‘Papa doesn’t embarrass me… Mama does’: Prince William was the crutch for a troubled mother while his brother revelled in freedom of being the ‘spare’. Now a new book by ROBERT JOBSON sheds light on the family pressures that shaped our future king
- William and Harry were let loose by their mother Princess Diana when children
- Harry often felt left out as the Queen Mother and royal staff favoured William
- Prince Charles was frustrated by the behavior of the young brothers
In the first extract from a landmark new book in The Mail on Sunday, we revealed how the weight of their destiny as kings-in-waiting has brought Prince William and his father, Prince Charles, closer than ever. Today, William’s relationship, as a child and teenager, with his mother Diana and brother Harry is explored.
By the time he was just eight years old, Prince William was already used to being treated with deference by some of the royal staff.
On top of that, the Queen Mother made it quite clear which of the two little princes deserved more of her attention.
At family gatherings, their great-grandmother would often call for a chair to be placed next to hers, then ask for William to be seated next to her. She would also invite him to go to see her at Clarence House — without his younger brother.
By the time he was just eight years old, Prince William was already used to being treated with deference by some of the royal staff
Not surprisingly, Prince Harry felt overshadowed — though he has never publicly expressed hurt or resentment at being the less favoured child.
There’s no doubt, however, that such distinctions became a source of tension. This burst out into the open one day, as the boys were being driven to Highgrove — their father’s house in Gloucestershire — with their mother, Princess Diana, and royal protection officer Ken Wharfe.
The brothers, still just eight and six, were having an argument on the back seat when Harry suddenly burst out: ‘You’ll be King. I won’t — so I can do what I want!’
Ken Wharfe recalled: ‘The princess and I just looked at each other, a little shocked by what he had said.’
Certainly, Harry seemed to revel in the freedom that he knew William would never have. He was far more mischievous — and sometimes totally out of control.
William, who was also capable of wild behaviour, was nevertheless irritated by how far Harry was prepared to go. On those occasions, he would often act as a tattle-tale, bringing news of his little brother’s exploits to their nanny or police officer’s attention.
Diana believed in letting her boys run wild and free, and they’d often roam around the grounds of Highgrove, behaving like a couple of urchins
Their mother, however, seemed to think much of Harry’s behaviour was hilarious. On one occasion, while at kindergarten, Harry was frog-marched to the headmistress by the distraught and furious music teacher, Mr Prichard. All through morning assembly, Harry, who’d been sitting next to the piano, had kept tugging at the teacher’s trousers as he was trying to play. Eventually, the teacher had had enough.
‘What on earth is it, Harry? Stop pulling my trousers,’ he said. ‘But Mr Prichard,’ Harry piped up, ‘I can see your willy.’
The headmistress gave Harry a telling-off, and because this had been just the latest in a series of disruptive antics, she asked Diana to come in to see her. When the incident was recounted to Diana, however, she simply burst into a fit of giggles. The truth is that the princess actively encouraged Harry’s mischievous nature, which was in some ways akin to her own.
On the school run one morning, she started telling a risqué joke, apparently unconcerned that Harry was drinking in every salacious word. Her police protection officer — aware that the language was inappropriate for young ears — tried to stop her mid-flow, but she was having none of it.
On arrival at Wetherby School in West London, William ran off to his classroom, while Harry immediately started telling the new joke to the headmistress. Belatedly, Diana — who’d gone red with embarrassment — managed to stop him reaching the punchline.
It was also the princess who — without consulting Charles, who was away at the time — encouraged both boys to have a go-kart race in the immaculate grounds of Highgrove. Within minutes, they were speeding at full tilt, tearing up their father’s beloved garden as Diana cheered them on.
She adored her sons and was always hugging and kissing them — but care of the boys, when they were home from school, was often left to the staff. Fully aware that her younger son was especially wilful and stubborn, Diana also tended to leave discipline to his nannies and protection officers.
One of the nannies, Jessie Webb, would resort to asking Ken Wharfe to intervene when they played up — which, in Harry’s case, was often. His cheekiness could also descend into outright rudeness — such as when he told Jessie to her face that she needed to lose weight.
In desperation, she devised her own method of dealing with his bad behaviour: using her body, she’d wedge him hard against a wall. It was, she said, the only way she could catch him and ‘gain control’. The boys’ nanny Olga Powell went a step further by delivering the odd smack.
Inspector Wharfe recalled: ‘When Harry was a little older, I remember one of her classic phrases to him was, “Harry, I love you, but I don’t like you” — because he was a nuisance. But she was strong with him, and I think children like that because they know where they stand.’
Whether she made much difference is open to question. When he was six or seven, one of his protection officers gave him a mini driving lesson in Prince Charles’s Land Rover Discovery, explaining the use of the brakes and accelerator.
The Scotland Yard officer was in the driving seat, while Harry stood in the footwell helping to steer the car. But when he was told the ‘lesson’ was over, he protested vehemently — then stamped his foot down hard on the accelerator. The car slammed into a stone wall, though, fortunately, no one was hurt. As one of his protection team observed, Harry could be like ‘a little Rottweiler’ when he didn’t want to stop doing something.
