Kate Middleton gets a fairy-tale ending

December 2006: William is commissioned as an army officer in front of the queen at Sandhurst and joins the Household Cavalry as a second lieutenant. Middleton attends the ceremony. Photo: Kate Middleton sits in the stands as her boyfriend, Britain's Prince William, takes part in the Sovereign's Parade at The Royal Military Academy in Camberley, England, Dec. 15, 2006. Pictures: Prince William and Kate Middleton Pictures: Kate Middleton Complete coverage: Britain's royal wedding

The wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton at Westminster Abbey is the "happily ever after" ending of a fairy tale. Of course, every fairy tale has a beginning.

Catherine Elizabeth Middleton -- Kate, as she's called -- was born on Jan. 9, 1982. The eldest daughter of Carole and Michael Middleton was raised in the upscale village of Bucklebury, a refined but not regal place.

When Kate first met William, she said: "I actually think I went bright red...and sort of scuffled off, feeling very shy about meeting (him.)"

That's not exactly proper protocol when meeting a prince. English girls learn they must curtsey, and they practice their greetings.

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On her mother's side, Kate's family is made up of coal miners and road sweepers. On her father's side, there are lots of land gentry and solicitors.

Kate attended the prestigious Marlborough College, where she excelled in sports, and then went on to St. Andrews University in Scotland to study art history.

"She integrated perfectly well with everybody else in the class. In fact, there was nothing distinctive about her at all I would say. She didn't act with any airs or graces," said Peter Humfrey, an art history professor at St. Andrews.

She still managed to attract the attention of a very distinctive classmate. At first they were just friends. In 2002, however, there was a catwalk, and cupid's arrow.

"He'd probably only ever seen her in jeans and a sloppy sweater, and I think it's the first time that William really thought that he fancied this girl that was already his friend," said Majesty Magazine's Ingrid Seward.

Unlike the dress, the couple revealed very little publicly. They kept the romance under wraps until 2004, when paparazzi snapped a shot of Prince William kissing his Kate.

"Well, the media's reaction to the kissing in Klosters was phenomenal. I mean it was so exciting," Seward said.

William and Kate had already been living together for two years.

"There wasn't anything too scandalous going on that certainly anyone in the modern age would be bothered about," said royal watcher Victoria Arbiter.

Still, Kate was about to experience the royal pain of constant media attention. They called her "Waity Katie," patiently waiting for her Prince Charming to pop the question. Last November, the waiting was over, and William presented Kate the same ring Prince Charles gave Diana.

In an interview, Prince William said: "It's my mother's engagement ring and I thought it would be quite nice because obviously she's not going to be around to share any of the fun and excitement of it all. I guess that was my way of keeping her close to it all."

Like Diana, Kate has been in a media maelstrom ever since as tabloids question everything from her purity to whether or not she was bullied by mean girls when she was younger.

"I'd say she's very much got the last laugh because she's bagged the prince everybody wanted," Seward said.

Arbiter said Kate's maturity helps her.

"What was so difficult with Diana was she was 19 when she got engaged. She still called Prince Charles "Sir" until the night before the wedding. Kate is 29. She's a grown woman," Arbiter said.

Now, Kate is the envy of a new generation of little girls who are seeing for the first time a fairy tale ending for someone just like them.