So, Prince George is probably going to Eton.
A sighting of George, Prince William, and Kate Middleton on the Eton College campus in recent days is being seen as confirmation that long-standing rumors the couple intend to send their sons to William’s old school are accurate (Kensington Palace declined to comment).
The news shines a rare glimmer of light into the highly protected, off-camera lives of William and Kate’s three children, just days after the trio were leading global newsfeeds as the royal family went on parade for the king’s official birthday at Buckingham Palace.
In the carriages and on the balcony, it was undoubtedly the royal children who were the media stars.
They slipped easily into what are rapidly becoming their public personas—George, the future king, was composed and dutiful, his sister Charlotte was attentive and sweet, while young Louis delighted in playing the joker, pulling faces and gesticulating extravagantly towards the crowd—making everyone, even his parents, laugh.
While the children are clearly beautifully brought up by their parents (Kate, after all, has made early childhood her signature cause) and amazingly well-behaved, it is also hard not to wonder just what effect growing up in the royal spotlight will have on these three children, currently aged 9, 8 and 5.
While celebrities’ children are often subject to media intrusion and scrutiny, what these three have been and will be exposed to is unprecedented in human history.
News of George’s conception melted the internet when Kate’s pregnancy was revealed back in 2013. Their births were awaited remotely by billions and announced on easels on the courtyard of Buckingham Palace and the floor of the House of Commons—and on countless millions of social media posts.
One can only imagine the dilemma their parents must face as they do their best to juggle the public interest baked into their kids’ lives by the structure of a hereditary monarchy with their emotional well being.
One observer who questions the psychological impact of a royal upbringing is Tom Quinn, a royal author who has penned several authoritative books telling the stories of life behind the scenes in Buckingham Palace, including a new book on royal children, Gilded Youth.
“It is not surprising that the kids are probably being sent to Eton,” Quinn told The Daily Beast, “And it just shows the weight of tradition and expectation in the royal family.
“Royal child rearing hasn’t changed much in 650 years—basically they get someone else to do it for them and try to make their children grow up and mature as quickly as possible while seeing very little of them. But the Cambridge children are different in that their mother is the first royal mother to have had a warm and affectionate childhood. But even Kate can’t escape all the royal traditions, and it now looks like they will eventually be sent to boarding school after all.”
Of course many would argue that being sent to boarding school at 13, the age students typically start at Eton, is not necessarily evidence of frosty parenting. And there is a compelling argument that for children as high profile as the royals, an environment such as Eton might allow for a normal-for-them adolescence.
Quinn says: “Diana used to jokingly say, ‘I wonder what would happen if I sent the boys to Holland Park comprehensive.’ There is not really much choice. It’s a bit like everything to do with royal life. It’s like being in [British jail] Wormwood Scrubs—just with golden taps.”
Quinn gives credit, however, to Kate for her determination to see many other things done differently with her kids: “I have heard that Kate has been very good at both accepting the way the system works, but also slightly subversively modifying it.
“She insisted that William was involved in bedtime, reading to the kids and bathing them, and they split the school run. She doesn’t like the press attention on the children but having not suffered it herself as a child she has a less emotional attitude. She believes she can control it in such a way that they will not be damaged by it. And to be fair, it has worked—the paparazzi don’t hang around the school gates anymore. They are allowed some freedom.”
Another important source of freedom is the low-key holidays in Britain, often on the Channel Island of Tresco (conveniently enough now technically owned in its entirety by William as Prince of Wales).
One of their circle who holidayed at the same time as them on the island told The Daily Beast: “On Tresco they are literally like any other family. They fish for crabs off the pier and you’ll hear the kids demanding ice creams and the parents going, ‘No, no —oh, OK, but only if you’re good.’ It’s clearly super important to them to just be normal. It’s incredibly impressive.”
The Daily Beast also understands from sources that the children—and William—are expected to do regular chores, such as emptying the dishwasher, and tidy up around the house, and that they do not have a full time housekeeper specifically because Kate wants them to experience as much normality as possible, with her own middle class upbringing as the blueprint.
And yet of course, this very desire for normality, the wish to keep them away from the cameras as much as possible, only illustrates the all-too obvious dangers attendant on the children’s lofty inherited position.
Prince Harry, who should know, is one of those who is concerned for the kids.
In an interview for the Daily Telegraph when his memoir, Spare, was published, he told friend, writer Bryony Gordon: “If I see wrongdoing and a pattern of behavior that is harming people, I will do everything I can to try and change it.”
Gordon wrote that Harry “worries about the other ‘spares’ in the family,” and quoted him as saying: “As I know full well, within my family, if it’s not us it’s going to be someone else. And though William and I have talked about it once or twice, and he has made it very clear to me that his kids are not my responsibility, I still feel a responsibility knowing that out of those three children, at least one will end up like me, the spare. And that hurts, that worries me.”
Psychologists tend to agree with Harry—who has notably released scarcely any images of his children—that growing up predestined to be less important than your sibling is not an ideal recipe for a happy and rounded existence—especially when combined with inordinate fame.
Dr Chirag Gorasia, senior consultant child psychologist at London’s Blue Tree Clinic, who has helped the children of celebrities and high-net-worth individuals, told The Daily Beast: “It is difficult enough being a child in modern society, without being someone like the royal princes, who are among the most recognizable faces in the world.”
Asked about the particular challenges for the “spares,” Gorasia said: “It’s tough for any person growing up in an environment where they are second-best.”
Asked what he would advise the family if they consulted him, he said: “I think William and Kate do try to do what they can to protect the children, to allow them to have as normal a childhood as possible. The goal is to see where there are opportunities to create normality among abnormality. It’s about acknowledging the situation they are in and supporting the parents to think about children’s best interests first. William and Kate do well, I think.
“Ultimately, it’s very normal for a child of 5 to pull funny faces—that is what kids at that age do.”
Tom Quinn doesn’t completely agree: “The child most in danger from life in the gilded cage is Louis,” he says. “My sources say George is already treated differently, not by his parents, but by other people and that Louis seems to play up to get attention. Louis already seems remarkably like Harry—the joker—and it may be that he will struggle as much as Harry did to find a role in the royal family.
“I can understand why Harry fears for the children but his fears are based to some extent on his own childhood which was far more damaging than the childhoods of the Cambridge kids are likely to be. But it will still be very difficult for Louis and Charlotte.”
Christopher Andersen, the author of the definitive study of William and Harry as children, Diana’s Boys, told The Daily Beast: “Everything hinges on what the parents do to offset this sense of being special that history has bestowed upon George, Charlotte, and Louis. The sad truth is that Elizabeth II and Prince Philip were lousy parents. The king has described his mother as cold, aloof and unfeeling, and his father as a bully.
“In contrast to the way she treated Charles and Anne, which was largely to ignore them, Elizabeth doted on, pampered, and indulged Andrew and Edward. In Andrew’s case especially, the results are painfully obvious.
“William and Kate stand in strong contrast to the king’s parents. They are very much hands-on and doing their very best not to spoil them. Kate is obviously largely to be thanked for this.
“Don’t forget, she is truly the very first commoner destined to be queen. She is descended from coal miners, and her mother, a former flight attendant, grew up partly in a public housing project. You can see in the way that they actually seem to be paying close attention to the children—unlike the royal parents that have preceded them—that William and Kate aren’t about to let them get away with anything. They are disciplining their kids, but they are doing it with love.
“I hope the three will turn out relatively unspoiled. Of course, history takes some bizarre, even grotesque, turns, so who really knows. The bottom line is that William and Kate are doing their level best to keep their offspring’s feet planted firmly on the ground.”