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Growing Up Fast Britain’s Princes Do Their Duty, A Tradition That Infuriated Their Mother.

Tue., Sept. 2, 1997

They were described as brave and courageous, princes of boys who showed a stiff upper lip just four hours after being told about their mother’s death.

Prince William and Prince Harry, in black ties and somber faces, attended regular Sunday church services in Scotland, arriving aside their father in a dark limousine with oversized windows. Their blank gazes appeared Monday morning at every London newsstand - precisely according to royal plan.

“The shell-shocked boys were doing what the Queen and Prince Charles would have explained to them was their duty,” wrote Ingrid Seward, editor of Majesty magazine. “This routine of duty is traditionally what has always helped the royal family overcome its grief, in public at least.”

It is also what would have infuriated their late mother.

“It was absolutely appalling to take those kids to church, business as usual,” said Meg Henderson, a Scottish novelist and foster mother. “The vicar was amazed at how dryeyed and controlled they were. It is a terrible situation for children at that age to be dry-eyed and controlled.”

As official London obsessed Monday on the funeral arrangements for Princess Diana, her life’s biggest ambition - the raising of her two sons as royals with a human face - was fast becoming her most urgent and worrisome legacy.

William, 15, and Harry, 12, had planned to fly to London on Monday to greet their mother upon her return from a French holiday. They, instead, were being consoled by Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Philip, at Balmoral, the royal Scottish palace, as their father struggled with his new role as single parent.

The fretting over the two royal boys is straightforward: With their bigger-than-life mother gone, are they destined to grow up like their father, a stiff and emotionally rigid man who considered his own childhood cold and lonely? Are Charles and the rest of the royal family up to the task of grooming a popular 21st century monarch a la the sensitive Diana?

“There is going to have to be a very drastic reassessment of what goes on behind the palace walls because Prince Charles, as with all fathers in a divorce situation, spends very little time with his boys,” royal chronicler Christopher Wilson told reporters. “He is going to have to reorder his life.”

The Diana vs. Charles rift in royal child rearing goes back well before the princess’ death.

In June 1991, when William was accidentally hit on the head with a golf club while at boarding school, Diana’s reservations about her husband’s hands-off fathering made headlines. While William lay in the hospital awaiting surgery on his skull, Charles excused himself to host a party for visiting European officials.

Biographer Andrew Morton quoted a friend of the princess later saying: “Had this been an isolated incident it would have been unbelievable. She wasn’t surprised. It merely confirmed everything she thought about him.”

Charles, meanwhile, confided to friends that Diana sometimes assured his absenteeism by scheduling family events when he was already committed elsewhere. Biographer Jonathan Dimbleby said Charles held his friends to a vow of silence so as not to provoke a “surge in ‘tit-for-tat’ articles” that would open the monarchy to ridicule.

Even if Charles succeeds as a more attentive father, some fear the Windsor boys have lost so much in their departed mother that nothing short of a miracle can assure her dreams for them are ever realized.

“The chances are great that the royal-family machine gets hold of the two boys and makes them into Charleses,” said a Diana mourner near Kensington Palace. “There is no one else in that family to give them her human touch.”

In her last interview before her death, Diana said she would have long ago left Britain but for concern for her sons. Overwhelmed by her own royal debut 17 years ago, the princess was determined to prepare the boys for upcoming responsibilities - while assuring they had a good time like other kids and also experienced the world beyond privilege.

The princess instituted “fun days” and “work days” for the princes, dressing them in jeans and baseball caps for a bite to eat at McDonald’s, a movie or a ride on a roller-coaster. On work days, the boys had to dress properly, shake hands and “forget any thoughts of selfishness,” she once explained.

“When they begin, they will be properly prepared,” Diana said. “I am making sure of this. I don’t want them suffering in the way that I did.”

But suffering, it seems, is as enduring as the royalty itself. Tall with his mother’s good looks and bashful glance, William soured on life in the royal fish bowl even before last weekend’s accident, which some attribute to the relentless media attention paid to his mother.

Royal sources let it be known last year that the queen and Charles were deeply concerned that the young heir to the throne was becoming hostile to his public role. British media reported that he turned down opportunities to travel with his mother because he hated being stalked by photographers. The king-to-be reportedly dreads the thought of assuming the high-profile crown.

While both boys will obviously be devastated by the loss of their mother, there is less public handwringing over Harry, who is younger, happy-go-lucky and shoulders little of the burden of his brother’s royal destiny.

William, by contrast, is withdrawn and was painfully aware of his parents’ unhappy marriage and his mother’s every up and down. When sobbing Diana used to lock herself in the bathroom, William would push tissues under the door. It was the budding royal heartthrob who suggested his mother conduct a charity auction of her evening gowns and he urged her to look outside Britain for personal happiness if need be.

“The most wonderful thing is that Prince William has all of the best attributes of Diana, and she will live on through Prince William,” said businessman Richard Branson, a longtime friend of the princess, during a television tribute to her. “It obviously would have been wonderful if she could have given him a few more years, but I think most of his formative years are already there.”

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