Prince William: The British monarch-in-waiting

The Prince of Wales' strength of character during difficult times has shown the true qualities of an heir to the throne

His father's cancer diagnosis may mean that William could be king sooner than later, but his close relationship with his grandmother has surely prepared him for the key role
Rob Carter
His father's cancer diagnosis may mean that William could be king sooner than later, but his close relationship with his grandmother has surely prepared him for the key role

Prince William: The British monarch-in-waiting

No family, however exalted, is exempt from grief and anxiety over the death or illness of loved ones. The Kennedy family— often described as America’s royal family—is proof of that. But few, like the Kennedys and the British royal family today, have to endure public scrutiny during such difficult times.

It is to his credit, then, that Prince William has borne the recent health crises of his father, King Charles and his wife, Princess Catherine, with commendable fortitude in public.

Except for his sudden absence in March from the memorial service in St George’s Chapel in Windsor for his godfather, the late King Constantine of Greece, thought to be the day of the revelation of his wife’s cancer diagnosis, he has discharged his royal duties with calm self-possession.

He has been helped enormously in this task by Queen Camilla, who, at 76 years old, has stepped up as most senior royal to fill in for her husband while he too undergoes treatment for cancer.

But while the Queen can rely on her two grown-up children, her six lady Queen’s Companions, one of whom is her sister Annabel Elliot, and even her ex-husband, Andrew Parker-Bowles, to whom she remains close, Prince William has the added responsibility of helping care for his three young children, George, Charlotte and Louis.

Supportive in-laws

However, the Princess of Wales’s Middleton family—they are credited with giving Prince William stability and balance in his home life—are very close to their daughter’s husband and to their royal grandchildren.

When the palace announced earlier this year that the Princess was to undergo “planned abdominal surgery” and was expected to stay in the hospital for up to two weeks before continuing her recovery at home for several months, it was correctly assumed that her parents, Carole and Michael Middleton, would be supporting their daughter as well as her family as she recovers.

In fact, one of the only photographs taken of Princess Catherine during her recovery is being driven by her mother on the school run.

Read more: Kate Middleton's cancer revelation adds to royal strain

If his wife’s and father’s cancer diagnoses were not worrying enough, speculation about Princess Catherine’s illness reached a preposterous and unkind level on social media and last month, a UK privacy watchdog stated that it is investigating allegations that staff at a private London hospital, where she was treated, attempted to access her medical data while she was undergoing surgery for the abdominal operation.

When she released a video in March and told the public she had begun preventative chemotherapy treatment after cancer was discovered following her surgery in January, it came after weeks of speculation and conspiracy theories regarding her absence from public duties.

Now we are told the Princess of Wales has been “revictimised” by the online trolls, who have blamed her for not revealing her cancer diagnosis sooner.

As the Princess of Wales said in her video, one of the most sensitive aspects of her illness was explaining her condition to her children.

She emphasised the time she and her husband took to share the news with them “in a way that’s appropriate for them and to reassure them that I’m going to be OK.” The royal children may have privilege, but nothing is more levelling than the serious illness of a parent.

These current travails serve to bring to mind the Prince’s hinterland. While the death of his mother, Princess Diana, was tragically premature in 1997, his grandparents, the late Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh, did die in late old age.

Loving mentor

But if the whole nation mourned the passing of the late monarch in 2022, how much more must it have affected Prince William, who came to rely on his grandmother not just as the woman who was the long-reigning monarch, but also matriarch of his family and a loving advisor who shared her great knowledge with him to guide him on his forthcoming role as Prince of Wales and eventual monarch.

Even when he was a boy at Eton College, his grandmother would invite him to Windsor Castle to have tea and counsel. He was close to her in much the same was that his father was to the late Queen Mother.

In a touching statement shared after news broke of her death, Prince William said: “While I will grieve her loss, I also feel incredibly grateful. I have had the benefit of the Queen’s wisdom and reassurance into my fifth decade. My wife has had twenty years of her guidance and support. My three children have got to spend holidays with her and create memories that will last their whole lives."

"She was by my side at my happiest moments. And she was by my side during the saddest days of my life. I knew this day would come, but it will be sometime before the reality of life without Grannie will truly feel real."

"I thank her for the kindness she showed my family and me. And I thank her on behalf of my generation for providing an example of service and dignity in public life that was from a different age but always relevant to us all."

On the death of the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince William paid tribute to his grandfather, saying Prince Philip's “enduring presence” guided him “both through good times and the hardest days”.

Queen Elizabeth was a loving advisor to William who shared her great knowledge with him and guided him in his forthcoming role as Prince of Wales and eventual monarch.

This 'enduring presence' was shown most clearly during Princess Diana's funeral cortege on 6 September 1997. Initially, there were no plans for Prince Philip to walk behind her coffin, as this role was intended for immediate family only.

But after conversations with his grandson, who asked him to walk beside him in support as they followed the hearse, the Duke of Edinburgh joined his son Prince Charles, Prince William and Prince Harry, as well as Princess Diana's brother Charles, Earl Spencer, for the long walk behind the coffin.

Paying tribute to his grandfather on the announcement of his death in 2021, Prince William released a statement which read: "My grandfather's century of life was defined by service – to his country and Commonwealth, to his wife and Queen, and to our family. I feel lucky to have not just had his example to guide me, but his enduring presence well into my own adult life – both through good times and the hardest days." 

"I will always be grateful that my wife had so many years to get to know my grandfather and for the kindness he showed her."

"I will never take for granted the special memories my children will always have of their great grandpa coming to collect them in his carriage and seeing for themselves his infectious sense of adventure as well as his mischievous sense of humour."

"My grandfather was an extraordinary man and part of an extraordinary generation. Catherine and I will continue to do what he would have wanted and will support the Queen in the years ahead. I will miss my Grandpa, but I know he would want us to get on with the job."

It is clear from these statements how close Prince William was to his grandparents and how much he must miss them during these difficult days as he supports his wife and father through their illnesses.

Broken relationship

Now, of all times, he must also miss the support of a sibling. Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan Markle, issued a short message after the Princess of Wales's video through a spokesman.

"We wish Kate and the family health and healing and hope they are able to do so privately and in peace," he said.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are not thought to have been informed of the Princess's condition before the public announcement.

Britain's Prince William, Prince of Wales (L) and Britain's Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, take part in the procession following the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II on September 19, 2022.

In spite of the gravity of the present situation for the royal family, the brothers seem no closer and Prince William, perhaps mindful of the Sussexes propensity to use private information for personal gain, must feel more than ever that he needs to protect his wife from any such possibility.

If the couple have the scrutiny of the world upon them, they also have the world's best wishes. After the Princess's announcement, Kensington Palace issued a statement: "The Prince and Princess are both enormously touched by the kind messages from people here in the UK, across the Commonwealth, and around the world in response to Her Royal Highness' message."

"They are extremely moved by the public's warmth and support and are grateful for the understanding of their request for privacy at this time."

The King himself has been photographed reading some of the thousands of get-well cards sent to him. Buckingham Place, too, issued a statement: "The King has been sent a selection in his daily red box of paperwork. Many share their own experience with cancer."

"Others offer good wishes and advice for a speedy recovery. To everyone who took the time to write, THANK YOU. As His Majesty has said, 'Such kind thoughts are the greatest comfort and encouragement'."

The Prince of Wales certainly has difficulties to contend with this year, but given his training and the forbearance he has shown so far, he is demonstrating he has the strength of character to deal with them.

And by so doing, he has shown the true qualities of an heir to the throne.

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