The final six episodes of The Crown will drop on December 14, taking viewers through the aftermath of Diana, Princess of Wales’ death, the Golden Jubilee, the Tony Blair era at Number 10, and how love blossomed at St Andrews University between Prince William and fellow student Kate Middleton.

As someone who shared the same hall of residence with Prince William in first year, and lived in the room next door to Kate, I saw history unfold - but will Netflix get it right?

I CAN still remember opening that letter in summer of 2001 telling me that I had been allocated a room at St Salvator's hall.

By that time, Hello! magazine had already reported that Prince William would be spending his first year of university in St Andrews living in that very same hall of residence - better known to students as "Sallies".

A few months later I was there: 18 years old and sitting in the common room on September 18, surrounded by roughly 180 strangers who - like me - had been dropped off by their parents only a few hours earlier as we prepared to embark on a new life as students, far from home.

I had come from Motherwell and an ordinary comprehensive school to study Spanish and International Relations - a hot topic in the wake of the 9/11 attacks just a week prior.

Many American students due to be staying at Sallies that year had yet to arrive after flights were grounded.

Among the freshers gathered in the lounge on that sunny September afternoon was a then-unknown young woman called Kate Middleton, who - it turned out - was also my next-door neighbour on the A-floor girls' corridor.

The Herald: The dining hall in Sallie. I am on the left, closest to the wallThe dining hall in Sallie. I am on the left, closest to the wall (Image: Helen McArdle)

Our rooms overlooked the Scores and St Andrews Castle, with the North Sea in the distance, and both of us - like most Sallies freshers - shared with roommates.

It was during this welcome meeting that we were told that, yes, Prince William would be a Sallies resident - but he would not take up his place until the end of Freshers' Week.

When he did, we were expected to treat him like any other student and, most importantly, respect his privacy: anyone caught leaking information to the press would be expelled from the hall, maybe even the university.

Ironically, seven years later I had become a journalist myself - a trainee reporter with the Sunday Herald - and I now find myself in the odd position of seeing those university days recreated by 'The Crown' as it depicts Kate and William's blossoming romance for the sixth and final season of the Netflix show.

Having been a viewer of the past five seasons, will I now berate the historical inaccuracies and dramatic licence? Maybe. But 22 years later, even my memory of it all is foggy.

So what does stand out?

One is that first Monday morning when Prince William walked into the dining hall for breakfast.

The Herald: How will the Crown's dramatisation compare with the reality of first year in Sallies?How will the Crown's dramatisation compare with the reality of first year in Sallies? (Image: PA)

He had been dropped off by Prince Charles the day before amid much fanfare. The media photographed his arrival, and the public lined the streets.

Those of us living in Sallies knew we were in a surreal and privileged position to be sharing our space with someone who was, in effect, an A-list celebrity.

In terms of fame at least, it might as well have been Brad Pitt walking into the dining hall that day carrying his breakfast tray.


Inevitably, everyone stared; for a moment, the hum of conversations quietened.

After a week of anticipation, there he was - and suddenly everyone wondered who he would sit next to (it was another fresher - a nice, unassuming guy from the north of England who I think studied geography).

After that morning, though, the excitement - and the sheer weirdness of the situation - receded.

The Herald: Prince William arriving at St Andrews in September 2001 with his father, the then-Prince of WalesPrince William arriving at St Andrews in September 2001 with his father, the then-Prince of Wales (Image: Getty)

Passing "P.Willy" on the stairwell, queueing behind him in the canteen, or seeing him reading in the study room became normal.

Even his bodyguards - who lived in the room next door to him on B floor and were forever hovering at a discreet vicinity - were given secret nicknames after it finally dawned on my friends and I that they weren't actually mature students (one was "Johnny Vaughn man" due to his resemblance to the TV presenter).

On A floor, myself and around 11 other female residents quickly coalesced into a tight-knit group of friends.

We would go on to share flats, socialise, and go to house parties at one another's digs for the rest of our time in the town.

We were from all over: some from the west of Scotland like me, and others from Aberdeen, Yorkshire, London, Worchester, Northern Ireland, and the US.

Most of us - contrary to St Andrews' reputation - had gone to regular secondary schools.

The Herald: The A floor girls' corridor and my own group of friends. I am on the right, third from the backThe A floor girls' corridor and my own group of friends. I am on the right, third from the back (Image: Helen McArdle)

Kate stood out: one, because she was stunningly attractive (we dubbed her 'Beautiful Kate' on account of her enviable figure and perfect hair), but also because of her cut-glass accent and the kind of poise that only comes from attending a top public school.

