William comes to adulthood cautiously

Royalty: Britain's royal teen-ager is turning 18, leaving Eton and facing the press and public with aplomb.

June 17, 2000|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

LONDON - He has royal blood, lives in palaces, looks like a movie star, and attends an exclusive school that mints war heroes and prime ministers.

But to hear Britain's Prince William tell it, he's just like any other teen on the cusp of adulthood, with a yen for sports and a liking for dance and pop music.

He even has to slog through exams to get into a university.

Prince William turns 18 Wednesday, a royal milestone marked by a carefully crafted media offensive apparently designed to show that he's a royal with a common touch.

Video, still photos and an interview were released yesterday, providing a glimpse of the life and times of the man who someday will be King William V, as his school days wind down at Eton College. The world saw William in the pool playing water polo and in the kitchen handling raw chicken while making paella.

Royal handlers also revealed William's request to postpone being called His Royal Highness, meaning nobody will have to curtsey or bow to him. His grandmother approved the request. Just call him William.

But to cut to the chase, does the kid who'll soon become the world's most eligible bachelor have a girlfriend?

"I like to keep my private life private," he said in the interview, in which he answered written questions submitted by Britain's Press Association.

To be fair to William and the royal spin doctors, his coming of age was always going to be a potentially difficult moment, as he emerged from the cocoon-like Eton, which lies near Windsor Castle, home to a royal family that has suffered its share of tragedies and tragicomedies in recent years.

"I don't like attention," William said. "I feel uncomfortable with it. But I have particularly appreciated being left alone at Eton, which has allowed me to concentrate on my school work and enjoy being with my friends without being followed by cameras. I am grateful to the media for helping to protect my privacy, and I hope I can enjoy the same freedom at university."

With his broad shoulders, blond hair and blue eyes, William is the future face of an age-old monarchy, the boy prince who will be king. He stands in stark youthful contrast to his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, who has reigned nearly a half-century, and his father, Prince Charles, a middle-aged man still waiting to fulfill his constitutional and family roles.

To many, William also provides the monarchy with a spark of glamour that has been missing since the death of his mother, Princess Diana, killed in a 1997 auto crash in Paris with her companion Dodi Fayed.

"Everyone looks at William and says, `We see Diana,' " says Charles Rae, royal reporter for the top-selling British daily tabloid, The Sun. "But you have to remember, Diana was a tall, blond, long-legged, blue-eyed beauty. William is a very handsome man. . . . William will be popular. But it's a long leap to say he'll be as popular as his mother."

A willowy child of 13 when he was escorted to Eton by his parents, he now prepares to leave, a 6-foot-2 young man. By all accounts, he was a success during his school days at Eton, established in 1440 by Henry VI.

William was selected as one of 21 prefects, senior students who supervise discipline, excelled in such sports as swimming, assembled a strong academic record and played the role of Attendant Lord in Shakespeare's "The Tempest."

Like thousands of other young British graduates, William is planning to take a year off before beginning college, but prefers "to keep details private until all the arrangements have been settled."

Then, he will go to university, intending to study art history. Media reports have suggested William will attend the University of Edinburgh, thus leaving the Oxford-Cambridge orbit while solidifying the monarchy's ties to Scotland.

In the midst of completing A-level exams that help determine which college he will attend - he'll actually be studying for his art history exam on his birthday - William said, "Until I know my results, I'm unsure. I know there's been an awful lot of speculation, but you'll have to wait."

The interview encompassed subjects including driving, riding, school and his pet dog Widgeon, and helped fill in some blanks on William's interests.

"I enjoy water polo, football (soccer) and rugby - mostly team sports," he said.

Asked what he does in his spare time, he said, "I enjoy being with my friends, going to the cinema and watching football and rugby matches."

He likes "action films."

He also shops for his own clothes and said he prefers "casual wear."

How does the teen cope with the attention of girls?

"In my own way," he said. "Trying to explain how might be counter-productive."

He deftly turned aside a question about being linked with personalities such as pop singer Britney Spears.

"There's been a lot of nonsense put about by PR companies," he said. "I don't like being exploited in this way, but as I get older it's increasingly hard to prevent."

Planning to complete his education before embarking on solo royal duties, William said he has not made up his mind about a future career. Some here expect William to follow his father's path into the military.

"At this stage I just want to get through university," he said when asked if he thought of any other profession. "I know there's been a lot of speculation but the truth is I haven't made up my mind."

Like his father, William is likely destined to be waiting for decades to become king. How he, and the monarchy, cope with that period could determine his future role. A recent poll indicated nearly three out of four young Britons would rather live in a republic than a monarchy.

"The poor devil's going to be the subject of attention - it's worse now because of media attention," says historian Philip Ziegler. "Unless he is exceptionally stable and balanced and relaxed, and there are some indications he is, he is going to find the pressure intolerable."

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