The whole world knows Prince William’s public persona but what is he like one-on-one? I was at Eton College with Prince William and some of my friends are still in regular touch with him.
His Royal Highness’ true personality is not entirely what you would expect. He experienced the divorce of his parents and the death of his mother by the age of 15. This would traumatise most people but how have these tragedies shaped the personality of the future king of 16 countries?
Prince William is very self-assured and outgoing. Perhaps more surprising is his intellectual incuriousity and his fondness for racy jokes. Whenever any intellectual topic came up in conversation he would glaze over. He is of average academic ability. His French is not so good and he knows none of his ancestral language – German. This is a pity because he needs to speak French to some of his grandmother’s subjects in Canada. Remember Queen Elizabeth is the queen not just of the United Kingdom but of 15 other lands – Australia, Jamaica, New Zealand and so on. I once asked Prince William which countries his grandmother ruled and he could only remember half of them. Many of them are small islands in the Caribbean.
Prince William had a lively sense of humour and as a little boy said to his classmates, ”when I am king I will order my soldiers to chop your head off!” Everyone knew this was just comedy. He was notably humble and willing to deprecate himself.
Because he was scholastically middle of the road he did not go to Cambridge (which Prince Charles attended) or Oxford (which some other British kings attended). Instead he went to St Andrew’s University in Scotland. It may be hard to believe in Russia but British universities do not make exceptions for royalty. In the United Kingdom there is a very strong feeling that the royal family should only be awarded qualifications that they have earned.
There were many societies at Eton where boys would develop their interest in everything from Philosophy and Debating, to Amateur Radio and Farm Management. Prince William never attended any such societies expect when some animal rights activists came to speak about why fox hunting should be outlawed. Prince William spoke up vociferously in favour of keeping hunting legal. It is astonishing that the press never reported this at the time. It is no secret that he likes blood sports or as he prefers to call them ”field sports” and he has often been filmed riding to the hounds. I used to go beagling with him. A beagle is a small dog. Remember Charles Darwin’s voyage? His ship was called the beagle. Anyway, we would go by minibus to the estate of a a different Old Etonian twice a week. Sometimes it was Lord Carrington’s estate – Lord Carrington was once the Foreign Minister. We would follow the beagles as they chased and killed. I was a schoolboy who would look at racy magazines full of girls in bikinis. I remember Prince William borrowing my copy of Loaded and reading aloud ”gravity defying Brazilian buttocks!” as admired some nubile girls.
He showed a total lack of interest in politics which in a sense is a good thing. The monarch is the only person who is not entitled to an opinion. The Crown is above politics. The monarch must always maintain the strictest neutrality in political affairs. The monarch is not allowed to vote by law.
Prince William never attended the theatre. His indifference to drama is at odds with his mother who was quite enthusiast about the theatre. Nor is he musical. Prince William does at least like the visual arts and is a reasonably talented painter. He studied History of Art so he can develop a greater appreciation of his family’s collection of masterpieces.
Prince William was not at all religious which is typical of a Briton. When he had to sign the entry book to the school he paused at the space for ”religion” and asked his father what to write. ”Church of England” Prince Charles told him indulgently. There were optional prayer services in chapel every day but he only went when it was obligatory.
He is convivial and usually upbeat. His parents divorce affected him surprisingly little. The one thing his parents could agree on is that the boys MUST attend Eton. All of Princess’ Diana’s male relatives attended Eton. Some of Prince Charles’ cousins attended Eton but Prince Charles was sent to Gordonstoun School in Scotland which his father Prince Philip had attended. Gordonstoun was chosen for Prince Charles because it was thought to be tougher and almost military. Prince Philip said that Eton was too close to London and too culturally sophisticated – he wanted his son to be a sailor like him.
What astonished me is how soon he returned to school after the violent death of his mother. I never felt it right to ask him about this extremely sensitive topic. I sensed that although he blatantly experienced grief he was coping exceptionally well in the circumstances.
His friends were mostly drawn from aristocratic circles. These boys were the sons of his parents’ friends. Only a minority of boys at Eton are the sons of noblemen. Most boys are the sons of highly successful bankers and lawyers.
Prince William was suspicious of overtures of friendship. He was wise before his time because he knew there were plenty of sycophants and tittle tattles who might betray him. He was well aware that some people only wanted to suck up to him because he was due to be king. He was also cautious around girls. At the Feather’s Ball girls were lining up to try to kiss him but he rejected them all – there were too many people watching.
He could he as normal there as at any other school. Curiously, he was not close to the other royalty at the school. Prince Nirajan of Nepal was there. Although Nirajan went to Buckingham Palace occasionally he never became friendly with Prince William – there was no enmity. The same is true of the Saudi Arabian prince at Eton.
Prince William smoked a little but soon gave up. He hardly drank alcohol. He was known to have never touched cannabis. From his teenage years he showed a deep sense of responsibility. Millions of people in his grandmother’s many kingdoms look up to him. He must not fail them. He avoided controversy and I cannot think of anything he did to ever stain his family’s honour.
He regards himself as being from Gloucestershire. This is a county in the West of England. He spent most of his time there because his father, Prince Charles, owns a house in Gloucestershire called Highgrove. Prince Charles bought Highgrove in 1980 . Why did Prince Charles buy a house in a part of the country with which he had no connection? Highgrove is a 10 minute drive from the house of Camilla Parker Bowles – who was always Prince Charles’ true love. Camilla Parker Bowles was then married to a cavalry officer – Andrew Parker Bowles.
Camilla Parker Bowles’ son – Tom Parker Bowles – was at Eton but finished school before Prince William arrived. Incidentally, there is no suspicion that Prince Charles is the father of Tom. For the first couple of years of Camilla’s marriage it is common knowledge that Prince Charles left her alone to have children while he attempted to find a bride he loved.
Prince William inherited the cool headedness of his father. His brother Prince Harry is more emotional like his mother. Prince William is also the cleverer of the two. Princess Diana said of Prince William, ”that child is a deep thinker”. Prince William like his mother is a people person. He was confident and willing to talk to boys much older than him on equal terms.
Prince William was a fairly talented sportsman. He was a decent football player and excellent at water polo. He almost made the national water polo team. He also liked rowing rather than the more popular cricket. He took plenty of exercise and always watched what he ate because it is difficult to respect an obese king.
Prince William is fairly well-suited to the role. Do not imagine that he is superhuman and extraordinarily gifted. This is perhaps the strength of the monarchy – that the monarch is usually a person of quite typical abilities. Likewise that is what is so splendid about Eton. It can take boys of average ability and empower them to achieve far more than you might expect – in their academic subjects, in music, in drama and in sports. Boys leave absolutely brimming with self-belief. Nothing is ever achieved without confidence.