It was 30 years ago today that a seven-lb. 1.5-ounce boy was born in London. His parents named him William Arthur Philip Louis. The world knows him as Prince William, second in line to the throne. After a year of intense attention everyone knows his biography (well, there could be a few people in a spiritual retreat in Bhutan who might not know his backstory). The London papers are full of reports about his $16-million inheritance from his mother that was held in trust until this day. There are mutterings about whether Kate is planning a big blowout party, or something much more low-key—if you believe Prince Harry, who never hesitates to take the piss out of his older brother, he’s become positively “middle aged,” preferring quiet night watching DVDs and eating home-cooked meals with Kate at their Anglesey home than hitting nightclubs until all hours of the morning. All a royal spokesman would say is, “He will spend some of his birthday at Highgrove, where he has been based this week, then whatever he does at the weekend will be low-key and private.”
Perhaps the Telegraph said it best:
Turning 30 is often seen as a symbolic moment, an assumption of adult responsibility after the carefree teens and twenties. But for the duke of Cambridge, who reaches that landmark today, responsibility has been a constant companion, in the form of duties to the military, charity and country that a few nights on the town will have done little to leaven. Even his marriage was soon interrupted by a six-week mission to the Falklands—and while the £10 million inheritance that he receives today might be welcome, it is also a reminder of a mother’s life cruelly cut short.
Given the pressure and scrutiny they are under, the Duke and his brother have emerged as remarkably well-balanced individuals, blending informality and charm with a constant awareness of their role. In doing so, they have made a very difficult job look effortlessly easy. We wish him many happy returns.
But along with the congratulations is a question beginning to loom above all others: Will he stay in the RAF after his three-year stint ends next year?
Certainly he’s excelled in his job. Earlier this month he passed a big test. As the BBC stated:
Prince William has qualified as a Royal Air Force search-and-rescue captain, Clarence House has said. The duke of Cambridge passed his tests on 29 May. A spokesman said he was “pleased to have passed the milestone.” The prince serves with No 22 Squadron at RAF Valley in Anglesey, north Wales. He had been serving as a co-pilot. Clarence House said he would now “command search and rescue operations in RAF Sea King helicopters.”
The prince completed two days of ground and air-based tests to achieve the qualification, following his two years of flying experience in the helicopter. He joined C Flight, 22 Squadron after graduating training in September 2010. Officer Commanding 22 Squadron, Wing Commander Mark Dunlop, said: “Flt. Lt. Wales demonstrated the required standards needed for the award of Operation Captaincy. Due to the nature of search-and-rescue operations, the required standards are always set at a very high level. Operational captaincy carries the overarching responsibility for the safety of the aircraft, its crew and any casualties.”
A Ministry of Defence spokesman said his tests had been carried out in “the normal timescale.”
The Daily Mail points out the dilemma:
It is difficult to convey just how much the prince loves his job as a search-and-rescue Sea King pilot, and the difference it has made to his outlook on life. As one confidante explains: “It is a core part of who he is. The confidence and contentment he has gained from his career has seeped into every aspect of his life.” For behind the controls of his helicopter, the prince is just another, anonymous member of the armed forces. Indeed, many of those he rescues—from walkers on Snowdonia to stranded sailors in the Irish Sea—have no idea that a future king has just saved their life. And having initially been desperately disappointed to be barred from frontline military service because of his position as a direct heir to the throne, that’s just how William prefers it. Sadly for the prince, however, the clock is ticking and his first, three-year tour of duty is due to end next spring.
He has to tell his superiors by the end of this year whether he wants to continue flying and is, as we speak, ‘very seriously’ weighing up his options. His gut instinct is to jump at the chance both because he loves it, and because he appreciates he is being the opportunity to lead a so-called normal life that few of his predecessors—his father included—have ever been given. Indeed, sources close to the prince are at pains to stress that neither the Queen nor Charles are putting “any pressure on him whatsoever,” and insist that he must do what is best for himself and for Kate.
But in his more realistic moments, William himself is the first to admit that “the pressures of my other life are building.” His 91-year-old grandfather’s two recent bouts of ill health—his heart surgery before Christmas and his recent hospitalisation after a bladder infection—have rammed home the unpalatable truth that the senior members of his family are not getting any younger, and it is time for a glamorous new generation to step into the fray. Another factor the prince is weighing up is his home on Anglesey, the island in North Wales, which has given himself and Kate the relative peace and anonymity they crave. If he decides to take all or part of a new 36-month tour of duty, then he will almost certainly have to transfer to a new base in a different part of the country. Do he and his wife have the stomach to start again? Particularly, of course, if the couple do have a child in the immediate future, as they have both indicated they are keen to do.
And of course there’s that other little announcement everyone can’t wait to hear: something about a baby?