Sunday 18 March 2018

My friend, the real Prince William

As the pomp of the wedding engulfs William and Kate, Tom Bradby, a confidant of 10 years, reflects on the steely inner resolve of the man who will be king

Prince William and Kate Middleton in their official engagement portrait at St James's Palace in London. Photo: Reuters
Prince William and Kate Middleton in their official engagement portrait at St James's Palace in London. Photo: Reuters

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful young woman who had a dream for her son of the kind shared by mothers all over the world, which was that he could be -- and indeed must be -- whatever he wanted to be in life.

The only trouble with this notion was that it made the boy's father quite angry. And it did so for the simple reason that the child could not be what he wanted to be at all. For his name was Prince William and he was destined to be king.

But today, few would argue that Diana, Princess of Wales, was wrong to have put such ideas into the head of her 11-year-old son. I hope it is many decades until anyone gets around to discussing what will be marked on William's gravestone, but we could already have a stab at it: He did it his way.

Yes, he may be king one day. But within the confines of that straitjacket, William does seem more than usually determined to carry off his destiny in a manner of his choosing.

He fights protocol tooth and nail. He prefers most things in life to be kept low-key and simple. So you can imagine that negotiating details of the wedding with the keepers of the traditional flame across the park at Buck House has not been without its issues.

It is no great secret that William would much rather be getting married in Bucklebury, Berkshire, with 200 of his closest mates.

He accepts that Westminster Abbey will be full of dignitaries he has never met and that millions, if not billions, of people will watch the event on TV all over the world, but he doesn't particularly relish it. Would you?

He has seen the way this life has constrained his father and -- literally -- destroyed his mother and he views it with caution and suspicion. He is at his most decisive and impressive when his protective instincts are aroused, particularly on behalf of his bride and her family.

Indeed, what he would really like as soon as he and Kate are married is to return to Anglesey and hole up there for as long as possible in pursuit of a conventional military career and domestic happiness.

But here is the conundrum; if William remains in some ways cautious of the life fate has allotted him, he does seem to be driven by a desire to perform the role with gusto. As soon as the earthquake hit New Zealand's South Island in February, for example, he was chomping at the bit to get out there and pay his respects.

He understands the importance of leadership. He was proud of his role in the UK's World Cup bid. He understands the importance of doing his duty and wants to be a good king.

It is clear to anyone who knows him that his life has long been characterised by an aching determination to make sure he never gets anything wrong, an ambition which is notably shared by his wife-to-be.

I used to look on perplexed as Kate was painted by some as a grasping and lazy social climber with her eye on the main chance, because what I have seen is a loyal and straightforward woman who has been determined throughout to avoid doing anything that would make her boyfriend's position more difficult.

William will turn 30 next year and about the worst thing you can say about either of them is that he once landed a Chinook in her parents' back garden. He has got the wrong side of a bottle of whisky a few times, it's true, but that's about it. Nobody is suggesting they are perfect, but they have kept a remarkably clean sheet.

My association with William goes back about a decade to the period when I was royal correspondent for ITV News. I had previously been the Asia correspondent, but was shot in a riot in Jakarta and decided I wanted to steer clear of war zones for a while. No one ever came into journalism wanting to be a royal correspondent, but I wasn't in a position to choose.

I don't know whether the fact that I had just been wounded made me seem like a different beast, but it was decided that it would be a good idea for William and I to get together. It was clear that the purpose of the meeting was to convince him that not all journalists had two heads and breathed fire.

I was careful to ask as little about his life as possible, since I knew that he disliked the way the media treated him as a commodity and I didn't want him to feel that he was being traded.

I told him lots of stories from my time on the road and we joshed along happily. I liked him a lot. He was -- is -- a good bloke. He certainly doesn't like to take everything in life too seriously.

It seemed to start something, because we gradually built a relationship. I went to Lesotho with his brother shortly afterwards to make a documentary for ITV, the proceeds of which went to found Prince Harry's charity, Sentebale.

It was the first time either of them had talked publicly about their mother.

They openly blamed the paparazzi for their mother's death and believed the press generally to be responsible for hounding her into an early grave. On occasions, it made them very, very angry.

They were also wound up by the constant leaks of personal information to the press. The stories kept coming, week in week out, and they had periodic bouts of trying to work out who was betraying them.

Trust was the defining issue in their relationships and I proved repeatedly that I could keep my mouth shut. I took the view that if I didn't tell anyone anything, then nothing could leak. And it didn't.

Until, that is, 2005, when I woke up to a story in the News of the World. To cut a long tale short, I had said I would help William pull his gap-year videos together and he had called me to say that he was in London.

I asked him to tell security at the gate I would be in on Monday, but I didn't mention it to anyone else so I was pretty surprised to read about our proposed meeting in the News of the World the next morning.

When William and I got together to discuss how this could have leaked, I mentioned that as royal correspondent (I was now political editor), I had heard that some papers tapped into people's phone messaging services.

William called in his private secretary, a former SAS officer called Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton, and the rest is history.

I did notice, however, that almost as soon as Clive Goodman (the former News of the World journalist) and Glenn Mulcaire (a private investigator) were arrested, the leaks about William and Harry's private lives dried up.

I have been asked about a thousand times since the interview I did with William and Kate what kind of couple they are and it is always hard to know what to say.

They have a tight circle of close-knit friends and I should stress that I am not one. But quite a lot of information has passed through my brain these past 10 years, which has allowed me to form a relatively clear picture of what kind of guy William is.

For the purposes of balance, I have sought out the negatives. He can be stubborn at times, but even this seems the reverse side of his determination to beat a system that he feels overwhelmed his mother.

He is loyal. He forms close friendships with people who seem to be pretty solid. He would like to a have a conventional life conducted far from the madding crowd, but certainly doesn't want the opprobrium that would result from a rejection of his destiny.

I do not know Kate well, but my wife Claudia, who worked with her when she was at Jigsaw, says similar things of her. Claudia always said she thought the royal family was lucky to have her, and that she was pretty smart.

And as for all the bitching about the Middletons that got written up from time to time, I never knew whether to laugh or cry. Her mother chews gum at Sandhurst? Ooh, er. It is difficult to think of anything that the Queen, let alone her grandson, could care less about. Maybe someone did get offended. There are some sad people around.

I don't know William and Kate well enough to have a handle on what makes their relationship tick. My guess, based on a hunch, is that Kate was probably the first person apart from his brother that William ever talked to about his parents' divorce, his mother's death and the public scrutiny of his teenage years.

They seem to have a deep friendship, founded on loyalty and respect (and physical attraction). At one point, William seemed an angry young man, smooth on the surface but intense underneath. I'd hazard she is a calming influence.

As I look at them tomorrow, I will have at the forefront of my mind the fact that this is a couple locking themselves into a system that will provide them with substantial challenges. I am not going to portray them as victims, since it is a pretty gilded cage.

But they are rare among their peers in having so little choice over so much of what they do. They are an ordinary couple facing an extraordinary life.

Amid all the splendour, my wife and I will have a very simple wish, which is that they find the domestic happiness and tranquillity they so keenly seek. They're good people. And they deserve it.

Tom Bradby is political editor for ITV News. His documentary William and Kate: In Their Own Words will be broadcast on ITV1 tonight at 7.30pm

Irish Independent

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