips' marriage to Autumn Kelly; it was there she was formally introduced to the Queen for the first time. In June Kate was part of the Royal family group at Windsor Chapel watching William installed as a Knight of the Garter by the Queen, the first time Kate had attended an official Royal public occasion.
For the next two years the royal romance was conducted steadily, but largely stealthily - the couple were rarely photographed together - preferring to keep under the press radar. When Prince William transferred to RAF Anglesey in 2010 for his training on Sea Kings, Kate started spending an increasingly amount of time with him in Wales, quietly becoming the first such prominent Royal bride-to-be to cohabit before her wedding (just as she had done at St Andrew's).
In October 2010 William took Kate to Lewa Wildlife Park in Kenya, where the couple had holidayed before. While there they took a few days' detour to a lodge nestling in the Mount Kenya range, close to Lake Alice. It was beside the lake that Prince William proposed to Kate, offering her his mother, Diana's, sapphire and diamond engagement.
Finally, on 16 November, Clarence House issued a brief statement announcing the wedding. Kate gave her first media interview, alongside Prince William, to ITV News's Tom Bradby. She sounded a little nervous, but looked spectacular in a royal blue Issa dress, which became instantly iconic and spawned a thousand imitations. It was clear that she was ideally suited to the role of royal consort with her innate poise, grace, intelligence and discretion.
For up-to-date biographical information on the Duchess of Cambridge, please see our Royal Portaits.