Bonny Prince William charms the British With his mother's looks and manner, the 16-year-old has a charisma all his own, and, for the most part, the British press is giving him the privacy to develop it.

September 06, 1998|By Bert Roughton Jr. | Bert Roughton Jr.,cox news service

LONDON - On his swim trunks are the letters "W.O.W."

They stand for "William of Wales," but the monogram also pretty well sums up the popular sentiment here for the eldest son of the late Princess Diana - the most likely heir to her title of lead character in the continuing national melodrama.

It is hard to look at William, with his blond locks, shy ways and brilliant blue eyes, and not see an image of his mother.

He has demonstrated a grasp of her "common" touch, while showing signs that he is developing a charisma of his own. On the day of his mother's funeral last year, William graciously received flowers handed him by mourners outside Buckingham Palace, a notable personal touch given the awkwardness exhibited by his royal relatives. Britain was charmed.

A new national survey placed him No. 2 on the list of most popular royals, just behind Princess Anne, the queen's only daughter. Prince Charles, his father, was at the bottom of the list.

His rare public appearances have created remarkable reactions. Girls whose mothers - and perhaps grandmothers - no doubt shrieked for the Beatles, do the same for the 6-foot-1 William, whose mother, according to one author, teased her son by calling him "DDG" - for "drop dead gorgeous."

During a visit to Vancouver, British Columbia, in March with brother Harry, 13, he was besieged by frantic girls, an experience that friends, always quoted anonymously in the British press, said frightened him to the bone.

When he turned 16 in June, the well-behaved newspapers were rewarded with the transcript of a very tame interview that essentially confirmed that William is a teen-ager with a teen-ager's likes and dislikes.

He loves sports - rugby, soccer, swimming, water polo and tennis. He likes action movies and loves his black Lab, Widgeon. He likes techno-pop music and, apparently, the Spice Girls, but also has an ear for the classics.

Lucinda Kennedy, a hair stylist from Surrey, offers the theory that people are hoping that William can help fill the gap left in their lives by the death of his mother. "You know it reminds me of the way that people tried to put John Lennon's son, you know, Sean, out front after his father was murdered," she said. "That's a right raw thing to do, but they do it, don't they?"

The fascination with the boy prince has led to some of the invasive press tactics the British scribes swore off in the wake of his mother's death a year ago last week. "So much for the caring, post-Diana Britain: We're still rubbernecks, we're still vultures," wrote columnist Libby Purves in the Times of London.

Recognizing this, Buckingham Palace has worked to protect the privacy of William and Harry. Indiscretions that seem minor compared to the intrusive treatment afforded Diana are not tolerated.

When a newspaper reported that William was selecting girls for invitations to tea, the teen-ager filed an official complaint with the Press Complaint Commission, leading to a rebuke.

When William and Harry met in private for 30 minutes with Camilla Parker-Bowles, Prince Charles' longtime love interest, the tabloid Sun got the scoop of the year for a three-page spread, photos and all - much to the outrage of the palace.

But, for the most part, the British media, perhaps chastened by the public's hostility after Diana's death, have provided William the space to grow up in as normal an environment as can be expected for a future king.

Yet, even as William prepares to return to the elite prep-school, Eton, misgivings about the attention heading his way remain. Some have called for tougher laws to protect the princes.

"To rely on the decency of the media is ludicrous," wrote the Times' Purves. "The princes should be allowed to walk freely in their own country, take risks, make decisions and grow up without being spied on."

Pub Date: 9/06/98

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