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ACTRESS Catherine Rabett - the girl who might have married Prince Andrew - was offered the part of the Princess of Wales in The Queen And I, the West End satire on the monarchy.

`It would have been a jolly thing to do,'

says Rabett, `but obviously I couldn't accept it. I would have set myself up.'

It was 12 years ago that Catherine Rabett, now 36 - known to her friends as Kate - became Prince Andrew's girlfriend. They met soon after he had taken up photography.

She was a part-time model and actress and had posed for him, up to her neck in freezing water. The relationship intensified to the point where Kate found herself hosting the Prince's 24th birthday party at her parent's house in Ealing, West London. The paparazzi arrived in droves on her doorstep.

The relationship waned after that. He went back to sea, but friends say that it was Kate who did the ditching.

Now, she admits that the pressure of the situation was too much for her.

`I thought that I could take it, but I couldn't,' she says. `It was terrible for my parents. I used to climb into a neighbour's garden and go out of someone else's front door to avoid the cameramen.'

So the fairytale wedding that might have been did not happen. Kate Rabett and the Prince both went on to marry other people. His marriage collapsed. Hers, which began with shakier foundations, has survived happily.

Of all her friends who got married ten years ago, only she and her husband and one other couple are still together.

Tellingly, perhaps, Kate married the first man who claimed to have never heard of her. His name is Kit Hesketh-Harvey, and he admits now this was only a pretence, since in 1985 everybody knew who she was. Her picture frequently appeared on the front pages of the newspapers, and one even printed nude photographs of her.

He was a brilliant Cambridge graduate who sang, composed, and wrote beautifully. He had already gained a good reputation for his camp cabaret double act, Kit And The Widow, and his friends, such as Stephen Fry, were already becoming big stage names.

Unlike every other red-blooded male who saw Kate Rabett, Kit, now 39, never chased her. Infuriated, she chased him. They dated, they split up, but six months later he rang her and said that he was about to have a bath and think about asking her to marry him.

After the bath, he rang back and proposed. Kate accepted immediately.

Not everyone was delighted. Kit had already suggested to the Press that he was bisexual. Even though Kate successfully sued the newspaper that printed nude pictures of her, people wondered if she was not a bit wild.

Now they lead a life that is almost as bourgeois as you can get. They own a Grade II listed Georgian house in Norfolk from where they commute to the West End. She is starring in Dial M for Murder at the Apollo. …