7 AUGUST 2007

Kate Middleton's participation in a cross-Channel paddling challenge is off amid concerns over security and the publicity her involvement could attract. The athletic brunette pulled out of the all-female squad at the weekend, reluctantly telling team mates she won't be joining them for the 21-mile trip from Dover to France, after being advised the race would become a major media event.

Newspaper reports suggest royal aides were behind the last-minute change of heart regarding the event, which takes place on August 25. While Prince William was said to have been supportive of his on-off girlfriend, Palace officials apparently had doubts about the wisdom of Kate taking part.

"There's no doubt she was leant on," a fellow rower told the Daily Mail. "She was our helmsman - very strong and very sporty. It's a huge loss."

Clarence House has said, however, that the 25-year-old dropped out on the advice of her lawyers, who have fought a number of privacy cases for her.

The decision is the clearest indication yet that the relationship between Kate - who'd spent weeks training with a 21-strong crew called The Sisterhood - and the Prince is officially back on. Royal watchers have said her initial involvement in such a high-profile event was only viable when she thought her relationship with the royal heart-throb - and public interest in her - had cooled.

Photo: © Alphapress.com
Kate's early morning rowing sessions attracted plenty of attention, ultimately leading to her decision to drop out of the Sisterhood team taking part in the cross-Channel challenge on August 25