Marriage at last for William and Kate
Kate Middleton could scarcely have believed that her schoolgirl crush on Prince William would turn into dream come true, but she is now months away from a fairytale wedding watched by the world.
They met as university students in the tranquil surrounds of a small Scottish town and moved in together, falling in love and becoming one of the most talked-about couples on the planet.
Both 28, the second in line to the throne and the commoner daughter of a wealthy businessman have had an on-off relationship that has endured for eight years and overcome the huge pressures surrounding them.
It has survived the strains of William's position in the line of succession behind his father Prince Charles, plus the temptations and pitfalls that await one of the world's most eligible bachelors.
It has also survived a temporary separation. The couple briefly split up as his military career saw William living in a stark barracks -- and unleashed on nights out with his colleagues -- while paparazzi photographers stalked Kate's every move.
The media attention she received reminded many observers of what William's late mother Diana faced when she became engaged to Charles in 1981.
But the announcement Tuesday of their engagement perhaps shows that having come through it all, they feel ready to face the future together that could see them become king and queen.
Middleton had had a teenage crush on the prince, putting a poster of him in polo gear on her wall long before she had met him.
They met in September 2001 at the University of St Andrews, where they both embarked on art history degrees.
William struggled to adjust to life as a student and Middleton was credited with persuading him to carry on and switch to a geography course.
The following year, they moved into a shared student house with two other friends.
Relatively little is known of their time at St Andrews. Under a deal reached with Charles, the media agreed to respect William's private life during his studies.
He did his own shopping at the supermarket, wore jeans and pullovers with holes in them, and met his friends over a cider in the pub.
He paid 200 pounds (320 dollars, 235 euros) for a front seat at a charity student fashion show where Kate strode down the catwalk in a see-through lace dress.
They were pictured together on a skiing trip and after graduation in 2005, they holidayed together in Kenya.
In what was seen as a hugely significant sign of her acceptance in royal circles, Kate watched William graduate as an army officer in December 2006, in the presence of his grandmother Queen Elizabeth II.
He began his army training in March 2007, but it seemed like his lengthy periods away with the military had stretched their relationship too far.
In April that year, he posed for pictures with his arms around girls and danced with them on podiums during a boozy, fun-filled excursion with fellow soldiers when they were allowed out of the barracks.
Shortly afterwards, newspapers reported that the couple had split.
However, a rapprochement soon followed and by the end of the year, the romance was back on again, fuelling speculation that it was just a matter of time before William popped the question.
Since then, they have kept their relationship quiet, with the focus on William's military career, although he was blocked from serving on the front line in Afghanistan.
Realising he had little chance of serving at the sharp end as an army officer, the prince trained to fly helicopters.
He is now a Royal Air Force search and rescue helicopter pilot, working at the RAF Valley base on the island of Anglesey, northwest Wales.
After the glitz and glamour of the royal wedding set for next year -- the biggest since William's parents Charles and Diana married in 1981 -- the couple will attempt to settle down to life together in north Wales.
William is to carry on with his RAF role.
The rural setting of their new home, far from the palaces and media attention of London, might suit them but it is hard to envisage the couple enjoying a quiet life for long.
© 2010 AFP