Monday 18 December 2017

Review: Biography: Prince William Born to be King – An Intimate Portrait by Penny Junor

Hodder & Stoughton,£19.99, hbk, 432 pages
Available with free P&P on or by calling 091 709350

Michael Deacon

The best subjects for biography tend to be mad, miserable, outspoken, or profoundly complicated: DH Lawrence, with his misanthropy and nymphomaniac wife; President Nixon, with his Watergate scandal and anti-semitism; Simon Cowell, with his scheme to freeze his own corpse so that scientists of the future can bring him back to life.

Prince William isn't like that. To judge from this biography, the future king is mature, sensible, calm and serious. This is excellent news for the monarchy, not such good news for publishers hoping to make money out of him.

Penny Junor professes herself an admirer of the prince and she has not set out to fire off some tabloid-friendly shocker. There are no shocks here and few surprises.

Whenever this young man -- he still hasn't reached 30 -- encounters difficulty, pressure, loss, he faces it with grace and fortitude.

His childhood was tough. We knew that, of course, but we may not have known some of the details. When, aged just three, he appeared in his school nativity play, his arrival on stage was greeted by the yells of press photographers, all ordering him to look their way.

As his parents' marriage fell apart, he tried helplessly to comfort them: when his mother locked herself in the bathroom in tears, 10-year-old William slid tissues under the door, saying, "I hate to see you sad."

The only really funny moment from the childhood chapters comes when, aged four, he meets Bob Geldof. "Why do you have to talk to that man?" little William asks his father. "He's all dirty." "Shut up, you horrible boy," says Geldof, and points out that William's hair is scruffy. "No, it's not," retorts William. "My mummy brushed it."

William has always called Diana, the late Princess of Wales, the best mother in the world, but Junor doesn't entirely agree.

"Did she not think about how her boys would feel when they saw her notorious 1995 interview on Panorama," she writes, "or what taunting schoolmates might say?"

The 13-year-old William, she goes on, was deeply upset, "angry and incredulous that his mother could have done such a thing".

Rather bleakly, we are told that Will Carling was one of his boyhood heroes. "Discovering there was more to his mother's friendship must have come as a shock."

At times, Junor claims, the teenage William was "embarrassed" by some of her "public outpourings".

But we are never left in any doubt that he loved her immeasurably. On the night she was killed he awoke many times and Junor says he "knew something awful was going to happen".

In June 1998, the year after his mother's death, he met Camilla Parker Bowles for the first time, at St James's Palace.

Mrs Parker Bowles reportedly came out saying "I need a drink", but Junor suggests the meeting had been "remarkably easy -- William was friendly and Camilla was sympathetic".

At Eton, St Andrews and Sandhurst he was well-liked; the worst anyone can find to say of him is that he loved his beer.

St Andrews, of course, is where he met Kate Middleton, and in these pages, like everywhere else, she is depicted as down-to-earth and loyal, no matter the pressures she faces as a girlfriend and then wife of a future king.

A little before their engagement she was spotted in an airport, alone, by paparazzi; to get her attention, they shouted "Bitch! Whore! Slag!" She ignored them.

The prose is pedestrian and the author shows no fear of clichés. William's nanny put "a hundred and 10 per cent" into her work. The press "hover like vultures".

To his parents, the baby William was "the best thing that had ever happened to them".

A paragraph is devoted to the news that one winter's day, when he was four, William refused to wear gloves, then complained of the cold.

While dull stories contain too much detail, good ones contain too little. At the royal wedding last year, Prince Harry's best man's speech was apparently full of "brilliant one-liners", but we aren't told what they were.

There is an unhappy blunder on page 128. "Lord Mountbatten's murder," we're told, "was as sudden and violent as Diana's." More fodder for the conspiracy theorists.

Junor repeatedly tells us that William hates journalists' fascination with his life. Presumably, then, he'll hate this book, but, although it carries some unflattering passages about his mother, there's nothing to harm his reputation even mildly.

It paints him throughout as pleasant and unflappable. For the same reasons that he makes a difficult subject for a biography, he'll make a good king.

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