Royal with ticket to ride into space

PROFILE: Princess Beatrice

IN THIS postmodern, post-fairytale age, it's hard being a princess. If you're not being clocked by some gossip columnist whenever you drop by your favourite London nightspot (even if you don't fall off your heels), you're getting stick because your student pad happened to cost 250,000 to refurbish, or the paparazzi snaps you on holiday so your puppy fat graces the tabloids, or, at best, you're dubbed "the brainiest royal", with sneaky implications of oxymoron…

Princess Beatrice, however, appears to be doing her determined best to ride out the pitfalls of royal celebrity and, moreover, might even end up the first British royal into space.

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One of that select coterie of individuals born with titles rather than second names, Her Royal Highness Princess Beatrice Elizabeth Mary of York, fifth in line to the crown, was 21 yesterday, her coming of age being marked in somewhat more subdued fashion than her 18th birthday bash, which took the form of a lavish Victorian masked ball for more than 500 guests at Windsor Castle. A family holiday with her mother, Sarah, Duchess of York, and her younger sister, Princess Eugenie, at a favourite haunt of Sotogrande in Spain, with a later trip to Scotland, is reportedly the extent of the celebrations on this occasion.

Beatrice – the first princess born into the immediate Royal Family since Anne, the Princess Royal, in 1960 – is the elder daughter of Prince Andrew and Sarah, who divorced in 1996 after a marriage which was frequently the toast of the tabloids. While she has managed not to court the kind of lurid headlines once prompted by certain other royals, including her similarly red-haired mother, she has suffered her share of media attention, welcome or otherwise.

Most recently she has been attracting gushing praise in the society columns for her new "hourglass figure", seemingly the result of some hard dieting, following publication of unflattering photographs of a bikini-clad Beatrice on a Caribbean holiday. The pictures prompted catty comments in the tabloids and an indignant public riposte from her mother, who of course suffered the consequences of indiscreet disporting a few times during her earlier life. The princess, an irate Duchess told the BBC, was "a regular size ten… very fit and healthy".

Beatrice herself, while reportedly hurt by her unlooked-for overexposure, came over as admirably unruffled, admitting that the bikini in question didn't best suit her: "I thought people were a bit mean but it comes with the territory. The trouble is I don't have much confidence. I could probably do with losing the odd pound, though, so perhaps it is the kick I need."

Early this summer, the indignation was more the taxpayers' as it was reported that it had cost 250,000 to renovate an apartment in St James's Palace for the use of the student princess while she attends university, raising the perennial question of the cost of maintaining the royals. It seemed not to sit too easily with Beatrice's claim that she wants to be like any other student, but palace officials insisted that the decision not to house her in her college's 88-a-week student digs or rent private accommodation was made because of the increased cost of security.

It's not all been sour stuff, though. Over the past couple of years, royal-watchers have been fulsome in their praise as Beatrice developed from teenager into young woman, describing her as "poised and promising", and the brightest of the young royals, having left St George's School, Ascot, with a clutch of A Levels – this despite the revelation that she suffered from a degree of dyslexia, which she tackled through special tuition while at school. She entered Goldsmith's College, University of London, last year and is due to graduate in 2011, pursuing a joint honours degree in history and the history of ideas.

Before university, she spent part of her gap year working as a personal shopper for VIP customers in Selfridges. During her current summer break, she is working unpaid at the Foreign Office's press office on the "Know Before You Go" campaign which forewarns prospective travellers of potential hazards.

One suspects she might rather welcome at least a half-decent road map to steer her through the vicissitudes of being a 21st-century princess. However, commentators have commended her poise and relative lack of interest in the partying excess which has distinguished some of her cousins – not to mention her parents. At the same time, Andrew and Fergie have been commended for maintaining a sense of family for the two princesses despite their divorce – one courtier going so far as to describe them as "an object lesson for millions of divorced couples".

Beatrice remains particularly close with the ever resilient Fergie, and is involved in the charities patronised by the duchess, including Springboard for Children, which promotes literacy skills among inner city children, and the Teenage Cancer Trust. Indeed two years ago mother and daughter both could be seen strutting the catwalk, clad in Dolce & Gabbana at a charity show during London Fashion Week, much to the delight of Naomi Campbell. Beatrice also played a cameo role as a lady-in-waiting at her great-great-great-great grandmother's coronation in a film, The Young Victoria. Produced by her mother and scripted by Oscar-winning writer and thesp Julian Fellowes, it had its London premiere in March, with the familial trio of Beatrice, Eugenie and Sarah all in attendance.

Officially, her hobbies, as listed on royal webpages, are polo, riding, skiing, rollerblading and golf and she has attended such "working royal" occasions as Trooping the Colour and her grandmother the Queen's 80th birthday, while she and Eugenie were among the guests at the Concert for Diana, organised two years ago by William and Harry.

Not that she or 19-year-old Eugenie are averse to a good night out, with their clubbing companions including Peaches Geldof and Kelly Osbourne. A favourite watering hole is London's Nam Long bar, where Beatrice reportedly favours "pink panther" cocktails.

Her companion has been David Clark, son of a wealthy American family living in Hampstead, who met Beatrice through her cousin Prince William, with whom he was at St Andrews University. Clark, who has dual British and US nationality and is endorsed by acquaintances as "a thoroughly decent chap", regularly holidays with Beatrice and her sister and mother.

Clark works with Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic space tourism enterprise, which plans to start the first commercial sub-orbital flights in 2011, and he has apparently persuaded Beatrice to sign on the waiting list for a seat. As she turns 21, it's anybody guess as to whether Beatrice will fulfil – or even wish to aspire to – that Blairite paradigm of "people's princess". However, if not shackled to the earth by bonds of protocol, she might just be the first member of the Royal Family into space.

You've been Googled

While the royal webmeisters at Buckingham Palace and Clarence House launched a Twitter account last month, Beatrice has confessed her dislike of online social networking sites: "I don't have a Facebook page or any kind of public website as you never know who is looking at it," she said. "It's not personal if everyone can read it."

• In an interview with the BBC some years ago she said that didn't see herself as a "stereotypical princess" and added: "I know I'm very lucky. I love being who I am."

• The princess's BMW – a 17th birthday present from her father, Prince Andrew – was stolen in January while she was shopping. Police were unable to confirm a report that she had left the car unlocked with the keys in the ignition.

• Beatrice's round-the-clock security cover is reckoned to cost an estimated 250,000 a year.

• The princess was among those dancing late at a post-concert party for Beyonc, above, following her O2 Arena appearance in June.