William, The Conquering Prince
After his 'King-like' address at VJ Day, the once shy, self-conscious Prince William is conquering the demons of the past and stepping out as a King-In-Waiting.
AUGUST 16th, 2020
t was a brisk wintery morning and the usually pristine emerald Sandringham lawns were sprinkled with the icy touch of frost. The Queen’s Norfolk residence always welcomed The Royal Family for their annual Christmas break, bringing together her beloved family at a time of seasonal goodwill. However, it was 1994, and within the confines of Sandringham there were barely any examples of seasonal, willing goodness.
The Prince and Princess of Wales had announced their separation two years prior, and ever since, a bitter rivalry had exploded onto the front pages of the newspapers. Point scoring, leaking stories to the press and accusations of adultery were blasted across countless headlines, and neither Charles nor Diana had much time for one another.
Yet in the middle were their two sons, Prince’s William and Harry. Two young boys who were watching the brutal breakdown of their parent’s marriage play out for the whole world to dissect. And whilst the fracturing royal couple had paid minimal attention to the impact their point scoring was inflicting upon the boys; it would be the annual walk to church on Christmas morning which would highlight the potency of the potential damage their fighting was having, not on Harry, but on William.
Shy, self-conscious and reactive, Prince William consistently reminded Diana of herself as a youngster. Having battled with her own insecurities, the Princess had been taking stock of her eldest son’s future over the last few years. She had become increasingly concerned over William’s shy personality and had begun to question whether the pressure of being King one day was becoming too much. The walk to church confirmed her worst fears.
Diana had purposely decided to accompany her eldest son, leaving Harry to walk with Prince Charles. This wasn’t out of favouritism, but concern. Before stepping out of the black iron gates, leading to the grounds of the Sandringham Estate, William was nervous. Exposed to the media furore of his parent’s marriage problems, a headline in an Australian Newspaper had captured his attention three days prior.
‘Only King Wills Can Save the Royals’, it read.
The headline had resulted in the thirteen-year-old William panicking that the public and the ever-present media, waiting along the walkway to the church, would focus on him more intensely. Diana assured him it was a silly headline that was far from the truth, and that “Pa” was next and all he needed to focus on was being ‘William’.
The young prince smiled, waved and accepted gifts without fear or worry, but the initial reaction facing the crowds scared Diana. How could William possibly deal with becoming King when his response to a simple headline resulted in such anxiety? And although the Princess had long hoped that the crown would bypass Charles and fall upon the head of her son, the question consistently plagued her, and she wasn’t alone.
Throughout, and long after the fallout from the “War of the Wale’s”, The Queen had been paying close attention to her second-in-line to the Throne. William’s eversion to the press and subsequent nerves in front of the public hadn’t gone unnoticed by the experienced Monarch. Having watched her own father struggle with the responsibility of being King, and forever detailed his sudden accession to the throne as “a death sentence even a King can’t avoid”, she organised a meeting with her top advisors, as well as the newly divorced Charles and Diana.
There they discussed William’s struggle with his life in the public eye. In response, a plan was hatched to introduce the young Prince to educating him on what was to be expected as he grew older. The constitution, the protocols, duty and expectations were laid before the now fifteen-year-old. The Queen Mother took particular interest in William, reminding him to stop slouching when walking – a habit he had adopted to disguise how tall he was.
“People will need to see you, more than they will ever need to hear you,” she had been quoted as saying.
From this meeting confidence grew, and whilst the death of Diana in 1997 scarred the Prince eternally; the seeds planted by the late-Princess, Charles, the Queen and the Royal Family have begun to bear fruit. No more so than today.
Addressing the Nation of the 75th anniversary of VJ Day, Prince William spoke outside of Horse Guard’s Parade thanking the countless men and women who fought and died for freedom. Although his speech was universally praised, it was hard to ignore the surging undercurrent of something else beneath the surface of his address. There was a renewed confidence to William, one not embedded in public speaking, but existing within the embellished majesty of kingship. For all of two minutes, it seemed as if the Prince and Duke vanished, and instead a snapshot of a future King blazed unflinchingly before us.
His words resonated with a stoic prose, an unmovable conviction that was almost impossible to ignore. We had seen this before, though not from William, but the Queen as she addressed the Commonwealth as we battled the pandemic. It was striking, the similarity between the two. And whilst there is still much for the Duke of Cambridge to learn before he reaches the echelons dutifully minded by the Queen, this out-of-the-blue demonstration proved how far William has come.
It is fair to say that the few last weeks have been difficult for the Duke. The new biography on Harry and Meghan, Finding Freedom, has dragged the unflinching and brutal departure of the Sussexes back into the spotlight. Whilst William faces numerous criticisms in the book, they aren’t scathing. His wife however isn’t so lucky.
The contents of the book have led to the Prince being described as ‘sad’: “There isn’t so much anger, more confusion and sadness,” described a close friend to the Duke. “William thought everyone had moved on and that the frustrations of the past had subsided. That obviously isn’t the case. It’s left him unable to see how Harry and himself can fix what’s gone wrong.”
The strain accompanying the release of the book will have been uncomfortable for The Cambridge’s, yet William’s speech showed no signs of dismay. At a time of national confusion, fear and devastation, as the unseen pandemic cripples our economy, the Cambridge’s know they can be a source of comfort.
Whether it be visiting Wales, launching a mental health initiative for Front Line workers, or transforming the entire football community into the Heads Up Football Association, they are demonstrating what the public needs most from our Royals. It isn’t a book filled with complaints, but a commitment to support those who rely upon them. For William, he is slowly but surely demonstrating this.
The future of the Royal Family rests upon the shoulders of the Duke of Cambridge, more so than it ever will with Prince Charles. This isn’t a slight to the Prince of Wales, but an acknowledgment that the Monarchy’s foresight always looks far beyond the distant future. They plan decades in advance; the Duke of Cambridge will be vital to those decades, and as he spoke to the Nation on VJ Day, he proved he was well on his way to living up to the expectation.
The Duke of Cambridge will be King, he will be the figurehead which the entire country and the wider Commonwealth place our faith, trust and confidence in. In times of pain, we will look to him for comfort. In those moments of celebrated elation, William will lead the applause. To the broken, downtrodden and frustrated – much like the Queen, he will be the guiding light many will turn to.
The role of Monarch stems beyond the protocols of Palace etiquette, the hierarchy of ascension, or the complaints of family members. It is one which leads from the front, ubiquitous – always. William is in this for life, as is Catherine, and so will his son George. As the Duke of Cambridge stood behind the podium set in front of Horse Guard’s Parade, he proved he can do all those things.
There is a saying: “Look back upon the life of a great leader, and you’ll always find the broken path they’ve paved to greatness.” For the young, shy and uncertain Prince William, his began at those iron gates at Sandringham. And as the years move on, his and the country’s paths will not always be smooth, but in his VJ Day address and throughout the pandemic, he has demonstrated that as Prince, Duke and future King, he’ll conquer whatever comes our way.
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