Britain's Prince William and Kate Middleton, who became his wife in 2011. File picture: Tim Hales


By any standards of love and marriage, the progression has been leisurely. The fact is, by the time the former Catherine Middleton becomes the mother of our future king or queen in the summer of 2013, she will have been with Prince William for 12 years.

It’s been very slow progress from first date to first child (who will be third in line to the throne) — not exactly the rush of blue blood normally associated with royal marriages.

Kate, the girl from Bucklebury in Berkshire, will have her first baby at 31. That’s only a year off the age at which William’s mother, Diana, was separated from Prince Charles and making a new life for herself.

William and Kate even broke with the unofficial Royal Family convention of having a baby — or at least announcing that one is on the way — within the first year of their marriage.

That, of course, would have stolen some of the limelight from the Queen during her dazzling Diamond Jubilee, and it was something they would never have done.

We must assume that even now, such an announcement would still have been a few weeks away but for the fact that it had emerged that Kate was in hospital suffering from acute morning sickness.

Still, they’ve reached this crucial milestone at last, and how intriguing it will be in the coming years to see just how this very modern couple — this future monarch and his queen — will combine the heavy demands of duty with those of family life.

No royal couple has ever had such a challenging future maintaining historical tradition while being very much of a fast-moving, modern world.

And it’s pretty clear now, even to those doubters who were uneasy at William’s middle-class choice of bride — some of whom mocked her former air hostess mother Carole with childish taunts of ‘doors to manual’ — that Kate has risen brilliantly to the challenge.

If anyone silenced them it was the Queen, whose fondness for Kate was already reaching an unprecedented high in the run-up to her Jubilee this summer, and Prince Philip, who has never tired of informing people what a lucky escape his grandson had not to lose Kate after giving her up for three months in 2007.

Indeed, Kate’s incredible patience can be measured by all the years she has waited for her first child — timing everything (as royal wives usually have to) in order to fit in with national events.

Also, Kate has had to make other compromises. Few things can be worse for an expectant mother than to move house while heavily pregnant, and that will be her fate in April, when she and William move into the huge, 21-room apartment in Kensington Palace that used to be home to Princess Margaret.

Some felt William might have liked to have taken his wife to live in his mother Princess Diana’s old apartment, where he and Harry grew up, but the suite of rooms has long since been converted into offices for Prince Charles’s charities, as well as accommodation for military figures.

‘Kate was never keen on that idea — too many ghosts, she thought,’ says a family friend. ‘And William knew she was right.’

It is not hard to imagine what must be going through Kate’s mind now. William’s mother was the most glamorous, and most photographed woman in the Royal Family, and on the planet, and that is also the destiny of his wife.

From April she will even be making her permanent home in the palace where Diana experienced some of her happiest, and most wretched, moments, though until the baby is born Kate will be largely out of sight.

William’s admirable efforts for Kate and himself to maintain an ordinary lifestyle are almost over.

Eventually, in the final stages of her pregnancy, the girl from Bucklebury will be helping William made decisions about the size of their staff, and choosing them. When the Queen, as Princess Elizabeth, gave birth to Prince Charles in 1948, she was able largely to duck out of the official round of duties for two years by moving to Malta with Naval officer Prince Philip who was stationed there.

The opposite is happening to Kate. For two childless years, she and RAF air-sea rescue helicopter pilot William have enjoyed relative peace and quiet in Anglesey, Wales, where he has been based. They have been living in a remote, whitewashed farmhouse, doing their own cooking and washing, and Kate has become a familiar figure in the local supermarket.

This was the life they were determined to enjoy for as long as possible. William fought against having a retinue of servants and Kate declined the offer of a dresser. ‘The pity is that they didn’t have a child during this early period,’ says one of their circle.

‘It won’t be that easy at Kensington Palace. The apartment’s so big they will have to have staff, whether they like it or not. A housekeeper-cum-cook, certainly, but they won’t welcome the pomposity of having to have a butler.’

Kate’s new life means she will have to give up her little shopping trips, at least for now. And we have surely seen the last of Kate on the back of William’s high-powered Ducati motorcycle.

So what kind of father will Prince William be?

One of the factors that drew him to Kate was the strength of her family togetherness and the warmth of her family life.

To him, Kate’s happily married parents, Michael and Carole Middleton, represented everything that was missing from his own childhood, and in Kate he saw the strength and stability that he has always yearned for. You can be sure that William will be a hands-on father, changing nappies and taking his turn with the baby at night. The teachings and advice of his late mother, who set out as a royal bride anxious for a normal, happy marriage, have blended perfectly with the life he found at the Middletons.

His suppers on a tray in front of the television at their Anglesey home are likely to play a big part in his own royal style as he leaves the RAF — possibly soon — and concentrates fully on being a father as well as a royal prince.

There was a brief period when his own father put duty to one side to spend time in the nursery with baby William at bath time. But it didn’t last long. ‘I can see William wanting to take time off in the modern paternity-leave style, so that he bonds with his child,’ says a family friend.

‘Those terrible times when he was very small and things were bad between his mother and father have left an indelible mark on him. He would want to make sure that his child is never able to hear him and Kate having cross words.’

As for Prince Charles, his joy at being told he is to be a grandfather at the age of 64 is bound to be tempered by the knowledge that there will now be three people waiting for the throne.

With the help of Camilla — a grandmother already four times over, through son Tom and daughter Laura — the role will not be entirely new to him. But friends have found that he is not entirely comfortable with small children scampering about the place.

Indeed, it is well known in palace circles that the reason Camilla spends so much time at Raymill House — her own Wiltshire home, 17 miles from Highgrove, which she kept on after marrying Charles in 2005 — is so that she can see lots of her grandchildren there.

According to courtiers, Charles does not welcome the interruption of ‘little people’ at Highgrove because he finds it hard to relax when they are charging noisily about. But this, inevitably, will change now.

Indeed, life at Highgrove will have to change — marginally, at least — so that he can accommodate his expanding family, including his new grandchild, there.

After all, Michael and Carole Middleton now own a £4.5 million manor house in Berkshire, with plenty of room for family and grandchildren to stay and acres for them to roam and ride, and Prince Charles is known to be anxious for it not to be thought that William and his family are spending most of their time with the in-laws, rather than with him.

In the past, such rivalries within the Royal Family have ended the same way — with the in-laws virtually excluded. But William has pointedly changed all that.

There is a deep poignancy in William’s clear need, and indeed determination, to be a conventional father and family man.

For he looks like becoming the very kind of man that his mother longed to marry, one who married for love and who, as she dreamed, lived happily ever after. - Daily Mail