Prince At Peace
On the eve of his BBC One documentary on men's mental health, the Duke of Cambridge is a man who has finally put the traumas of his past behind him.
MAY 27th, 2020
ecoming a father is a unique, complex, and overwhelming experience. It sets in motion a revaluation of the very structures of your life and the priorities of what matters. For Prince William, the task of stepping into fatherhood was no different. Though while the sleepless nights, late-night feeds, changing of the nappies and endless enjoyment of a new-born baby is shared by most, for the man who will one day be King, there was a bittersweet poignancy to the births of his three children – the absence of his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales.
We had seen since the moment he was born, proudly held in his mother’s arms, that William was besotted with the woman dubbed “the People’s Princess”. Diana was equally – if not more so – smitten with both of her sons. To her, ‘the boys’ provided the reality of motherhood she had always craved as a young girl, famously telling her nanny that she couldn’t wait to be a mother.
The eagerness – and protectiveness – of which she flourished into her role as a mother would provide Princes William and Harry a royal childhood unlike any other. The long noted ‘gilded cage’ was broken open and Diana enabled her two sons to relish the freedoms of the big wide world. In place of the butler-served lunches were trips to McDonalds, theme parks became a source of universal enjoyment, and introducing William and Harry to the plights of the ordinary man and woman, taught the young princes that not everyone shares the fortunes of privilege. But most importantly, the indefinable, unrivalled, and unconditional love of their mother was smothered on both William and Harry in private and in full view of the ever-watching public.
As with most siblings’ relationships with their parents, they can differ. It doesn’t denote favouritism or preference, but an understanding in differing personalities and traits. With William, Diana’s relationship with her eldest son evolved as he grew older. Sensitive, headstrong and a deep thinker, William took on the role of councillor to his mother. So much so that Diana once stated to one of her friends: “William used to cry on my shoulder, now I cry on his.”
For the young teenage prince, he, more than most, experienced the hardships of the media intrusion of which Diana suffered. The tears and torments of the paparazzi were laid bare for William and Harry to see, planting a toxic seed which we have seen manifest all these years later. The emotional trauma of the breakdown of his parent’s marriage was a deeply turbulent time in William’s life. Older and with greater exposure to the fallout, the Second-in-line-to-the-Throne faced unrelenting teasing at school, and in ensuring that his younger brother Harry wouldn’t experience the same, William actively fought to ensure that he was protected from the more salacious details. Hiding newspapers, providing stern warnings to friends to stay quiet; the young prince went above and beyond to shield his little brother from the ensuing scandals.
Under such strain, there were periods where William’s temper would get the better of him, causing him to lash out at both his parents for the pain they were inflicting on himself and his brother. It was noted that after the interviews with Jonathan Dimbleby and Martin Bashir, William actively refused to speak to either of his parents, leading Diana to plead with his school’s Headmaster for help. And although exhausted by the relentless point scoring, William would constantly strive for a drama-free world thereby quickly becoming a stabilizing force in the breakdown of his parent’s marriage.
Although the divorce of Charles and Diana was devastating for Willian and Harry, it would pale in comparison to the tragic death of their mother in 1997. The sombre image of a fifteen-year-old William walking behind his mother’s coffin, whilst the forensic eyes of the world watched on, is a memory embedded onto the psyche of all those who witnessed it. Head down, eyes occasionally glancing up at the gun carriage carrying the shrouded coffin of his mother – a Nation’s heart shattered for Diana’s “boys”.
Since that fateful day, much has happened in William’s life; University, marriage, children – all the wonders of starting a family have adorned the Duke of Cambridge. Yet, for Prince William the absence of his mother is still felt strongly. In an upcoming documentary set to air on BBC One tomorrow (Thursday 18, May), the Duke gives a rare insight into the impact of losing his mother saying: “your emotions come back in leaps and bounds because it’s a very different phase of life.” And whilst the sadness was evident in the Prince’s eyes, the torment of the past seems to have ebbed away.
In recent years, we have watched a man who is no longer defined by the sufferings of the past but liberated by the delights of the future. With a supportive wife, loving children, loyal friends, and a close affectionate bond with his father, (and hope of a repaired relationship with his brother) William finally seems content with life. The fractured and wary relationship with the press may still rear its head every now and then, but no longer does it dominate.
Whether it is his attentive investment in mental health, or the passage of time, the Duke of Cambridge seems at peace, which is why his emotive words on his mother are so potent. We rarely hear William discuss the loss he suffered as a teenager publicly, and when we do it is usually in conversation with someone else who has experienced a similar level of bereavement.
Some would look at the Duke’s refrain to talk openly and frequently about Diana’s death as a weakness. William explained his silence in an interview in 2017: “I’ve found it easier to not say anything as all anyone ever talks about is the bad all the time. They paint her as a tragic figure and she never was to my brother and I, she was fun, loving, and carefree, but those good things never make headlines.”
For William, interviews, declarations of despair at her death, and the blame game with the Press are not needed to demonstrate his commitment to Diana's memory. It is recognised in the way his face lights up at the sheer mention of her name by people he meets. In Pakistan last year, a young woman stated how much of a fan of the late Princess she was, William beamed: “I’m a huge fan of my mother too.”
Others have stated, that to use his mother’s memory is a cheap PR move. How anyone can willingly and sensibly judge a son on when or how he discusses his late mother is beyond reproach, and the less comment on that noise, the better.
For the Duke of Cambridge, fatherhood has reset his priorities and provided an outlet to remember his mother the way he feels she deserves to be remembered – lovingly and full of life. Through George, Charlotte and Louis; William can reminisce openly and freely about his childhood, and discuss their grandmother without the constraints of the fractured past. Fatherhood has unshackled the prince, and with Catherine by his side, previous times are no longer as painful as they were.
Towards the end of the promo clip shared by the BBC, footballer Marvin Sordell tells William how proud his mother would be of him. His answer is short yet speaks volumes: “I appreciate that.” Those words are a clear sign of a young man whose mother’s memory has never been far from his thoughts, but no longer overwhelming them. It defines a William focused on the now, present in the jubilations of family life and ultimately a prince at peace.
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