Prince George, as far as the world knows, is a model seven-year-old. He has never peddled hell for leather straight into the iconic Round Pond in Kensington Gardens, his flapping nanny and security team in his wake.
He has never set fire to a wing of the 400-year-old palace where he lives or taken it upon himself to give his little sister Princess Charlotte a haircut while she peacefully slumbers, dreaming about Gan Gan’s tiara vault.
But despite the fact that the kid seems like a polite, sweet boy with a cheeky grin, he is already creating serious headaches for his parents, William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
Overnight the boy (who turns eight later this month) and his parents were back at Wembley Stadium for the second time in a fortnight to cheer on the English team in the Euro 2020 final, and for the second time in as many weeks, his choice of outfit was a divisive one.
There the little chap stood in the Royal Box, dressed in a suit and tie, looking like a tiny accountant or mid-level management consultant, while around him 65,000 Brits let loose in an eye-popping display of nationalist fervour and warm lager.
Now, it has emerged that William and Kate disagreed over what the boy should be allowed to wear for the big game, with his father keen on him donning an England jersey and his mother pushing back, The Telegraph reports.
Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli told the paper, “Yesterday I had an afternoon tea with the Duchess and it was very much a discussion whether George will be allowed to wear the jersey tonight at Wembley or not.”
While William, a man who has been shoved into tiny Little Lord Fauntleroy suits since an intolerably early age, wanted his son in a far more casual but sporty get-up, Kate was “not so keen”. Given George arrived suited, again, it’s obvious who won.
But there is a bigger picture here because this incident has exposed a fault line that runs through George’s childhood and his alone.
While he, Charlotte and brother Prince Louis are being raised side-by-side, his life and fate are wholly different to that of his siblings and that grim reality is starting to come into focus.
George will one day be king and with that inevitability comes a parental minefield for William and Kate with nothing short of their son’s happiness, and the future of the monarchy, at stake.
From the boy’s birth in 2013, the byword when it comes to the future George VII has been ‘normality’. At two and a half years-old he was sent to a Montessori preschool in rural Norfolk.
For years now, when he has been photographed by Kate for his official birthday pictures it has been in high street T-shirts and rumbling in the garden like any sort of rambunctious kid.
When the Cambridge clan attended a charity polo match two years ago, three tiny HRHs ate sandwiches out of lunch boxes brought from home and entertained themselves by kicking a football.
(Kids’ size football goals were set up on one of the lawns in Kensington Palace the last time this writer was in London.) But his parents doth protest too much: No matter how many $9 polos they shove the kid into, there is no denying that his life will be anything but normal.
While other little kids love spending hours daydreaming about what they will do when they grow up, George will have absolutely no say about his future: Not about the job he does, where he lives, or what religion he follows.
And that tension, between their deep-seated desire to give him as average an upbringing as possible, and his fate as a future monarch, is only going to become more pronounced and acute in the years to come.
He might enjoy a gilded, aristocratic upbringing but don’t mistake such handy access to polo ponies and the Royal Box at Wimbledon with an easy life. You and I might not possess the keys to the Tower of London or be able to trace our lineage back to Agincourt, but we have something George will never, ever have – freedom and a say over our lives.
In 2019, to mark his sixth birthday, Kensington Palace released a series of images of him including one of him in an England jersey. If there was ever a moment that perfectly encapsulates his strange existence it’s that he has formerly been allowed to wear a jersey in private but already at such a tender young age is barred from doing so in public.
That the little Prince, and he alone, faces this unrepentant, narrow future is something that George is reportedly already aware of.
According to royal biographer Robert, writing in the updated edition of his book Battle of Brothers, “sometime around the boy’s seventh birthday in the summer of 2020 it is thought that his parents went into more detail about what the little Prince’s life of future royal ‘service and duty’ would particularly involve”. It is a nearly impossible scenario for William and Kate.
How do they balance preparing their son for such a gargantuan role and the psychic weight of it with trying to give him as much ordinariness as possible? How do you let a child dream and play and let their imagination run free when so much of their life is already set in stone? How do you give him what George wants and needs as a little boy with the cold, hard requirements of his future?
At the same time, it would be completely negligent on their part if they just spent the next 11 years pretending he was a completely average kid and then suddenly in adulthood he collided with the strictures and the brutal truth of being a full-time working member of the royal family.
In the future, how much will William and Kate be able to sustain the mirage of normality for their son when the clawing demands of the future kingdom start to dig in?
For example, William has been training to reign since he was 13-years-old when he was regularly yanked out of his nearby boarding school for Sunday afternoon tea with his grandmother the Queen at Windsor Castle where she began to prepare him for the throne.
(Which was just as her grandfather George V had done with her.) The next big challenge for the Cambridges will come in the months leading up to the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee in June next year.
Not only is this nationwide, four-day bunting-a-thon about celebrating Her Majesty’s record 70 years on the throne but a key focus for the palace will likely be projecting an image of unity and continuity.
There is every chance that we will see George pushed to the fore to try and bolster this sense of regal constancy and to gin up public support for the monarchy. (That whole Harry and Meghan business having, in many people’s eyes, seriously dented the Crown’s standing and image.)
The prospect of an eight-year-old being ‘put to work’, if you will, is distasteful and uncomfortable but William and Kate simply have no choice in the matter.
Then there is the question of high school. In only three years, the Duke and Duchess will have to make a choice about where he goes for his secondary education. Both Prince Charles and Prince William were shunted off to boarding school (Gordonstoun AKA ‘Colditz in kilts’ as the Prince dubbed it and Eton respectively) as is the norm for the upper classes.
So will William and Kate follow along and pack George off for seven years of predawn rugby practice and hours of conjugating Latin verbs? Or might they buck tradition, as they have with their choice of primary school, and send him to some sort of progressive London day school where he might rub shoulders with kids who don’t all summer on Mustique?
(Or, might they follow in the footsteps of the royal houses of Belgium, Spain, the Netherlands and Jordan and choose the ultra exclusive Welsh boarding school Ampleforth, which is known as ‘Hippy Hogwarts’, and which has more future sovereigns as students per square acre than any other educational establishment in history?) How the couple navigate these highly fraught and complicated years and the 1001 decisions they will have to make about George – is a job no parent would want to face.
Added to which, if this week’s suit face-off is anything to go by, making these choices about George could become a flashpoint for the duo.While Kate might have notched up ten years as a tiara-carrying member of The Firm, William has never, ever known any other sort of life.
Those disparate backgrounds could play into what they think is best for their son. Factor in too here, by the time George is in his 20s and starts his royal career, unlike his father, grandfather or great-grandmother, he will not have uncles, aunts or any other relatives to help shoulder the burden.
Given Charles’ hellbent focus on slimming down the royal family, there is even a question mark over whether George will even, in later years, have his sister and brother to help share the workload.
Poor bloody kid. And poor William and Kate who are going to have to find a way to help their son grow up without the boy – and their marriage – buckling under the weight of his destiny. If only England had won last night.
George might badly need all the rousing, happy memories about his childhood he can get in the decades ahead.Daniela Elser is a royal expert and a writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.
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