Prince William turned 21 this week, which didn’t really come as a surprise. It had to happen sooner or later, and this was as good a week as any. To mark the occasion, M-Net screened The Reluctant Royal, a documentary about, well, Will. Will is not free. Will is reluctant. How reluctant is Will? He is so reluctant, he didn’t appear in the documentary at all, except in file footage and old clips of him as a jolly toddler, all kitted out in stripy jersey and tiny red shorts. It was quite sweet to see – I had forgotten how much Prince William, aged four, looked like Simon Gear, aged now.
Despite not having an actual prince to talk to, the documentary did all it could. What it could do was footage of fringe. Oh, he has a mighty fringe, does William. We saw the fringe from all angles. We saw it from above, from the side, from the other side. We didn’t see it from a Will’s eye-view, of course, because Will is very reluctant. His reluctance extends to cameras being strapped to his forehead.
So there was no Will-cam, but there was an impressive fringe, if you like fringes. It was the kind of fringe I spent years envying as a schoolboy. All the cool kids in Durban had fringes like that – they hung down and you could look through them and all the cool kids could flick them back with a toss of the head. The really cool kids could stick out their lower lips and blow upwards, and the fringe would levitate. I never had such a fringe. My hair was of the wrong sort. It waved when it should have flopped; it had too much relationship with gravity. That is one of the reasons I resent Oprah. Whenever she says: “You can be anything you want to be”, I always want to reply: “Oh yeah? Well, I want to have a fringe like Prince William’s, or like Stuart Wright, who sat two desks down in Mr Nupen’s history class.”
There were times when the documentary succeeded in its primary task: winning our sympathy for the reluctant prince. It is not really in my nature to have much fellow-feeling for some tall, rich, befringed future king. Seldom do I think of William and sigh aloud, “poor bugger.” Rarely do I look up from the muddle and murk of my life and think: “Could be worse. At least I’m not heir to the throne of Windsor.” But perhaps I should, because it can’t be all fun. A moment in the show brought that home.
There was old footage of Diana on holiday in the Caribbean with her young sons. They were splashing at the sea’s edge, laughing, happy together. The water was blue and the sun danced on the surface and made their fringes shine like electrum. “Not such a bad life,’ I thought.
At that moment the camera pulled back to a wider angle. There, perched like strange beaked birds behind a line drawn in the sand perhaps 15 metres from the family, were all the photographers of the world, four deep, jostling and leaning over each other, snapping and snapping and snapping. I looked at William again. “Poor bugger,” I thought.
The show had its share of drama. “William is the royal family’s last hope!” intoned the voice-over, like Obi-Wan Kenobi discussing Luke Skywalker. “But first he must come to terms with his destiny!”
Epic stuff, but still I can’t get that interested in him. He is just about as dull as I suppose a future king of England has to be. There is another character I find far more intriguing.
He is there in all the file footage of William, but instead of occupying centre-screen, blonde and radiant like a sun, he is a dark, brooding smudge at the edges, his mood unreadable, like a cloud gathering but not yet large enough to threaten. Harry has the makings of a Shakespearean character: dark, inward, fringeless, bearing an embarrassing resemblance to James Hewitt, orbiting ever on the outers of the Windsor solar system.
While William wears chinos and simpers for the camera, I imagine Harry stalking the gardens thinking furious thoughts, fuming for attention, brooding on his uncertain blood, absent-mindedly strangling baby birds and crushing small mammals beneath his heel. One day, like Mordred, he will leave the kingdom and raise a mighty army in exile, always dreaming of the day he will return to bring low the banner of Windsor to be trampled in the mud of a small, rainy island … or perhaps it’s just me.
Sunday Independent, 29 June 2003