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Meet Kate, the prince's first real girlfriend

London, March 31: Kate Middleton is Prince William's first real girlfriend.

The royal love birds met at St Andrews University where they were both studying history of art, although William has now switched to geography.

Kate is credited with persuading the homesick young Prince to continue his studies when he considered leaving university in his first year.

Soon after the attractive brunette caught William's eye, he paid '200 for a front seat at a charity student fashion show where Kate strode the catwalk in a see-through lace top worn over a black bra.

They began sharing an elegant four-bedroom Edwardian townhouse in the Fife town at the start of their second academic year after living in student halls of residence.

Kate and William were joined by two friends, one of them Fergus Boyd, who was at Eton with the Prince. The group were often seen out on the town, drinking at their favourite bars, Ma Bells and the West Port. The following year the four students moved into a rented cottage outside the town.

Kate and the Prince share a love of sport and the outdoor life.

Their relationship has apparently flourished during romantic weekends alone on the Queen's Balmoral estate, at an outlying and secluded cottage given to William and his younger brother Prince Harry.

Kate is the eldest child of Michael and Carole Middleton, of Bucklebury, near Newbury, Berks, who run a mail-order business called Party Pieces which sells toys and party paraphernalia.

She was privately educated at the '15,000-a-year Marlborough College where she was a keen netball and hockey player. Former classmate Charlie Leslie described Kate as 'level-headed and down-to-earth'.

She said: 'Kate is an absolutely phenomenal girl ' really popular, talented, creative and sporty. She was captain of the school hockey team and played in the first pair at tennis.'

A college master, who asked not to be named, said: 'I don't think you'd find anyone in Marlborough with a bad word to say about her. She excelled in all her subjects and was an A-grade pupil across the board. Not only that, she was an accomplished and enthusiastic sportswoman.'

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