Prince William at school: just another Eton boy?

September 05, 1995|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,London Bureau of The Sun

ETON, England -- He will be just another boy on his first day at a new school.

Like 249 other newcomers, he will learn to put on a 19th century uniform that includes a tail-coat, waistcoat and pin-striped trousers. He will be instructed to raise a forefinger to acknowledge a passing teacher. And he will tour the Upper School, where the white marble busts of prime ministers and poets loom over the other graduates whose names are carved on brown panels.

Tomorrow, Prince William, second in line to the throne of England, will come of age and go to Eton College.

The 13-year-old son of Prince Charles and Princess Diana will walk on to a world stage as he walks through the gates of the 555-year-old institution. The moment marks a big event for Britain and a giant leap of faith for the royal family.

Eton lies just across the Thames from Windsor Castle, yet never before has someone so close to the throne attended the nation's most elite private prep school. Eton, founded in 1440 by Henry VI, has produced 20 prime ministers and such writers as Shelley, Fielding, Aldous Huxley and George Orwell.

In placing William at Eton, the royal family has not just thrust him into the incubator of the English establishment, it has put him in a town of 3,600 that teems with tourists year-round.

Double-decker tour buses rumble by William's new home. Each school day, he will have to cross a street where he can be intercepted by photographers. Even behind closed doors he can suffer unwanted intrusion. Newspapers reportedly have been contacted by students willing to act as "moles" and report on the doings of the boy who might one day be king.

"He is not an institution, nor a soap star nor a football hero," said Lord Wakeham, the chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, as he warned newspaper owners to keep their reporters away from William. "He is a child. Of course, in one important respect he is different from other children."

It's not every student who goes through his school days with a team of security guards. But then, not every child is a likely target of stalkers, terrorists or intrusive tourists.

The citizens and shopkeepers in Eton's tight-knit community are adamant that William's privacy must be guarded.

"I hope the press allows William to be a normal boy," says Douglas Hill, a pharmacist who counts among his clients Queen Mother Elizabeth. "Lots of princes from around the world and children of wealthy people have come here, and all have managed quite normally."

For their five years at Eton, students encounter a world with its own history and traditions. Eton's playing fields produced soldiers and statesmen, the walls of its buildings adorned with memorials to the schoolboys who died fighting in colonial campaigns and two world wars.

Here, school terms are "halves"; teachers are "beaks." Graduates become "old Etonians," whether they are 99 or 19.

To the Manor enrolled

Seventy of the boys, known as King's Scholars, live in a 15th century building overlooking the main quad that was used for a race scene in the movie "Chariots of Fire." The other students live outside the school walls in 24 houses, each home to 50 boys.

William will board at Manor House, which is tucked by the school library, a few yards from Eton's main entrance. He will have his own room, furnished with an armchair, desk, ottoman and bed.

The two most important adults in his Eton life will be his house master and his Dame. Andrew Gailey, a Northern Irishman said )) to be a historian and music lover, presides over Manor House. Elizabeth Heathcote, said to be sweet and patient, is responsible for making sure the laundry is done, the meals are cooked and the rooms are cleaned.

"The house is bang in the middle of town, and it has always been a hard house, quite tough and sporty," says Philip Delves Broughton, 23, an old Etonian who works for London's Daily Telegraph. "The house has all these narrow staircases that go up through the middle of it. It's a house that is always at the center of things."

Mr. Delves Broughton says William will not have to endure hazing. Fagging, in which younger members of the house were at the beck and call of the older members, was outlawed in the late 1970s. Beating was banned in 1980. Even the colors test -- a ritual examination of Eton trivia -- has been toned down.

"If anyone is seen to be bullying, they are stamped on pretty hard," Mr. Delves Broughton says.

Eton stands in stark contrast to the school attended by William's father, Prince Charles. He is a notably unhappy graduate of Gordonstoun, in Scotland -- where the Spartan regimen proved unsettling. It was where students badgered him about the largeness of his ears.

jTC Princess Diana, William's mother, apparently exerted her influence to ensure that William followed the path of her own father and brother by attending Eton.

Love of literature

And what sort of boy is the school getting?

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