x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Kate's early years: Jordan years of future princess

For two years as a toddler, Kate Middleton, who marries Prince William of the UK on April 29, lived in Jordan, where she sang songs, learnt her colours in Arabic and fed rabbits.

Since she was revealed as Prince William's girlfriend seven years ago, millions of words have chronicled Kate Middleton's life.

For the most part, her childhood in Berkshire, her love of hockey and tennis, and the student life at St Andrews University in Scotland that led her to her prince, reflect her roots in a middle-class, middle-of-the-road upbringing in middle England.

Yet, for two-and-a -half years, the young Middleton family lived a very different life in the Middle East.

It's a period of Miss Middleton's life revealed in a blink-and-you-miss-it entry on the official royal wedding website.

That it rates a mention at all suggests that the family look back on it with affection.

Today, her parents, Michael and Carole Middleton, run the family business, a party-planning and supplies website called Party Pieces from their home in the affluent village of Bucklebury, west of London.

But both were employees of British Airways - Michael as a manager, Carole as a flight attendant - when, in May 1984, Mr Middleton was offered a posting to Amman, the capital of Jordan.

Kate was two years old and Mrs Middleton was on extended maternity leave with eight-month-old Pippa.

Hanna Hashweh, 69, chief executive of the Hashweh Corporation travel agency in Amman, remembers the family. Mr Hashweh was a BA agent at the time and visited the Middleton home several times during their years in Jordan.

"Michael was straightforward and honest," he recalled. "He was a man of integrity. During the week they didn't have a very active social life because he worked long hours.

"But he used to play tennis at the British Embassy Club and the family used to go to Petra and [the Roman ruins at] Jerash during the weekends. I visited them several times.

"They lived in a two-storey rented villa, close to a park and the nursery where Kate went. I remember she was a very beautiful little girl."

While Mrs Middleton looked after Pippa at home, Kate was enrolled in Assahera nursery, one of the most expensive nurseries in the area with an annual fee of about US$1,000 at the time.

From Sunday to Thursday, the nursery day began at 8am and ended at 12.30pm, recalled the founder of the now-closed nursery, Sahera al Nabulsi, 67, in Amman.

"Kate's father used to pick her up sometimes in his work uniform and the kids used to get very excited and run to see him. But most of the time the mother picked her up. She was always on time," she said.

Kate was in a class of 12 children and the nursery as a whole looked after close to 100 children between 3 and 5 years of age. As well as British nationals, Jordanians, Japanese, Indian, Indonesian and American children were enrolled in the nursery. In the morning, the children were brought together and taught in both Arabic and English, before separating into different classes.

"The morning routine was to have all the children sitting in a circle where they would all sing, Incy Wincy Spider, both in English and Arabic," Mrs Nabulsi said.

The singing was then followed with a short verse from the Quran.

"We would read one verse from the Quran," Mrs Nabulsi recalled, "to improve the children's Arabic and tell stories about the Prophet's companions, like Omar Bin Khattab. The idea was to reinforce concepts such as respect and love."

The children celebrated Christmas, when Mrs Nabulsi dressed as Santa Claus, and Ramadan, when a drum-playing Musarati was invited to entertain the children.

"Foreign children also learnt Arabic words when we grouped the children together. The teacher used to ask in Arabic, 'Who is wearing red today?' so that the children would recognise the colours," Mrs Nabulsi said.

At 9.30am the children sat down to a breakfast of hummus, cheese and labneh. They fed rabbits and ducks, played in the sandpit and put on plays.

Twice a month there were outings to nearby places of interest. A favourite at the time was the Haya Cultural Centre, inaugurated by King Hussein and Queen Alia Al Hussein.

The family returned to the UK in September 1986, settling back in Berkshire when Mr Middleton's posting came to an end. Miss Middleton then started school.

The sojourn in Jordan was by all accounts a happy time in Miss Middleton's childhood. There is speculation that she may return there with Prince William during their honeymoon, following their wedding on Friday. Whether or not they do visit, those years forged a link with the region that, given the warm relationship between the British and Jordanian royal families, may be strengthened in her role as Prince William's wife.

lcollins@thenational.ae

smaayeh@thenational.ae

Suha Philip Ma'ayeh reported from Amman