Ironically enough, just as a new BBC documentary prepares to air over the Easter weekend showing Prince William talking rapturously about his 'calling' to be a serach and rescue pilot, chatter suggesting that Prince William will probably stop flying search and rescue missions when his heir is born in the summer is reaching boiling point.
People mag is the latest publication to report that ‘changes are afoot in William’s life’, and he may well be preparing to ditch search and rescue for other roles. Palace officials will only say what they have always said, that William has several options: to stay in the RAF; move to another branch of the military (including possibly going back to the original regiment he joined, the Household Cavalry); or to leave military service completely and concentrate on life as a full-time working royal.
In fact, it’s far from settled what the not-so-young Prince will do next. He is said to have changed his mind several times in the last few months alone. And who could blame him? He and Kate are reluctant to give up the cosy, almost-normal life they have in the Welsh countryside, living in a remote farmhouse on the estate of wealthy landowner Sir George Meyrick.
True, it has been a bit inconvenient at times, but there is no pressing need to come back to London and embark on the thankless and sometimes boring life of a full-time working royal while the Queen is still alive. Plus, the young royals would like to give their child the benefeit of the rural life. William was recently filmed on active duty, and clearly loves his job and the camaraderie that being part of a team offers.
What may have made up William’s mind - if indeed he has come to a final decision to quit – is not the fact that he and Kate would rather be in London, but rather that if he stays on in search and rescue, William might find himself with a new, American boss.
For this week, the British government confirmed plans to privatise the search-and-rescue service which William works for. This means that the Royal Air Force will no longer be running search and rescue, instead operations will be directed by Bristow, the Texas-based provider of helicopter services to the oil and gas industry, which have won the contract worth £1.6 billion to provide the service for ten years.
Although Bristow have said that RAF personnel can transfer and work for them, it is inevitable that the entire ethos of the reacue teams would change. And William would not have anything like the same protection from leaked stories and press intrusion if he worked for a private company.
The contracting-out comes despite the fact that William spoke directly to Prime Minister David Cameron, lobbying him against contracting out the operation. The London Times reported this week that William spoke to the Prime Minister about the privatisation in 2010 when they were in Zurich as part of England’s unsuccessful 2018 World Cup bid. Mr Cameron later told MPs during Prime Minister’s Questions: “I have been lobbied extensively about air and sea rescue, including by people from all walks of life, if I can put it that way.”
The Times says that Downing Street confirmed that the Duke had spoken to Mr Cameron.
Although the RAF has said nothing publicly, there is no doubt that many will see this as yet another betrayal of the armed forces in the UK.
Many others have been quick to voice their anger at a private company stepping in to run a critical national service that has been run by the RAF and navy for 70 years.
Mike Margeson, vice-chairman of Mountain Rescue England and Wales and a team leader at Duddon and Furness in the Lake District, told the UK’s Guardian that he was "a little cautious and apprehensive" that the service would be as good.
"We tremendously value our relationship with the navy and the RAF. We realise the Sea King fleet is ageing and welcome the investment in new aircraft. We just hope we will have the same service.”
Controversially, Bristow will move operations from military bases such as Culdrose in Cornwall and Valley in Anglesey, where Prince William is based, to commercial airports. Two bases will close.
The British ministry of defence argues that the service needs to be privatized to free up personnel for front line duties.
William is due to end his three-and-a-half year tour of duty in the summer, but if he decides to extend his tour he would finish after the service is privatised in 2015.