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Happy endings for Prince William

PUBLISHED: 20:57 22 July 2013 | UPDATED: 20:57 22 July 2013

Amner Hall, Amner. Picture: Ian Burt

Amner Hall, Amner. Picture: Ian Burt

Archant © 2013

When Prince William was seven years old he told his mother, Princess Diana, that he wanted to be a policeman so that he could look after her. His younger brother, Harry, aged just five piped up: ‘Oh, no you can’t. You’ve got to be king’.

It was an early reminder to William that his destiny had already been decided. As the eldest son of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, the moment he was born he became second in line to the throne after his father.

Such a position does not give a child much chance of living anything other than a very unusual life. But for William, that childhood was tougher than most.

While he has had all the privilege and protection that comes from being part of the Royal Family he has had an unusually difficult upbringing, living through his parents’ divorce — played out in public in painstaking detail — and his mother’s tragic death when he was just 15.

Even without such traumatic events, as a member of the Royal Family in direct line to the throne he was always going to have a childhood like no other.

William was born on June 21, 1982, at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington, west London, and was looked after by various nannies from infanthood right up until his teenage years.

That was not a sign of lack of love by his parents — they were the first generation to break with tradition and do some childcare themselves — but protocol and their royal duties away from home demanded it for much of the time.

As an acknowledgement of his importance, William was baptised by the Archbishop of Canterbury in the music room at Buckingham Palace and his early years were largely lived in the top floor nurseries at Kensington Palace in London and Highgrove, his father’s country home in Gloucestershire.

Although some observers saw Charles as a remote and formal father while Diana was a demonstrative and affectionate mother, they were both utterly devoted to William and his younger brother Harry.

Charles’s valets complained that one of their biggest challenges when the children were small was cleaning sheep droppings from the Prince’s suits. He would arrive at Highgrove by helicopter and the boys would race across the field to meet him, flinging themselves into his arms and smearing his suits with mud and everything else they had trodden in.

But although Charles and Diana were dedicated to the boys, the divisions between the couple themselves were growing. However, William and Harry appeared to cope — largely because they were young enough to be excluded from media attention while their parents split.

In August 1997, William and Harry were with their father at Balmoral Castle in Scotland during the school holidays. In the early morning of 31 August, Prince Charles was woken to be told the terrible news that Diana had been killed in a car crash in Paris.

Charles, himself deeply shocked, waited until the boys would normally be awake before going to their bedrooms to break the news. It pushed William and Harry into the public eye in a way they had not experienced before — and in a way they would never forget.

Still only in his mid-teens, he needed to complete his education — in privacy. Eton, near Windsor Castle, gave William the peace he needed and when he went to St Andrew’s University in Scotland, he was also allowed a respite.

It was there he met Kate Middleton, who gave him a glimpse of a world he envied but had never had; a stable middle-class family life, far removed from public view. But considering the difficulties he faced in childhood, it is not surprising that Prince William still, from time to time, dreams of a different life.

On a tour of the Far East with Kate in 2012, a child asked William if he could be a superhero, what would be his chosen power?

Invisibility, William replied.

That, just like his childhood desire to be a policeman, will never come true.

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