For all the anxiety and heartache of the past few months coronavirus has taught us one important lesson – the value of a life lived more slowly and peacefully. We've all been forced to pare back our lives to the people and relationships that really matter. In dating, instant gratification has been replaced with socially distanced videocalls and texting, a 21st century version of the kind of slow-burning courtships that our parents and grandparents may have enjoyed.
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In royal circles long romances are often encouraged because of the pressure on relationships in the public eye and the high stakes should they falter. It wasn't until ten years after setting eyes on each other that Kate Middleton and her Prince got their glorious Westminster Abbey wedding. For the Queen and Prince Philip, introduced as teenagers, there was a whole lot of growing up to do and a war to go through before George VI gave them permission to plight their troth.
One of the joys of their seven-decade marriage is a large family, in which some of the happiest and most successful unions have been years in the making. Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank, Prince Charles and Camilla, and the Earl and Countess of Wessex all took their time before tying the knot. It's a similar story in other ruling houses: Sweden's Crown Princess Victoria spent eight years dating personal trainer Daniel Westling before the King and the government consented to the match and in Monaco the sovereign, Prince Albert, waited ten years until his bride Charlene Wittstock had achieved her goals as a pro swimmer.
Prince Charles and Camilla
The record, though, surely goes to Charles and Camilla, who waited more than three decades to celebrate their 'happily ever after'. After a sweet but youthful romance, they married and had children with other people, only to reunite and wed in 2005. No wonder the Queen compared her son's route to matrimony to the Grand National steeplechase which took place on the same day as his wedding. Congratulating the bride and groom during a humorous speech which prompted laughter and cheers, she welcomed them to the "winners" enclosure. The royal racing enthusiast continued: "They have overcome Becher's Brook and The Chair and all kinds of other terrible obstacles. They have come through and I'm very proud and wish them well. My son is home and dry with the woman he loves."
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Prince William and Kate
The turning point in the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's relationship came one sultry summer night in 2007, when Kate was Prince William's guest at an Army party in Dorset. Everyone was in the mood for fun at the saucy Moulin Rouge-themed soirée and the couple were spotted flirting and kissing on the dancefloor before retiring to his quarters at midnight. It was a passionate reunion after a brief but painful break-up, of which she later admitted: "I wasn't very happy about it but actually it made me a stronger person and I really valued that time."
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Next year, it'll be two decades since Kate bumped into him at St Andrews University. She recalls "scuttling off, red-faced", but the pair soon became close pals. The friendship later developed into a deep love, although they did at times give each other space. One summer William went sailing around the Greek islands with friends; on other occasions his army training or her work in London kept them apart. But confident Kate was no walkover, remarking when a friend commented on her luck in dating a Prince, "He's lucky to have me."
Now that they're a rock-solid couple, who celebrated their ninth wedding anniversary amid the pandemic, it's hard to imagine those tempestuous moments. But it's those very ups and downs, and the time they took to get to know each other, that paved the way for this stable union.
The Queen and Prince Philip
The times were even more uncertain than they are now during the courtship of William's grandparents, then an exiled Greek Prince and the heiress to the throne, Princess Elizabeth. On leave from the war, the sailor Prince would come roaring into the forecourt of Buckingham Palace in an MG sports car in a hurry to see Lilibet, her governess recalled. The Princess's suitor won over her parents, and ahead of their wedding in 1947, he wrote to the Queen Mother of his luck in having "been spared in the war and seen victory, and to have fallen in love completely and unreservedly".
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Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank
That love has sustained them through a lifetime of dramas, of which the current health crisis is just the latest. Their granddaughter Eugenie´s husband has also been a rock through the tribulations of the York family. Jack is so close to his wife's parents, Prince Andrew and Sarah, Duchess of York, that the four of them are quarantining together in Royal Lodge, Windsor. When they first crossed paths on a 2011 skiing trip, the bubbly young Princess described herself as being "all butterflies and nerves". Later that very night she phoned her mum to confide that there was someone special.
Though it was clearly love at first sight, the duo sensibly tested the waters and during a two-year period Eugenie even lived in the US, holding down a career-boosting job at a New York art auction house, while her beloved stayed behind in London. Once engaged, she said: "We met when I was 20 and Jack was 24, fell in love, and we have the same passions and drive for life."
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Prince Edward and Sophie
Down the road from the Yorks live Prince Edward and the Countess of Wessex, who wed six years in. Their road to the altar was not without speed bumps. His biographer Ingrid Seward wrote: "Like all couples, there were moments when the effort of adjusting led to rows and disagreements and, in the summer of 1994, they came precariously close to parting. But Sophie was not prepared to let the relationship flounder." After a number of divorces in the royal 'Firm', the monarch's youngest son wanted to be sure. Edward was looking for a lasting love that would, to borrow words written by Prince Philip decades earlier about the Queen, "withstand the shocks directed at us but also have a positive existence for the good".
And the pair have stood the test of time, with two thriving children and a loving and successful partnership of 20 years. Sophie has become both a favourite of the Queen and a pillar of the monarchy. In the last few weeks alone she's been packing lunches for vulnerable people, opened a new Coronavirus hospital by videocall and promoted resources for families feeling the strain.
Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel of Sweden
In Sweden Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel have also kept the nation's spirits up. "They came from totally different backgrounds," said the journalist who broke the story of the relationship between the future Queen and her fitness instructor from the forests of rural Sweden. "Everyone said it wouldn't work." At their wedding in 2010, Daniel acknowledged the public reaction. The good-natured groom joked that while he was "perhaps not a frog like the one in the beginning of the Grimm Brothers fairytale, he was certainly not a Prince". He went on "the transformation didn't come with the first kiss, but with the support of the wise King and Queen, who were full of wisdom, experience and had good hearts". Today it's hard to imagine a more devoted duo than Victoria and Daniel, who have two gorgeous children.
Prince Albert and Princess Charlene of Monaco
Sport united another royal couple, Prince Albert and Charlene of Monaco, when she caught his eye during a swimming championship in the principality in 2000. An Olympian who represented South Africa, she was "incredibly flattered" to be asked on a date. "After seeing me swim, Albert asked for permission to take me out. We spent the whole evening, laughing and talking."
That one evening didn't immediately lead to marriage. First, they had to get used to each other's worlds. In the case of the straight-talking athlete with a lively South African wit that meant a new language, palace protocol and ballgowns. Later, Charlene would laugh that she´d undergone a "trial by fire" as she took on the role of consort. But the swimmer found her feet on the dry land of Monaco and a life of purpose as the mother of twins, with a foundation promoting sports, opportunities for young people and education.
On the tenth anniversary celebrations of Albert's reign in 2015, she moved him to tears with a speech in French, her first in public in the language, declaring him "Prince of my heart". Just one more sign that slowly but surely is one way to win when it comes to love.
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