The royal breakup: What really happened

Theirs is a storybook romance — but the course of love did not always run smoothly for Prince William and Kate Middleton. In “William and Kate: A Royal Love Story,” Christopher Andersen reveals the intimate details of their celebrated courtship, including the person who was really behind their headline-making breakup, and how Kate won her man back.

In this excerpt, the young prince faces a hard decision as separation strains his and Kate's relationship.

A prince at a crossroads

William had plenty on his mind: His brother had been told in late February that he had gotten his wish to fight. Despite heightened concerns that he would be targeted by terrorists, Harry received his orders to ship out for Iraq with the rest of the Household Cavalry Regiment's A Squadron in May.

Frustrated in the knowledge that his combat training was probably just a futile exercise, William nonetheless arrived in Dorset on March 16 to begin a ten-week course in tank warfare. Kate, waging a public relations war of her own, plowed ahead on her own.

Read complete coverage at TODAY's royal wedding blog, The Windsor Knot

Just one year earlier at the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Kate was asked at the last minute by Prince Charles and Camilla to join them in the royal box — a huge step toward establishing her as a probable royal bride. Rather than just show up and hope to be invited, this year Kate wrangled a formal invitation. Once she arrived wearing a jaunty beret and an eye-catching periwinkle blue jacket, Kate was escorted by royal protection officers directly to the box.

The next day's papers were filled with photos of Kate cheering for the horses she bet on to win, and jumping up and waving her arms when they did. However convincing her performance, Kate realized she and Wills — now immersed in the world of hotheaded young officers training for battle — were growing further and further apart.

Just how far started to become apparent on March 22 — Second Lieutenant Wales's first night on the town with the rest of the hard-drinking men known throughout the British army as the "Booze and the Royals." At Elements, a nightclub in the nearby town of Bournemouth, William knocked back pints of Stella Artois with sambuca chasers while dozens of women in skimpy outfits took pictures of the prince with their cell phones.

"Word went round that William was there playing cheesy eighties music, so we went to take a look," recalled eighteen-year-old Ana Ferreira, a stunning brunette international-relations student from Brazil. "He was dancing, looking a bit wooden — I don't think he would be any good at the samba! But there were lots of girls hanging around him."

Soon, he had Ferreira on one side and her friend Cecilia on the other, posing for pictures. With his right hand, a grinning Wills reached down and grasped Ferreira's breast — an image that ultimately made its way into the papers. "I was a little bit drunk myself," she remembered, "but I felt something brush my breast. I thought it couldn't be the future king, but now that I've seen the picture, it's no wonder he's got a smile on his face! He has big, manly hands and certainly knows what to do with them." (Later, Ferreira e-mailed the photo of William and his wandering hand to her family in Brazil. "My mother thought it was very funny," Ferreira said. "She is pleased I met Prince William even though he was a little naughty.")

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Later that same evening, Wills was "a little naughty" yet again — this time with a six-foot-tall, blond, nineteen-year-old performing arts student named Lisa Agar. "Come on," he said, grabbing Agar's arm and leading her to the dance floor. "Show us how it's done. You're too good for this place."

"He was being very flirty and I was quite taken aback but just went for it," said Agar, who chalked up his behavior to too many pints followed by too many shots of sambuca. "I call that stuff rocket fuel," she said. "It does give you a huge hit very quickly and gets you rolling drunk."

As the evening progressed, the rocket fuel had its desired effect. "He was very touchy-feely and quite pissed," Agar said. "He was not a shy boy and didn't talk about Kate."

Around 3:30 a.m., Wills invited Agar back to the barracks for a nightcap. When she balked, the prince pressed her. "Are you coming back?" he asked. "It'll be a laugh. Come on. We need to go."

Agar and a friend followed the soldiers back to the base and were led into the barracks lounge. They spent the next twenty minutes "lying about on a leather chair and sofas," Agar recalled. In the end, she wondered if the prince was depressed over problems in his relationship with Kate. At 4:15 a.m. the prince announced that he would have to get some sleep, and Agar left. "Strangely, I felt sorry for William," she said, "and I thought maybe he was cheering himself up."

When Wills and Kate dined on March 31 at the aptly named King's Head Inn in the Cotswolds with their old friends Hugh and Rose van Cutsem, much of the conversation centered on their wedding less than two years earlier. But the van Cutsems' talk of marital bliss did little to mask what one of their party called the "strange fog of disillusion" that had settled over Wills and Kate.

