Prince William, who turns 30 today, knows that England – and his beloved grandmother, the Queen – expects him to step up to the plate and become a full-time member of the royal family.
“I feel like an interloper,” he said in the presence of the queen at a charity event the other day, referring to the fact that his grandparents had spent more than a century between them serving the nation.
The same could be said of his royal role. As courtiers at Buckingham Palace admit, William can do just as he likes. He has dipped in and out of his royal life, juggling his job as a Navy search and rescue pilot with occasional royal duties. His royal life has been tailored to his working life, not the other way round. He loves his job, this month promoted to captain, an indication of his abilities as a pilot and commander. It would be a real wrench to give it up.
Ironically, the fact that his wife, Catherine Middleton, has made such a success of her first year as a royal, means that the pressure is now on William to perform more engagements to compliment his bride. After all, he is the one who was born royal and will be king.
While he has been away on Navy duty, be it in the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic or at his home base in Anglesey, in North Wales, Catherine has filled in the gaps, undertaking her first solo engagements and even making a couple of short speeches. Her presence on the royal stage reminds the public of the absence of the future king. For years, he has been able to keep a low royal profile; now that Catherine is around, he has nowhere to hide.
Traditionally, 21 is seen as the coming of age; but in royal circles, 30 is the accepted time when the rest of the royal family expect royal princes to marry, produce an heir and work full-time for Crown. In short: to pull their royal weight.
The Queen’s triumphant Diamond Jubilee is probably the best time ever for a changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. With Prince Philip, now 91, becoming increasingly frail, the pressure is on Charles and William, along with Harry, to take the strain.
This is a big year, too, for William and Catherine. Not only are they making their home in Princess Margaret’s former apartment at Kensington Palace, they are eagerly planning a family. As William told Katie Couric:
I’m just very keen to have a family and both Catherine and I are looking forward to having a family in the future.
He had better get his skates on. William is already flying in the face of royal history; every future monarch since the days of Queen Victoria started a family months after they married. In fact, Diana was pregnant with William three months after her wedding.
While most royals have opted for an heir and a spare, William, who likes to do his own thing, may be thinking of a bigger family, one that will match the two sisters and one son of the Middleton family.
If William follows his heart and signs up for another five-year tour of duty, it means he will be serving in the Navy whilst trying to juggle a new home, family and royal duties. Prince Andrew tried to perform that tricky act in the early days of his marriage to Sarah Ferguson –- with disastrous results. While Catherine is no Sarah, it will inevitably put an unnecessary strain on their lives.
As much as William wants live what he calls a “normal” life, he will find that when he blows out the candles on his birthday cake, he will be ruled by his head, forced to say farewell to his freedom. The royal helicopter pilot will be coming down to Earth with a bump.
Andrew Morton shot to fame in 1992 with his book Diana: Her True Story, spilling the truth about the wretched state of the marriage of Prince Charles and Princess Diana. He recently wrote William & Catherine: Their Story, tweets @andrewmortonUK and has his own website on royal and celebrity news, themortonreport.com.