Publicity-shy royal lived life far away from palace comforts
AMID the splendour of London's Westminster Abbey on a great state occasion and with millions watching on television, a young prince might have been forgiven for feeling overawed.
But a few weeks shy of his fourth birthday, Prince William made his disregard for royal formality clear on the day his uncle, the Duke of York, was married. Peering across the Abbey, he cheekily pulled faces at the bridesmaids.
It was an early glimpse of the human side to the prince who will be married in strikingly similar surroundings next year.
In the intervening time, sleeping rough on the streets of London for a homelessness charity, or scrubbing lavatory floors during his gap year, the prince has refused to be bound by protocol. It is a taste which has drawn constant comparisons with his mother, the late Diana, Princess of Wales, to whom he bears a striking resemblance.
Prince William's birth on June 21, 1982, almost a year after his parents' wedding, proved a global media sensation. Joined by a brother, Harry, two years later, his upbringing, though privileged, exposed him to normal life in a way unthinkable for past monarchs.
He was sent to Ludgrove prep school in Berkshire, then Eton, and his parents strove to shield the young prince from publicity. Even now, as one of the most senior members of the British royal family, he regards the media with some suspicion.
He was 15 when, in 1997, he was thrust back into the global spotlight following his mother's death in a car crash in Paris.
The image of him towering over his 12-year-old brother as they followed her coffin remains one of the most memorable of the era. At aged 18 and with A-levels in geography, history of art and biology, Prince William embarked on a course similar to that of thousands of other middle-class young people and took a gap year in Belize and Chile.
What glimpses the public had as he entered adult life -- jungle training in Belize with the Welsh Guards or donning rubber gloves to clean floors -- showed him far from the comforts of palace life.
At St Andrews University his quest for normality took him to a shared flat where he relished doing his own shopping. Initially feeling isolated, he toyed with leaving but was talked out of it by his father. In a rare interview at the time he laughed off his reputation as the world's most eligible bachelor, joking: "I've never been aware of anyone chasing me, but if there were, could they please leave their phone number?"
He explained his less than traditional approach to finding a future queen: "If I fancy a girl and I really like her and she fancies me back, which is rare, I ask her out. I don't have a steady girlfriend. Only the mad girls chase me, I think."
But his future bride was closer than even he might have imagined; Kate Middleton was one of his housemates.
Speculation about a romance began after the prince was spotted kissing a girl with long dark hair at his water polo club's Christmas ball. Soon after, he was reported to have introduced a "Kate" as his girlfriend at a hunt meet.
In recent years he began to take on some royal duties. He made his first official overseas trip earlier this year, to Australia and New Zealand. He is involved in a few charities, including the homelessness group Centrepoint.
But while his brother served in Afghanistan, Prince William always knew that his potential value to an enemy made it unlikely he could follow suit. He left the army for the RAF to work as a search and rescue pilot.
On a recent visit to Africa he said he was drawn to remote parts of the bush because it offered him escape. "The locals, haven't got a clue who I am and I love that," he said. As he prepares for a wedding likely to attract at least a billion viewers around the world, he might soon find that he is recognised even there. (© Daily Telegraph, London)