Prince William and his long-time girlfriend Kate Middleton have ended their relationship, surprising bookies and delighting some young women.

The Sun newspaper reported that William and Middleton, whom he met at Scotland's St. Andrew's University in 2001 and began dating two years later, have amicably agreed to go their separate ways.

William's Clarence House office has refused to comment, maintaining that it does not discuss the prince's personal life. However, royal sources did not deny the report, effectively signalling it was true.

How certain had some people been that the two young people had found true love? One bookmaker had stopped taking bets on the likelihood of a royal wedding, while the Woolworths retail chain had commissioned Wills-and-Kate memorabilia.

There are varying reports about what may have caused the split. The prince's military career and his recent move to an army camp in Dorset have been cited as one possible cause.

Middleton lives in London, and The Sun reports the couple saw each other no more than once a week since he made the move.

There are also reports that the intense, ongoing media pressure has taken its toll on the couple during the years they have been together.

There had been rampant speculation in recent months about the likelihood of a possible engagement, fueled in part by the fact Middleton attended William's graduation from Sandhurst Military Academy in December -- her first high-profile event, and one at which the Queen was also present.

Then in January, at the time of her 25th birthday, a media scrum developed outside Middleton's home as the engagement speculation reached a fever pitch.

That same month, police were called to a London nightclub to keep photographers from getting too close to the couple as they left the venue.

Shortly after that, William, who is second in line to the throne, asked the paparazzi to give Middleton some space.

Middleton lodged a complaint of media harassment last month against the Daily Mirror newspaper, but settled the claim earlier this month after the paper issued an apology and admission of error.

No room for error

The public scrutiny and media attention focused on the romance has evoked memories of William's father, Prince Charles, and the then-Lady Diana Spencer a quarter-century ago.

"William, after what happened to his father, cannot get it wrong," The Sun's royal reporter Duncan Larcombe told AP Television News. "He cannot marry the wrong woman, and I suppose, in a funny kind of way, it's better that we're here today talking about his girlfriend leaving, splitting up with her, than us talking about a royal divorce."

In one of the world's most publicized weddings, Charles, then 33, wed Diana, who was just 20, in 1981 at London's St. Paul's Church. They divorced in 1996, following admissions of adultery on both sides. Diana died following a 1997 car crash in Paris.

But Ingrid Seward, a Royal watcher who has written extensively about the family, told CTV Newsnet she doesn't believe the media pressure can be blamed for the breakup.

"They've been going out together for four years; they've had a very private sort of relationship when they were both at university together. They'd lived together, and suddenly they finished that and they come to London, William goes into the army and they don't see each other so much," Seward said.

"And I just think the affair has run its course. I think it was aggravated by the paparazzi but I don't think they're the cause of it."

Seward, along with a number of other Royal watchers, speculated that William simply wasn't ready to get married, and that the breakup was most likely his doing.

"I think it was just too soon for him. He's not the sort of person that could just go off and get married quietly, which is what he would have liked. It would be such a big performance and I just don't think he was ready for that."

Seward said Middleton's good looks, dignified manner and charming personality made her popular with the Royal Family, and the Windsors are likely to be disappointed at the collapse of the courtship.

"Everything was right. All the boxes were ticked except the main box," she said, but added that William, 24 and Middleton, 25, still have lots of time to find their perfect match.

"I think it's sad for all of us because she was such a wonderfully photogenic girl. They're young and they'll find other people. Both of them."

Some had ideas.

"He deserves better," said 13-year-old Jessica Davis. "I think Prince William should marry me."

With a report from CTV's Tom Walters and files from The Associated Press