Will and Kate on The Crown Season 6

As Netflix releases its second installment of The Crown’s sixth and final season on Dec. 14, fans will be met with a fictionalized retelling of how Kate Middleton and Prince William’s love story began.

Dealing with the years following Princess Diana’s death, the season shows the royal family grappling with their new realities in the early 2000s. Prince William and Prince Harry are coming of age without their mother, and adjusting to being teenagers in the public eye.

In episode 5, Willsmania, swaths of young girls from across the globe are shown writing to William to offer their condolences and admiration. On official engagements, crowds of adoring fans are seen screaming for the young prince’s attention. 

But it is not until episode 7, Alma Mater, that we see how William first encounters Kate. The historical drama suggests that in the years before Diana’s death, Kate was shopping with her mother Carole when she saw William and his mother selling The Big Issue magazine to fundraise for a homelessness charity. 

The suggestion is that Kate develops a crush in her early years, which, through her mother’s encouragement, leads her to upend her academic plans to swap to William’s art history course at St. Andrews University in Scotland. While the two start as friends, the drama depicts William as having a crush on Kate from early on, which intensifies when she wears the now-iconic see-through dress during a fashion show. The show borrows from reality, but royal experts say the drama deviates from history in many ways when it comes to the couple’s early courtship.

“The fact that they’re painting Carole as this avaricious matriarch who is determined that her daughter married or dated Prince William is not believable,” says royal commentator Claudia Joseph. “You can’t engineer a romance.” 

Here’s what really happened during the Prince and Princess of Wales’ early years.

Read more: The Crown Was a Six-Season Argument for the End of the Monarchy—Even If It Didn’t Know It

William and Kate first met through mutual friends

The Crown shows William and Kate’s first unofficial meeting taking place during a chance encounter on the street, and their official meeting taking place during a class at St Andrews. But in reality the pair operated in similar social circles and had briefly met before university.

“It had all been presented very much to us as a sort of totally accidental meeting,” Katie Nicholl, author of Kate: The Future Queen tells TIME, adding that the pair had a fleeting encounter through a mutual friend but didn’t not know each other well. “Kate was at Marlborough school in Wiltshire, and was mixing in those sorts of very high society country circles. During one of those meetings, I was told by a very reliable source that she was introduced to William in a very casual and informal setting,” Nicholl said. She adds that the couple were placed in the same university dorms and likely got to know each other there.

Joseph says the couple’s lifestyles aligned very well and their similarities made it highly likely they would meet. “They had friends in common, they went to neighboring schools that played sports against each other, they grew up in the home counties,” she says, referencing the regions that surround London.   

Kate changed her university plans

At a press conference depicted in the show, William announces his plans to take a gap year to travel in Belize, Chile, Botswana, and Kenya, before studying History of Art at St. Andrews, a university not too far from Balmoral Castle. William’s publicly announced plans appear to influence Carole, who encourages her daughter to swap from Edinburgh University to St. Andrews, and also undertake a gap year for similar travel opportunities. 

Little is known about the full truth behind this suggestion. Nicholl cites this as “the big who knows” question, adding that Kate did decide to change her choice of school at the last minute and defer a year. “I spoke to some of our teachers at St. Andrews, who said that it was very out of character for Kate, that once she’d made her mind up on something she very rarely changed her mind,” Nicholl says. The decision was also a risky one, as applications by 2001 had increased by 44 percent on previous years with the news that William would be attending. The surge of applications was reportedly dominated by women from America. 

“She found herself at the same university, on the same course, in the same halls of residence as the future king. Now, did her mother play a hand in that? Who knows? I never got to the bottom of that,” Nicholl says. “But regardless, these two fell in love for genuine reasons.” 

Their relationship was platonic at first

While The Crown suggests that William and Kate both had feelings of attraction as soon as they became aware of one another, in reality they built a platonic friendship first. The show is right about William and Kate initially dating other people at university, but experts say William did not even consider Kate more than a friend at first. 

“They started off just as friends. They played tennis together and went swimming together in the mornings. If William couldn’t make a lecture, Kate would take notes for him. So this sort of lovely friendship flourished,” says Nicholl. William was also drawn to Kate’s friendship, adds Nicholl, because she didn’t act impressed by his royal status while other peers would make a bigger deal of it.

Joseph adds that Kate was also “instrumental” in convincing William not to drop out of university, and to change his course to Geography, as we see depicted in the show. Nonetheless, his view of her only changed during a 2002 fashion show where Kate made a lasting impression. Still, the pair would not become romantically linked until 2003.

Kate’s see-through dress was a turning point

Will and Kate on The Crown Season 6

During her first year of university, Kate wore an entirely sheer dress to walk in a campus charity fashion show themed “The Art of Seduction.” As teasers for The Crown’s recreation of this event emerged in November, fans instantly recognized the iconic dress, which was originally designed by Charlotte Todd and cost less than $50. In 2011, the dress exceeded expectations when it sold at auction for $125,000. 

“It wasn’t until the catwalk show, that he thought of Kate in that way at all,” Joseph says.

“That was the moment where William turned to one of his friends who was sitting within the audience and said, ‘Wow, Kate’s hot,’” says Nicholl. She adds that the piece was originally a skirt that Kate was due to wear with chunky knitwear, but she converted it into a dress at the last moment.  

The drama shows that Kate and William kiss after the fashion show and their relationship begins here. But Nicholl says that, while William tried to make a pass at Kate during an afterparty, she was still dating someone else and turned him down. They became a couple while living in the same home during the second year of their studies and—other than two brief instances where they broke up—their match was made.   

“Kate will be the first queen to walk the catwalk in her lingerie. The first queen to have lived with a future king,” Joseph says of the couple’s relatable beginnings. “It’s a different era.”

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