In all my years as a royal insider, there has never been a scene quite like it. Within moments of the news of the royal engagement being announced, a small gathering of élite court correspondents – Witchell, Jenny Bond, yours truly and a few others – took tea at St James's Palace with Prince William and his radiant bride-to-be Kate Middleton.
What they told us during that off-the-record chat must remain private – suffice it to say that the announcement yesterday of the Westminster Abbey wedding date was no surprise to some of us! – but there can be no hiding one joyous fact: "The Firm" has reinvented itself once again. It has done glamour with Princess Diana, fun with Fergie – neither had been an unqualified success. Now, it is going for normality. It has found its Princess Ordinary.
Make no mistake, there is nothing grand about young Kate Middleton! Her parents may be multi-millionaires with a sprawling mansion in Berkshire, she may have been public school-educated, own her own London flat and take her holidays in Mustique but, beneath the surface, she is simply "our Kate", a modern girl like thousands of others. Named after Katie Boyle, the fragrant TV presenter and face of the Camay soap ads ("You get a little lovelier each day with fabulous pink Camay!"), Kate was a sweet, bright child who "fitted in" wherever she was. "She was serene and unflappable, even at the age of three," recalls a family friend.
It was her mother Carole who felt young Kate's adaptability might work against her. Known as "Mile-High Middleton" when she was an air stewardess – not because of her behaviour, which was impeccable, but because of her social ambition – Carole decided to send her daughter to Marlborough College to acquire a personality. Marlborough prides itself on developing character; it has weekly Personality Classes, during which pupils study the lives of charismatic Old Marlburians, including Chris de Burgh and cricket commentator Christopher Martin-Jenkins. Kate's old school would have been proud of the personality she showed us in the privacy of St James's Palace. "I hope I can make a difference, even in a small way," she said, glancing at Wills with a tell-tale twinkle in her eye. Princess Ordinary and her royal Romeo are simply a young couple in love. It is truly a privilege to be able to share that private moment, and others in the future.