Prince William – he of the cute toddler shorts photo-call and shy university fresher smile – has changed. He’s older, a husband, a father. He’s also reticent, retiring and apparently not very happy about his role. It doesn’t take an insider or a confidante to tell us that William isn’t very content with being the heir to the heir. It’s inherent in his facial expressions, his awkwardness, his inability to smile for the cameras and his desire to keep all but the most public moments hidden from the public gaze.
The problem is that those photographers and journalists are the conduit between William and his future subjects. Our relationship with William is only possible through the lens of the cameras he seems to despise and the pen of the writers he sneers at. For many years it has been accepted that William, and to some extent, Harry, have had an uneasy relationship with the media due to the hounding of their mother. However, twenty years have passed since her demise, and the one thing Diana herself knew was crucial the press can be in reaching the hearts of the nation. The majority of people living in the British Isles will never meet William or his wife. They only know them through the pictures and stories they will see in publications. William must understand that if he seems sulky or unwilling in photographs, he will be perceived as such by an entire nation.
We once believed William to be the torchbearer for his mother. Blonde, shy, unassuming – his teenage demeanour belied a stubbornness and obstinacy which seems to have taken root in his older years. Now instead, his younger brother has embraced the Diana mantle with his natural friendliness and approachability. It is a difficult moment for William, the boy who once confessed to friends that he didn’t want a royal future at all. There is a sense that he is at a crossroads, one which he has avoided at all costs while his grandmother still lives, one which he has delayed with helicopters, Cambridge courses and country life. It is time for William to either step up or step down. Stepping up would require he and his wife to start attending official engagements in a way neither has managed since their marriage, along with an acceptance that this is their future. Stepping down would require a stripping of privilege one suspects William would not welcome. Too many now believe that William the Unwilling wants the benefits of being royal without the burdens.
The monarchy survives through the will of the people. For so long, we have had the Queen at our helm. Most of us have never known another monarch. Her death will undoubtedly provoke a national mourning like none we have seen before. We need to know that those following in her footsteps will be there for us, as she was, “devoted to service”. If William knows already in his heart that he cannot fulfil this obligation, he MUST exit stage left and ensure that the succession is in solid, willing, capable hands.
For me, a monarchist who wants the institution to succeed, I worry about a future beyond the reign of our long-lived Queen. I think there are many in this country who feel the same. It is time for William to choose – to embrace the future he was born to, or to walk away to a different life.
He cannot be both heir and country squire.