THE Prince of Wales yesterday apologised on behalf of his son to an aristocrat who condemned Prince William for "driving like some yob in a beat-up car".
Lord Bathurst, 76, prompted a scare in a road-rage incident at the weekend when he chased the young Royal, who had overtaken him at up to 40mph on a private road on the earl’s estate in Gloucestershire.
The extraordinary drama, which may take the shine off William’s 21st birthday celebrations this month, came after the princes had played a polo match together.
Prince William’s bodyguards forced Lord Bathurst’s Land-Rover to stop as he pursued the prince, blasting his horn and flashing the lights of his vehicle.
But despite the apology, the aristocrat said: "I don’t care who it is, royalty or not - speeding is not allowed on my estate. The limit is 20mph.
Giving one of several varying accounts of the event, he said: "If I was to drive like that in Windsor Park, I’d end up in the Tower."
Speaking in the kitchen of his Cotswold stone farmhouse, immaculately dressed in a sports jacket, slacks and the regimental tie of the Royal Gloucestershire Hussars, he added: "I thought he was some young yob in a beat-up car."
Unable to give the speeding prince a telling-off, the earl turned on the prince’s bodyguards, whom he described as "looking like a pair of yobs".
He said: "I gave them a bit of lip about the speed the prince - and they - were doing."
The incident happened on Saturday afternoon as Prince William left a match at Cirencester Polo Club, which is on the estate. The earl had spent a "pleasant afternoon" watching Prince Charles, Prince William and their Highgrove team mates lose 4-3.
He said: "After the match, I was driving down the driveway when I saw a car in my mirror. It was coming up pretty quickly and then it overtook on my left, going onto the grass verge. He sped off and I accelerated to 50-60mph to try to catch him. I was flashing my lights and using the horn.
"I knew I was not going to be able to pass, so I cut through the trees to head him off.
"I got out on to the driveway and he had to pull up.
"But as he did so another car, which also looked like it had a couple of yobs in it, pulled up.
"They got out and told me it was Prince William and that they were his protection officers. They didn’t look like officers of the law.
"It was the first time I realised it was the prince - he looked like any other youngster in a car that was not new or distinctive.
"I told them it doesn’t matter who it is. The speed limit is 20mph and I expect polo club members to observe that."
Lord Bathurst said that while he was talking to the officers, the prince drove away.
He added: "I’m afraid my attitude was not very good, but I do not feel sorry about trying to make people drive at a proper speed.
"When the officers were about to leave, I told them: ‘You must tell Prince William that he must abide by the club rules’, and when I meet him, I shall point out that if every member drove as he did, the estate would be very dangerous."
A spokesman for the polo club said there was no official speed limit on the estate, but added: "People are encouraged to drive slowly. There are signs saying ‘Slow’, ‘Caution - Horses’, that kind of thing."
Last night, a spokesman for St James’s Palace said: "This was a very minor incident in which no-one was injured, and as far as we are concerned the matter is closed."
The local police were not involved.
Prince William is not the first Royal to be fond of driving too fast.
His uncle, Prince Andrew, was caught doing 60mph in a 40mph zone near Heathrow Airport last year.
The Princess Royal fell foul of the law three years ago, when she was clocked doing 93mph - her fourth speeding offence - and was fined 400.
Saturday’s incident was not the only problem for Prince William over the weekend, after St James’s Palace was forced to issue an unprecedented statement over his love life.
Newspaper reports claimed the prince and the daughter of a wealthy conservationist in Kenya were "practically engaged".
But the palace, which usually does not comment on such stories, issued a strong denial that the prince was romantically involved with Jessica Craig.
The statement dismissed reports that the prince had fallen for Miss Craig, 21, during his gap-year trip to Kenya in 2001.
A palace spokeswoman said the claim that the pair had a "pretend engagement" came as an embarrassment to Miss Craig because she already has a boyfriend.
The palace also denied reports that Miss Craig was staying at the Highgrove estate in preparation for Prince William’s 21st birthday next week.
The statement came after Miss Craig’s family home in Kenya was the target of a deluge of media inquiries.