An Intimate Portrait of a Very Normal Prince
Diana's inheritance, which William receives full control of today, is just one of the reasons why the Prince is opting for a meditative 30th, not a mad one.
Young men’s thirtieth birthday parties are frequently fun-filled, rowdy and boisterous affairs, so it is understandable that the UK gossip columnists managed to convince themselves that William would be having a major blow-out today to celebrate his big 3 – 0.
Alas, contrary to reports that his wife was planning to throw him a gigantic bash – a massive birthday party recreating one of his favourite London clubs had been mooted by some gossips, while others had Kate matchmaking Pippa - Prince William will actually be celebrating his birthday in a ‘low-key way’ today, according to informed palace sources.
In truth, the idea that Prince Charles’s country house, Highgrove, would be transformed to resemble the London tiki club Mahiki – where William hasn’t actually been seen since before his wedding – was always about as likely as Prince Harry being left in charge of the dress code at the next royal fancy dress party. Although it has proved almost impossible for the gossip mags to resist running with the rumours, the unspectacular truth is that William will be at work as normal this week, at RAF Valley in Anglesea, working the irregular shifts that are standard in the search and rescue business. He may have a glass of wine with his birthday dinner, but, given that he recently qualified to captain rescue helicopters, anything more than that it is unlikely. Flying on a hangover is a major no-no these days.
It always seemed a little unlikely to those who know the Prince’s circle that Kate would be splashing out tens of thousands of pounds on a lavish 30th birthday party for William, as that is very much not how this most modern of royal couples like to do things.
Kate and William aren’t exactly party animals. They are more than happy to live a quiet life. They watch marathon amounts of TV at their cottage in Wales; DVD box sets of shows like The Killing and Breaking Bad get worked through rapidly. R&R activities include nothing more outrageous than walking along the beach and a pint at the local pub.
Partly it’s in their nature, and partly they are both acutely aware of the danger of being perceived as members of the idle rich; indeed, part of the reason they both get concerned by coverage of Harry’s nights out or Pippa’s Parisian party antics is that these stories shine a light on the privileged secret life of the Royals and the Middletons, their habit of hanging out with Earls and Honourables or a louche set of Ducs and Comtes that are a world away from the common (okay, upper middle-class) touch that William and Kate have been assiduously but effortlessly cultivating.
Witness their recent trip to a Kensington cinema to see the new Avengers movie. They queued up and took their place in the crowded, darkened cinema with the public. William wore a baseball cap, a blue jumper and shirt and glasses, while Kate stepped out in a denim jacket and tight jeans.
One person, also at the cinema to watch the film, took to Twitter to reveal the royal presence, writing: “OMG watching the Avengers with Kate Middleton and Prince William sitting right next to me! Slap me now, I can’t believe it.”
After the show, William popped over to see his grandpa in hospital.
Just a few months previously, William and Kate caused more dropping of jaws among passengers on an easyJet flight when they boarded a low-cost airline instead of a private jet for their flight to join a Middleton family ski-ing trip.
“Part of the reason they flew on a budget airline was because it was a private trip, and they have to pay their own airfares for private trips,” says a source. “They want the best value like anyone else. William isn’t on a big salary and they don’t want to dip into their capital to pay for a holiday. William’s grandmother has brought up the family to watch the pennies.”
These attempts at maintaining some kind of link with normal living are particularly vital for William. In contrast to his father, who, insiders say, has been out of touch with the life lived by any except the most privileged of his mother’s subjects since he was a boy, William has a better working knowledge of the world. He went to Eton, he lived in a student flat at St Andrews.
But it is middle-class Kate, with her normal-ish upbringing who has really anchored him into the real world. She is determined that her husband should know, one source says, how much a pint of milk costs.
Maintaining a connection to normal life is not one big PR stunt for William as he turns 30. Far from advertising the cinema trip, the palace had nothing to say about the movie night, insisting it was a ‘private’ outing. Instead, keeping a thread, however delicate and fragile, to his future subjects lives is part of a smart and powerful instinct.
Thus, to the initial shock of the palace, William and Kate declined to accept a housekeeper who had been hired for them in Wales, insisting that they would be quite able to cook for and clean up after themselves, as they had done at uni. Kate still does her own supermarket shopping in Wales – even if a protection officer has to be in tow. Their staff is miniscule compared to Charles’s. Kate is apparently determined not to have maternity nurses and a team of nannies when the longed-for heir (male or female) arrives, but instead, to take time off and do it herself, which would be a truly revolutionary royal moment.
William and Kate frequently travel up and down to London from their home in Wales on the train. They would consider the notion of requisitioning the royal train as absurd. Sure, they go first class, but they also, according to staff, make a point of walking down to the buffet car themselves to get a tea, rather than sending a lackey.
They are protected by the local community in Wales, but, in London, it’s a bit more tricky to be out and about, but friends of the Young Royals say that Kate heads out via a back entrance of Kensington Palace at least once a week to go clothes shopping in the West End or the King’s Road, snapping up her beloved high street bargains. Walking their pup Lupo in Kensington Park is an almost daily occurrence when they are in London. The protection officer is always there, of course, but that can’t be helped.
As well as protecting his carefully nurtured image and reality, William also has another good reason to make his 30th birthday more meditative than mad.
For when Prince William awoke this morning, he was some £10m richer than when he went to bed last night.
Today, William finally inherits full control of his 50% share of his late mother, Princess Diana’s fortune, much of it, ironically enough, settled on her by William’s father Prince Charles as part of their divorce settlement. He is determined the Middletons will be protected from the royal madness, and some of the £10m fortune he acquires control of today has been earmarked to help the Middletons buy a more private, more secure £5m house.
Such a momentous shift in his personal circumstances will not be lost on the not-so-young-anymore Prince, neither will the fact that this year, William will have been without his mother for as long as he was with her. William was just 15 when his mother was killed, on 31 August 1997, in a car crash in a Paris underpass. A few days later, the young man, hair brushed and in a grow-up suit, cut an extraordinary figure as he consoled the crowds at Kensington Palace, and was overheard on a microphone saying, perfectly controlled, ‘Thank you very much,’ to a member of the public who expressed their sympathy.
The fact that William kept his emotions under control and hid his grief after his mother’s death is an idea explored at some length in Penny Junor’s recent biography of William. Junor says that Sandy Henney, the Prince of Wales’s press secretary, who prepared the Princes before they faced the scrutiny of millions at their mother’s funeral, ‘never saw a tear’ on the face of the teenage prince.
That was far from healthy, as Junor makes clear, but, now, as William turns 30, everything has changed. He has finally come to terms with his mother’s death. He has made peace with Camilla, the woman who played an integral part in the breakdown of his parents’ marriage. He is creating a stable family life of his own. Not only has he conquered many of his own demons, but he has also won the hearts of the people and utterly reinvigorated the British monarchy, making an an ancient institution that threatened to become an anachronism relevant again.
Whatever William does today, one thing is for sure; the man who will one day be King sure deserves a very happy birthday.