Kate told her mother and her sister that William had "changed" — the result, she believed, of the physical distance between them and the enormous strain that distance was putting on their relationship. "I think it's really tough on her," said artist and longtime family friend Gemma Billington, "but she handles it well …. It's funny how you think people are different, but we are all just muddling our way through life. Whoever you happen to be going out with, you have to take the rough with the smooth."

Things were, in fact, far more serious than Kate imagined. Now that he was embarking on a military career, William complained that his relationship with Kate felt "confining" and "claustrophobic." More important, the recurring nightmare he was having about her being chased to her death by the paparazzi was making him ever more anxious.

William went to his father for guidance. Ironically, Prince Charles's affection for Kate was precisely what led him to recommend dumping her. He did not bother asking if Wills and Kate were in love; when asked that question after proposing to Diana, Charles famously answered, "Whatever love means." But he did ask his son if he planned to marry "in the end."

Pointing out that he was just shy of his twenty-fifth birthday, William told his father he was not ready to promise marriage to anyone. Then end it now, Charles urged his son. By stringing her along, Papa said, William was being "completely unfair to Kate." Equally important, Charles, who had been pressured by his own father to marry Diana, was not about to make the same mistake with his own son.

Charles knew from experience that William was likely to be seen as a cad for callously breaking up with the loyal Miss Middleton for no apparent reason. Before handing his poor grandmother yet another public relations grenade, it was best to give her fair warning. Rather than approach the Queen directly, William asked his grandfather, Prince Philip, to convey the news to her.

"The Queen was disappointed, of course," a former Palace equerry said. "Prince William and Miss Middleton had been together such a long time. But it was not the Queen's decision to make. She did not wish to interfere one way or the other. She did not want him rushing into a commitment if he wasn't absolutely certain this was the one."

Eager to escape from the London scene, Kate joined her mother in Dublin for Gemma Williamson's art exhibition at the city's Urban Retreat Gallery, followed by a quick visit to the National Gallery of Ireland. It was a very different scene back in Dorset, where Wills and his fellow Booze and Royals officers were causing a commotion at a bar called Bliss. An audience of several hundred had paid to hear acoustic guitarist Dan Baker. "This gig," Baker later said, "was the pinnacle of my career. I've practiced for years in the hope of a chance to perform like this."

Baker was in the middle of a song when one of Wills's group climbed onto the stage, grabbed the microphone and yelled, "Please stop playing these crap songs. The prince wants dance music!" After a few minutes of awkward silence, the prince and his raucous Army buddies departed. Baker understandably claimed to be "staggered" by the incident. "It was," he said, "the rudest thing I've ever experienced."

Nursing a hangover the following morning, William was unprepared for the news that Second Lieutenant Joanna Dyer, one of his closest friends at Sandhurst, had been killed along with three other British soldiers by a roadside bomb in Iraq. William was already in the midst of a total reassessment of his priorities. Now the shocking death of a comrade-in-arms convinced him that some major changes were in order.

Since 2003, William had spent at least part of the Easter holiday in the warm embrace of the Middleton clan. This year, however, he declined their invitation without explanation — another ominous sign. Instead, Wills agreed to meet Kate that weekend at her London flat.

Kate had always been careful not overplay her hand. She never complained about his nightclub antics, and for six years had remained mum on the subject of marriage. But now that she was forced to deal with the paparazzi on her own while Wills was serving in the military, Kate needed a commitment — and the promise of royal protection that came with being a royal fiancée. "It wasn't just 'I want to be a princess,' " noted a former member of Wills's royal protection squad. "There were some genuinely scary moments when the crowds and the press were chasing her. She was, to some extent, afraid."

Alas, William was — for the time being, at least — unwilling to make a commitment. Nor was he willing to maintain the status quo. Since Kate was still not entitled to royal protection, the threat to her safety was simply too great. "The press will make your life unbearable as long as we're together," he reportedly told her. "I don't want you suffering the way my mother did."

Kate was not willing to give up quite so easily. She asked him to consider all that they had been to each other, what he really wanted out of life — and how they could make their relationship work. "She told him," a friend from Bucklebury said, "that he made her happy and that she believed she made him happy, and that was all that mattered in the end. But he just shook his head and said that for someone like him, it wasn't that simple."

The next day — April 11, 2007 — William called Kate at Jigsaw on his cell phone. She excused herself, went to a back conference room out of earshot of the other buyers, shut the door, and for the next hour heard Wills sputter the reasons he was breaking up with her. "I can't ..." he stuttered. "It just isn't going to work. It isn't fair to you ..."

Excerpted with permission from "William and Kate: A Royal Love Story," by Christopher Andersen. © 2010 Simon & Schuster.