LONDON (Reuters) - Kate Middleton, the daughter of entrepreneurs, went from friend to lover when living with the future king, Prince William, at university in Scotland.
Impatient newspapers dubbed Middleton "waity Katie" after their courtship lasted for nearly a decade before William, second-in-line to the British throne, finally popped the question during a holiday in Kenya last month.
They will be married next year.
The engagement seals an on-off relationship that began when William and Kate, now both 28, were students at St Andrews University in Scotland from 2001.
"They were able to get to know each other quite uniquely -- they had four years together away from the royal circus. They lived a normal kind of life. They started as friends which has to be the best recipe," said royal biographer Penny Junor.
Stylish, discreet and blessed with demure good looks -- royal watchers are delighted at the youthful addition to Britain's royal family.
And the comparisons with William's late mother, the ill-fated Diana who died in a car crash in 1997 after a high-speed chase pursued by the paparazzi, are endless.
"Everybody has been waiting for this new injection of blood and excitement into the royal family and Kate is certainly going to provide that," Ian Lloyd, a royal writer and photographer told Sky News.
"She's fabulous to photograph and she looks the part. She looks elegant, she looks stylish, the right person for a future king. It's wonderful from that point of view," he added.
Whereas Diana was a troubled young aristocrat scarred by her parents' bitter divorce, Kate is the eldest child in a stable family unit.
Born in January 1982, Kate is the eldest child of Michael and Carole Middleton, who became millionaires running Party Pieces, a mail order firm supplying party accessories.
The epitome of Middle England, they live in a five-bedroom house in the heart of the countryside in the county of Berkshire, west of London.
Kate was educated at private schools, ending at Marlborough College, western England, where she was said to be a popular girl who excelled at sports like field hockey.
Newspapers speculated that her mother, a former air hostess, purposefully steered Kate into the same university as William, on whom her daughter had a teenage crush. At St Andrews, she was photographed wearing sexy lingerie at a charity fashion show where Prince William had front row seats. They shared a luxury farmhouse with two other housemates on the outskirts of the seaside town famed for its golf, and romance blossomed.
In 2004, she was pictured skiing with William, his father and his brother Harry on their annual trip to Switzerland, sending the paparazzi into a feeding frenzy.
Tabloid rumors of an imminent engagement reached fever pitch in late 2006 when she attended William's graduation from the elite Sandhurst military academy.
Her family joined the royals for lunch afterwards, a sign the House of Windsor was ready to admit her into "The Firm."
However, the couple briefly split in 2007 after William was posted around the country as part of his military training.
Since getting back together later that year, there has been persistent talk about a possible engagement.
Editing by Paul Casciato