Prince William turns 30: A Royal’s ascent

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Prince William turns 30 tomorrow with a woman he loves and the air of a man confident of his future. But, says Stephen McGinty, it wasn’t always so

HE has grown a lot since the little boy who, in front of the press photographers clung to his mother’s skirt as if trying to bury his head in the folds. In fact, for many years it was Prince William, rather than his subjects-to-be, who had his head bowed low.

2004: Prince William during his time at St Andrews University

2004: Prince William during his time at St Andrews University

Today, however, as he prepares to leave the little white-washed cottage in Anglesey, for another shift as an RAF search and rescue pilot based at RAF Valley, Prince William can reflect that to be in a job he loves and happily married to an attractive and intelligent woman is as good as any place to be on your 30th birthday.

Then there is the prospect of an inheritance, thought to be as much as £10 million from the estate of his late mother, Diana, the Princess of Wales. In the original will, both princes were set to inherit her wealth at 25, but it was later postponed, by the executors of her estate among then her sister Lady Elizabeth McCorquodale, until each turned 30.

Many believe Prince William would trade all his wealth to have his mother back, for the most seismic event in his life was undoubtedly her sudden and tragic death in 1997. He and his brother, Harry, were both asleep at Balmoral when Prince Charles was awoken at two o’clock in the morning of 31 August with the news that his former wife had died on the operating table of a Paris hospital. Charles wanted to wake the boys immediately, but it was Philip who suggested giving them one last night’s sleep.

The next day it was Philip who urged them to go out walking in the hills and insisted, with the Queen, that they remain in Scotland rather than immediately return to London and the grief-stricken mob. The young Prince’s distrust of the press calcified into hatred when he learned that his mother’s car was being pursued by photographers and he was the most reluctant to agree to walk in public behind his mother’s coffin, only convinced to take part after a quiet word from Philip who asked if it would help if he came too.

For those that know him well, St Andrew’s University was the making of the Prince. The media deal struck with the national press that allowed him relative privacy for three years in exchange for the occasional staged press call allowed him to enjoy the life of a normal student. If, that is, you discounted the shadow of an armed close protection officer in the next room and the ability to pop over to Balmoral for long-weekends.

The love of his life, began as many marriages do, with a friendship. He first met Kate Middleton in the halls of residence at St Andrews University, while both were dating other people. Yet it was a crucial friendship. After the first few months, William went home at Christmas, lonely and miserable and began to talk to his father of a desire to abandon St Andrews for a fresh start at an English University. It was a long phone call to Kate, among others that helped convince him to instead change courses and stick it out but switch his studies from History of Art to Geography. As William later said: “I don’t think I was homesick; I was more daunted.”

The friendship extended to one with benefits after Kate Middleton wore black underwear and a see-through dress, and strutted down the catwalk as to the manor born. Sitting in the front row of St Andrews University’s Don’t Walk charity fashion show, Prince William, who had paid £200 for the seat and resultant view, turned to his friend and said: “Wow, Kate’s hot!”. In many ways it is the most modern of paths to marriage, a couple meet at university, part once or twice only to be drawn inextricably back together.

Like any student relationship there were jealous tensions. Kate was suspicious of his friendship with Anna Sloan, an American heiress, who had lost her father in a shooting accident and who bonded with him over the loss of a loved parent. Then there was his alleged infatuation with Isabella Anstruther-Gough-Calthorpe, the stunning blonde heiress, who some suggest would slip easily into Buckingham Palace from her family’s stately country home. A trial separation took place, but by graduation in 2005 William and Kate were back together and listened as the chancellor Dr Brian Lang told the departing students: “You will have made lifelong friends. You may have met your husband or wife. Our title as the top matchmaking university in Britain signifies so much that is good about St Andrews so we rely on you to go forth and multiply.”

Yet William was intent on following Harry into the armed forces. As he prepared to leave for officer training at Sandhurst, Kate organised a farewell drinks party at Clarence House, in the knowledge that he would miss her 24th birthday party, as he toiled through the 44-week course.

Last year’s kiss on the balcony of Buckingham Palace, between the newly married Duke and Duchess of Cambridge was a kiss of life for the Royal Family. A fresh start and a new chapter after the adultery and disgrace and collapse of a run of previous Royal marriages. (Few imagine Kate Middleton, in the event of a divorce, sucking on the toes of her financial adviser or flogging access to her husband for £100,000.) Today Prince William is said to be in a secure place. He remains in a job he adores, is married to a woman he loves, and has managed to obtain the right balance between a public and private life. At the same age, his father was unmarried and working full-time as a public member of the Royal Family. There is little doubt that William is slightly jealous of his brother’s freedom to serve in a combat position, a possibility forever denied to him by dint of his position. The Government will take a chance with the ‘spare’ serving in Afghanistan, but not the heir. Yet he knows it will be many years before he is eventually called upon to become King, and appears intent to savour as much of the experiences of an ordinary life as possible.

He remains very close to his granny, or, as she is known to the rest of us, the Queen, who will no doubt have explained that among her happiest days were in the early years of her marriage to Philip, when he was stationed in Cyprus and she was just another naval officer’s wife hanging out the washing. Perhaps this is why they will be no profligate party today and, instead, after working a full shift, he will retire home to a roaring fire, a home cooked meal and perhaps a new DVD box set. The couple are said to have polished off The Killing in a single weekend.

While it is said that heavy is the head that will one day wear the crown, Prince William, at 30 is, at last, raising his head and looking the world in the eye.