Catherine Middleton is the first modern “commoner” to marry a likely heir to the British throne in more than three centuries. She broke a high jump record at school, and she sports an art history degree from St. Andrews University. Since meeting Prince William at the college dorm in 2000, she has leaped many other hurdles en route to her wedding day tomorrow, including a break up with William in 2007.
As a young British woman of 29 likely to one day be queen, Ms. Middleton is making history.
She is described variously as independent, classy, quiet, confident, and poised. Professionally she’s been a clothing accessory buyer with the fashion chain Jigsaw, and a photographer. She’s made several best dressed lists. Her mother started as an air hostess; one grandmother was a coal miner’s granddaughter and lived in a condemned public housing for a season.
Middleton, having already lived with William, is often called the opposite of Princess Diana, William’s famous mother. Lady Diana Spencer was 19 when she married Prince Charles, whom she had dated only six months. She called him “sir” until a day before the two said “I do,” in 1981.
Middleton lived in Amman, Jordan, between ages 2 and 4, where her parents were posted with British Airways. Her sister, Pippa, two years younger, will be her maid of honor; she has a brother four years younger. The Middleton family fortunes turned for the better when they started a highly successful party supply company.
Yet Middleton’s middle-class family has not been an impediment to a royal match; it rather appears to be an important strength for Catherine, and a sanctuary for William, raised in a public and dysfunctional royal milieu.
“She’s got a stable family and that is one thing that William loves about her, and it seems to be something that keeps Kate grounded,” says Jasmine Birtles, a London-based observer and media commentator. Middleton is said to be quite attuned to William’s moods, and genuinely loves him.
Middleton earned the nickname “Waity Katy” from the British media when, after several years dating William, he still had not asked for her hand. Early in 2007, the couple broke up. William was 24, just graduated from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and about to enter tank commander school, and he appeared to briefly play the field. Middleton countered by showing up on British fashion pages, sporting a tan, and emerging from limousines and elite clubs. The couple was found to be back “on” about five months later. They’ve been living in a farmhouse on the Isle of Anglesey in Wales, where he trains as a helicopter pilot.
Middleton does have a small cluster of detractors, of course. But Telegraph columnist Allison Pearson says Britain is fortunate to have a woman like Middleton marrying into the royal family, calling her authentic, experienced, and with the kind of depth and dignity needed but not always found in royals.
She also notes what a record leap Middleton and her family are making: “To go from a condemned council flat to Buckingham Palace in two generations makes Elizabeth Bennet’s bagging of Mr. Darcy [in Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice"] look like a doddle.”