Daniela Elser: Dark truth behind viral TikTok video of Kate Middleton’s pre-royal daysAugust 2, 2022
Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge attend the Commonwealth Service on Commonwealth Day at Westminster Abbey in March. Photo / AP
It was a dark day in London’s SWI postcode in July 2021 when the news spread: Mahiki, the favourite spot for 20-something blue bloods to guzzle overpriced cocktails, was shutting its doors.
There were no more famous patrons of Mahiki than Prince William and the woman formerly known as Kate Middleton.
From 2005 onwards, the duo were regulars there and at Kensington’s Boujis, falling out the Mahiki’s mock Tiki entrance on Dover St in the wee hours, with paparazzi and bolshy PPOs (personal protection officers, the proper title of the royal family’s official bodyguards) jostling as the couple would blearily make their way to a waiting car.
These days, the duo – now obviously the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge – are the picture of dullsville domesticity, the sort of people who probably think a third glass of pinot grigio is really pushing the boat out on a Saturday night.
However, a whole new generation has been learning about Wills and Kate’s halcyon days downing Treasure Chests, Mahiki’s signature combination of rum, peach liquor, pineapple juice and champagne (I know, I don’t fancy the sound of it either) thanks to a viral TikTok that has so far racked up more than four million views.
The 20-second offering is simply comprised of photo after photo of a young Kate and William in their partying days, looking hilariously worse for wear, a galaxy away from the staid, sober marrieds they are today.
The whole thing is cheeky and hilarious, making William and Kate look like the epitome of wonderfully messy, cocktail-guzzling 20-somethings.
But, the reality of Kate’s life back then was much, much less fun. It’s time to take a walk down Middleton memory lane – and things are about to get much more sinister.
There is some debate about when William and Kate met: some argue they would have come across one another when both were at school, while others suggest they only really got to know each other when they pitched up at St Andrew’s University in Scotland in 2001.
Anywho, study notes were passed, Cupid’s arrow flew and soon William had his first official girlfriend. (When they later moved in together as students, she put up gingham curtains, he had a Champagne fridge installed and up went “a huge oil painting of his grandmother” in the dining room, according to biographer Katie Nicholl.)
Up until they graduated, they enjoyed a fairly protected existence. The press had agreed to leave William alone while he was studying, meaning that aside from only the very, very occasional blurry shot, they lived a pretty normal life.
For example, there are no photos of the first time they reportedly kissed in public in May 2004 at a rugby match – because there was not a snapper to be seen.
That all changed when they graduated and moved to London in 2005. In 2006 William started his training at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. Kate, meanwhile, moved into the $3.5 million Chelsea apartment that her parents had previously bought and the onslaught began.
For nearly five full years, Kate was chased, harangued, dogged and generally harassed by certain quarters of the media. She was photographed at the supermarket in her tracksuit pants, repeatedly at airports and train stations, with her parents in London, with her family in the Caribbean, shopping, out with her sister, at cafes, on holiday, in taxis, in cars, and in so many other locations that it would take a doctoral thesis and the patience of a saint to fully enumerate.
Some paps used to yell things like “B**ch,” “W**re” and “Sl*g, look this way!” at her to try and get a reaction. A photo of Kate making some terrible face or losing it was far more valuable than her just going about her business.
What is remarkable, in hindsight, is her poise and grace under fire. There are not any videos of her crying, hysterically yelling at the press or crumpling as you or I probably would.
Nothing Kate did was too prosaic to become press fodder. When she was snapped taking her rubbish out, the photos appeared in nearly every national British newspaper. (“Bin There, Done That. William’s Girl Mucks In” crowed the Evening Standard.) Later that year, she was filmed waiting for a bus – and it made the evening news.
If you want to understand how downright hellish her life was, watch this video which shows her begging a couple of photographers to her alone. “Please leave me. Stop it,” she can be heard asking, her tone desperate.
See, right up until the second that Kate got Diana, Princess of Wales’ enormous sapphire on her left hand, Kate occupied a miserable no man’s land.
She might have been one of the most famous women in the world, she might have been able to sail past the security checkpoint at Clarence House and get to regularly snog the bloke who will one day get his to preside over his very own government, armed services and church, but she was still an ordinary citizen.
Up until it was determined that Kate would be joining the House of Windsor, she had no official status, meaning she received no real protection. Instead, she had to run the gauntlet of marauding snappers and tabloid hounds day in and day out, all on her own.
Tensions famously came to a head on her 25th birthday in 2007, when tabloid speculation of an engagement reached fever pitch. Around 30 photographers waited outside her apartment, surrounding her physically and hounding her to her car where they surrounded it.
All that William could do, somewhat impotently, was put out an unprecedented statement calling out the “paparazzi harassment of his girlfriend. He wants more than anything for it to stop.”
It did not stop, of course.
The harassment continued: At one point, the apartment next to the Middleton’s in Chelsea was being renovated and scaffolding was erected. Kate later found out that workers there were being paid to essentially spy on her movements for a certain snapper.
One Christmas, the Middleton family headed to a remote part of Cornwall to celebrate. One photographer tracked them there, forcing Kate to retain the Queen’s lawyers Harbottle & Lewis to stop the publication of the photos.
In 2006, Kate took a part-time job at the fashion brand Jigsaw as an accessories buyer. The company’s owner Belle Robinson later said of her most famous employee: “There were days when there were TV crews at the end of the drive. We’d say: ‘Listen, do you want to go out the back way?’ And she’d say: ‘To be honest, they’re going to hound us until they’ve got the picture. So why don’t I just go, get the picture done, and then they’ll leave us alone’.”
Cast your mind back: There was only about six months between Diana being outed as Prince Charles’ latest squeeze and their engagement being announced, meaning she only faced a comparatively short trial-by-paparazzi before she got bodyguards.
Kate single-handedly dealt with this hell daily from 2005 until the very end of 2010.
Adding to the now duchess’ misery was what was also written about her as she faced a constant stream of criticism and mockery, the target of unyielding derision because she was ostensibly too thin, too middle class or too lazy. She was dubbed “Waity Katie” and painted as a pathetically retrograde figure, a wannabe grimly holding on for her royal boyfriend to make it official.
In July 2007 the UK government’s Culture, Media and Sport Committee put out a report titled Self-Regulation of the Press that found Kate was the victim of “clear and persistent harassment” by the paparazzi.
All of which is, I suppose, a way of saying that Kate did not have it easy by any stretch of the imagination. Sure, she got the bloke and will one day get her very own crown but were her years of royal girlfriend-dom a non-stop, giddy ride of partying in Mayfair? Posh knees-ups and champers for days?
No bloody way.
So you know all those photos of William and Kate looking like they had been having a simply smashing time? One regular at Boujis, one of their other favourite haunts, has previously said that they used to spy Kate in the loos putting on makeup before they braved the paparazzi madness.
Just imagine having to be so eternally careful; to always have to be on your guard. And all of this was before the really hard, dull work of being a working royal even began.
Quite simply, there aren’t enough Treasure Chests in the world to make any of this sound even remotely attractive.
• Daniela Elser is a royal expert and a writer with more than 15 years’ experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles