Prince William’s childhood explained – from nickname Wombat to life at schooldays
Prince William was destined to be king – and even his birth set him apart from other members of the royal family.
For when he arrived on 21 June 1982, he was the first heir to the throne to be born in a hospital; on this occasion within the Lindo Wing of St. Mary’s in London.
His introduction also started a new royal trend, as his proud parents broke with convention and posed on the hospital steps with their newborn in front of the world’s media.
In the surprise move less than 24 hours after his birth, Prince Charles was snapped passing snoozing William into the Princess Diana’s arms, and the image promptly made history.
Second in line to the throne, William Arthur Philip Louis was christened at 11am on 4 August in the ornate surroundings of Buckingham Palace’s Music Room.
It was a formal and not entirely joyous occasion, and Diana, then just 21, later confided to friends: “No one consulted me as to whether 11am would fit in with William’s schedule,” she said. “I was totally excluded, totally exhausted and the photos went on and on. I blubbed my eyes out.”
There were tears from William too, and though Diana tried to soothe him by popping her finger in his mouth, he began crying again every time she took it away. Tired and hungry, baby William was perhaps uncomfortable in the frilly lace christening robe handed down from Queen Victoria.
The strain of the event added to the pressure Diana was feeling as she navigated royal life, especially as she suffered from post-natal depression following William’s birth.
In her Panorama interview with Martin Bashir in 1995, she explained: “You’d wake up in the morning feeling you didn’t want to get out of bed, you felt misunderstood, and just very, very low in yourself.”
However, she clearly adored motherhood, refusing to be separated from William – who she affectionately called Wombat. In fact, he was only nine months old when he joined his parents on tour in Australia, with footage suggesting they were a contented family unit.
As William grew into a rosy-cheeked toddler, there was huge interest in his progress, with the public relishing such details as his enthusiasm for flushing Charles’ shoes down the toilet.
Although Diana was very hands-on with William, a nanny called Barbara Barnes worked with the family for four years, becoming something of a second mother to him – and to Prince Harry when he arrived in September 1984.
Barbara was later replaced by nanny Olga Powell, who for 15 years went everywhere with Diana and the young princes. She was also at William’s wedding, and he attended her funeral in 2012.
When Diana and Charles separated, another nanny, Tiggy Legge-Bourke, was appointed to help look after the boys when they stayed with their father.
Despite persistent rumours of tension between Tiggy and Diana, William and Harry remained close to her, and she was said to be a huge comfort to them after their mother’s death.
Tiggy, now 57, also attended Harry and Meghan Markle’s 2018 wedding, and was named a godmother to their first child, Archie.
William’s education began aged three, at Jane Mynors’ nursery school in Notting Hill in September 1985, and two years later he enrolled at Wetherby School, also in West London.
On his first day, he waved cheerfully to photographers as they snapped him in his grey uniform and red tie. Top of the class in spelling, reading and swimming, he became a boarder at Ludgrove School in Berkshire aged eight.
That same year, William took part in his first official public engagement, accompanying his parents to Wales on St. David’s Day in 1991. Dressed in a smart blazer and tie, he shook hands with royal fans, charming the crowd with his polite greetings.
William’s trademark good manners seem to have been carefully nurtured in him by Diana, and in an interview with royal biographer Andrew Morton, she once revealed that he shared her habit of writing thank-you cards. “If I don’t [do it], I get into a panic,” she said. “And William now does it – it’s great.”
While at Ludgrove School, William discovered a talent for football, basketball, clay pigeon shooting and cross country running.
Though he might have been expected to continue his education at Gordonstoun in Elgin like his father and grandfather Prince Philip, Charles was apparently so unhappy at the Scottish boarding school that he allowed William to attend Eton instead.
After starting the elite private school in 1995, William was pleased to find that he could walk across the bridge to Windsor Castle to have tea with the Queen on Sunday afternoons.
With his love of sport flourishing, he played football, water polo and was on the same rugby team as actor Eddie Redmayne, 40. “Any school you played – all they wanted to do was tackle Prince William,” Eddie later said. “I always felt a bit sorry for him.”
William’s bruising experiences on the rugby field did not put him off the game, and he is now Vice-Royal Patron of the Welsh Rugby Union. During his time at Eton, William also cemented his love of Aston Villa FC, and he still supports the Premier League side today.
“All my friends at school were either Man United fans or Chelsea fans and I didn’t want to follow the run of the mill teams,” he once admitted in an interview with Gary Lineker. “I wanted to have a team that was more mid-table that could give me more emotional rollercoaster moments.”
His passion for polo was inherited from Charles, who gave him a miniature polo stick before his first birthday.
Learning from an early age, left-handed William was said to excel at the game – especially given that the sport is typically played right-handed.
Off the sports pitch, William studied hard too, and scooped an impressive 12 GCSEs and three A levels in geography, biology and history of art.
After a gap year, William joined the University of St Andrews in 2001, where he began a degree in art history. However, he later switched to geography, and graduated in 2005 with upper second-class honours.
Although one of the most famous figures in Britain, William has rarely talked about his early years, and there was an agreement in place with the British media for his privacy to be protected until he finished his education.
In fact, while he was at Eton, students were told they could face expulsion if they spoke about their royal classmate.
But perhaps inevitably, interest in his life began to escalate when his parents’ marriage crumbled.
Charles and Diana separated in December 1992, with an announcement made by then Prime Minister John Major.
“This decision has been reached amicably and they will both continue to participate fully in the upbringing of their children,” the PM said, reading from a Buckingham Palace statement.
Diana later told Panorama that she had felt “deep, deep, profound sadness”, before adding: “We had struggled to keep it going, but obviously we’d both run out steam.”
It was four years later in August 1996 that their divorce was finalised, which was no doubt extremely tough on William.
Claudia Joseph, author of William and Kate’s Britain tells OK!: “I’m sure Charles and Diana both tried shield William from their divorce – and certainly the Eton headmaster kept newspapers from him.
But he was a teenager, and he must have really struggled to cope with the fall-out.”
Determined to protect her sons, Diana showered them both with love and attention, regularly taking them swimming, rafting and go-karting.
There were plenty of holidays too, including beach breaks in the Caribbean, and she would often invite the boys’ friends to keep things as normal as possible.
Always striving to block out scrutiny from the outside world, Harry once said: “My mother cherished those moments of privacy. She decided that, no matter what, she was going to ensure we had as normal a life as possible.”
Though fully aware of her sons’ future lives of duty, Diana made sure that that sense of normality filtered into their daily routines.
That meant regular outings to supermarkets and high street stores, and they thought nothing of queuing at the cinema or going for burgers.
According to Diana’s former butler, Paul Burrell, 63, the trio’s perfect Saturday night would begin with a trip to McDonalds for Big Macs and chips, before they headed back to Kensington Palace to watch Blind Date on TV while sprawled on a giant stuffed hippo in the lounge.
“I’d hear them all screaming things like, ‘Oh don’t pick him!’ and ‘Lorra, lorra fun’,” Paul said.
There were also fun-filled days out, and they were memorably snapped getting soaked on a log flume at Thorpe Park – while in fits of laughter.
William and Harry also spent lots of time with their cousins while growing up, including long summer breaks at Balmoral and Christmas get-togethers at Sandringham.
In 1995, they also enjoyed a ski-trip to Klosters, Switzerland with Princess Beatrice, 33, and Princess Eugenie, 32.
And after getting up to mischief as naughty toddlers, William developed a lasting bond with cousin Zara Tindall, 41, who is just a year older than him.
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Today, Zara is godmother to William and Kate’s eight-year-old son Prince George, and royal commentator Jennie Bond has said: “It’s a very close relationship. They’re very close in age. They’ve got an awful lot in common.”
With their ties strengthening during parenthood, Zara is said to have played a pivotal role recently in trying to broker the peace between William and Harry.
At home, the brothers were treated to top-of-the-range toys such as electric motorbikes and cars, while Diana also liked to send them cheeky cards. “She loved the rudest cards you could imagine,” William once recalled.
“I would be at school and I’d get a card from my mother, usually she found something very embarrassing — a very funny card — and then she wrote very nice stuff inside. But I dared not open it in case the teachers or anyone else in the class had seen it.”
Another embarrassing moment for William occurred aged 13, when Diana arranged for him to meet the supermodels whose faces adorned the walls of his poster-strewn bedroom. “I came home from school to have Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington and Naomi Campbell waiting at the top of the stairs,” he said.
“I went bright red and didn’t quite know what to say and sort of fumbled. I think I pretty much fell down the stairs. I was utterly awestruck. But that was a very funny memory that’s lived with me forever about her loving and embarrassing and being, sort of, the joker.”
Despite subjecting him to the occasional cringe-fest, Diana instilled in William the compassionate nature which she is still remembered for. “She has had a massive influence on who William is today,” says Michelle Thole, co-host of the Keeping Up with the Windsors podcast.
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“She had a profound effect on William, which is evident to see in many of the initiatives he’s taken on.”
Keen to ensure her boys had a broad understanding of the world, she took William and Harry to meet patients at AIDS clinics as well as those living in homeless shelters. “Diana taught both brothers that their privilege needed to be used as a platform to help others,” Michelle adds.
Claudia Joseph agrees, saying: “William certainly inherited his mother’s ability to get on with people from all walks of life. She introduced him to people from all kinds of different backgrounds, taking both him and Harry on many charitable visits as well as giving them treats like trips to Thorpe Park.”
As a result, William has become a true champion of public service, and as Patron of youth homeless charity Centrepoint since 2005, he even slept rough on the streets of London in 2009. “My mother introduced that sort of area to me a long time ago,” he said. “It was a real eye-opener and I am very glad she did. It has been something I have held close to me for a long time.”
But while Diana worked tirelessly to ensure both princes’ childhoods were as loving and balanced as possible, nobody could have predicted the tragedy which was to hit the family when William was just 15 years old…
Subscribe to the Keeping Up with the Windsors podcast on Apple, Spotify or Google.
Claudia Joseph, William and Kate’s Britain; www.claudiajoseph.co.uk
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