She was probably the poshest - and wealthiest - person I had ever met at that point, although the Sallies residents that year also included a scion of America's Rockefeller family.

This was brought home to us shortly after the Easter break when - exchanging pleasantries about how we'd spent the holiday - Kate told one of my friends that she had spent it on yacht in the Caribbean.

My friend - eager to impress - blurted out that her own family "has a dinghy". Like a true royal-to-be, Kate was utterly gracious; the rest of us nearly died laughing.

We never socialised together but occasionally I would bump into Kate making a cup of tea in our tiny, shared A-floor kitchen. Other times, she would pop by my room to swap lecture notes with my roommate who (like Kate) was studying art history.

She was always very nice, polite and reserved.

Her close group of friends in hall were all male, and - in St Andrews lingo - 'yahs'.

They had formed within a couple of weeks: Prince William at its core with around five other blokes - mostly called Ollie - with double-barrelled surnames, Eton educations, and an air of upper class entitlement.

The Herald: A typical gathering in my Sallies room - A34 - which was next door to Kate's own shared room (Me - bottom right)A typical gathering in my Sallies room - A34 - which was next door to Kate's own shared room (Me - bottom right) (Image: Helen McArdle)

Kate was the only female accepted into their gang, probably because she was the only one posh and glamorous enough to make the cut.

They sat together at mealtimes in the dining hall, socialised together, and walked to and from lectures together.

Among their group, Kate and William were easily the most down-to-earth and pleasant.

I spoke to William only a few times.

Once when he wanted to know if he and his friends could use the TV room DVD player to watch a film ('Bridget Jones' I think) and on another occasion when we shared a bench in the dining hall and somehow got onto the topic of deep-fried Mars bars. I told him they had been invented in Lanarkshire - although I'm sure that is disputed.

Sometimes I would leave my own room to see him wedged in Kate's doorway, chatting.

As time went on we all speculated whether they might end up as a couple and how uncanny it would be for those of us who had spent that first year living side-by-side with them.

All alumni would probably describe their St Andrews years as "a bubble".

This is a tiny seaside enclave where the best part of 10,000 students are shopping in the same Tesco, drinking in the same pubs, and traipsing the same three main streets. You couldn't go anywhere without meeting someone you knew.

In a town with no real nightclubs, weekends were spent at the student union, house parties or black tie balls.

Not to be confused with some sort of Jane Austen affair, these were universally booze-soaked DJ-led extravaganzas held in a variety of venues including marquees, hotels and even the local aquarium.

Some even had hot tubs and an option to be whisked there in a chauffeur-driven Jag (if you had the cash).

The Herald: St Salvator's Hall, Class of 2001/2St Salvator's Hall, Class of 2001/2 (Image: University of St Andrews)The Herald: Kate and William (circled in red) in the Sallies photoKate and William (circled in red) in the Sallies photo (Image: University of St Andrews)The Herald: Me (circled in red) in the Sallies class photoMe (circled in red) in the Sallies class photo (Image: University of St Andrews)

I only ever knew of Kate and William being drunk once, after final exams at the end of first year.

Both had been drinking in Ma Bell's, a popular bar on the seafront.

I was still studying for my own finals when one of my A-floor neighbours knocked on my door to tell me - with some amusement - that Prince William had had to be retrieved by his bodyguards from a bush in front of the halls after stumbling in on his way home.

Her own room overlooked the bushes and she said she had seen other residents snapping photos from their windows.

Rumour has it that their camera film was subsequently confiscated by security - but that may be apocryphal.

A little while later, I heard a commotion in the hallway and was told by another A-floor eyewitness that an intoxicated Kate had had to be carried back to her room by one of the Ollies.

The Herald: Kate and William on their graduation day, June 2005Kate and William on their graduation day, June 2005 (Image: PA)The Herald: On our first day in Sallies, we were told not to speak to the press. Years later, I became a journalistOn our first day in Sallies, we were told not to speak to the press. Years later, I became a journalist (Image: Scottish Press Awards)

And that was it.

A few weeks later, in June 2002, it was time to pack up and leave Sallies. First year was over, but three more years of university lay ahead.

For most of us, they were some of the best years of our lives.

For Kate and William - free of the royal bubble and media scrutiny - it was probably the closest they ever came to normal life.