Apart from frequently annoying his elders, he was so fearless that he occasionally endangered his own life. Once, escaping from his minders, he burrowed into a huge haystack. Harry was struggling for breath and in some distress by the time he was found by his protection officer. He also insisted on going for repeated rides on a Shetland pony, which seized every opportunity to bolt off with him in the saddle. It would run for anything from a quarter to half a mile, find the nearest stream and dump its small rider in the water.
Running behind the pony, desperate to catch up, would be a groom, a protection officer and his brother William — who’d end up extricating Harry from various bushes, streams and hedgerows.
On one particularly long car journey, both brothers had started being naughty and were seriously irritating the chauffeur, the nanny and protection officer. Despite repeated warnings from their nanny, they ignored her — until, finally, William got the message and stopped. Not Harry.
The protection officer ordered the chauffeur to halt the car, then dragged Harry out and took him behind it. With his foot on the rear bumper of the royal car, he slung Harry across his knee, pulled down his trousers and smacked him.
Blissful silence ensued for at least half a mile.
Although Harry and William were repeatedly reminded to curb their over-excited behaviour and to be polite when in public, it was only William who tended to toe the line. In private, however, he could also be almost as much of a tearaway as his naughty brother.
Diana believed in letting her boys run wild and free, and they’d often roam around the grounds of Highgrove, behaving like a couple of urchins. Much to the annoyance of their father, they’d relieve themselves from the top of the giant haystack in his garden. Sometimes Charles caught them in the act and gave them a dressing-down — but they just ignored him.
Although he loved his sons, he was not a rough-and-tumble-style father, leaving that side of their childhood to their bodyguards.
Wharfe recalled that the boys would often turn up at his bedroom at Kensington Palace, saying: ‘Ken, do you want to fight?’ It was not really a request or even a question: it was a statement of intent.
‘One would go for my head and the other attack my more sensitive parts, landing punches towards my groin, which, if they connected, would make me keel over in agony,’ Wharfe recalled.
Charles would pop his head around the door and, with a slightly quizzical look, would ask: ‘They’re not being too much bother, are they, Ken?’
‘No, sir, not at all,’ Wharfe would gasp as he recovered from yet another fierce royal punch.
Not all the boys’ police officers were as tolerant as he was. When one of them left his job, he had some words of warning for his replacement. ‘Good luck — you’re going to need it,’ he said. ‘If these kids were brought up on a council estate somewhere in South London, they’d have been taken into care by now.’
He was deadly serious.
Sometimes Charles caught Harry and William relieving themselves in the Highgrove grounds and gave them a dressing-down — but they just ignored him
It didn’t help that the marriage of the Prince and Princess of Wales was becoming increasingly dysfunctional. Or that Diana had started whisking the boys off on luxurious holidays without their father, who might have objected to some of their activities.
On the island of Nevis in the Caribbean, they were allowed to organise a ‘Toad Derby’ — a race they had devised in order to make money from bets on the island’s giant toads.
Diana was always in on these ‘Just William’ pranks, and never stopped them from going ahead.
In 1989, on the first of two visits to Necker, a private 74-acre island in the British Virgin Islands owned by the multi-millionaire Richard Branson, they even launched a physical attack on some photographers. During that holiday, it was left to the minders to look after the extremely active young boys while Diana sunbathed on the beach.
One of William’s favourite games involved unleashing billiard balls across a snooker table at high speed in order to smash his opponent’s fingers. Harry went one better: during a fight, he clonked his brother over the head with a snooker cue. For once, Diana was furious.
‘Harry was always pushing the boundaries,’ says Ken Wharfe, who’d accompanied them to Necker. ‘That was never the case with William. He’d say to his mother, “Oh, Harry’s done such-and-such again.” ’
One day, the children on the island were introduced to a new game involving three giant hand-held catapults and hundreds of cricket-ball-sized balloons — which, for maximum effect, were filled with water.
Initially, there was much hilarity as the boys and the protection officers fought pitched mini-battles against each other. Then William had a brainwave: why not unleash them at the Press?
A few days before, Diana had posed for photos in exchange for an agreement to leave her family in peace for the rest of their holiday. But some hardcore paparazzi had nevertheless returned and were hovering in boats offshore.
On rocks about 80 ft above the shoreline, William, Harry and the other children fired a succession of coloured water bombs at them. After 20 minutes of this, and several direct hits, the paparazzi retired hurt — and did not return.
William rushed off to tell his mother of his victory and was greeted very much as a hero.
William, who was also capable of wild behaviour, was nevertheless irritated by how far Harry was prepared to go
The boys would cherish these memories of laughter and fun, for the years that were to follow would be testing — particularly for William.
His father had sent him off, at the age of eight, to board at Ludgrove School in Berkshire — a decision that left Diana in tears. It soon became clear, however, that William was thriving there: his schoolwork was good, he excelled at sport and took part in several school plays.
Harry, meanwhile, was struggling to focus. His own schoolwork was below average and he compensated by being the class joker. ‘He wasn’t the brightest academically,’ Wharfe recalled. ‘But he certainly wasn’t stupid. There were too many distractions for him. He was always getting told off. If there was fun to be had, he would do that rather than work. I think he found school a bit of a chore.’
For William, school was not only fun but a respite from his mother’s increasing tendency to lean on him as an emotional crutch. Later, even Diana privately admitted she went too far in burdening him with her problems.
She had taken to calling William ‘the man in my life’, and he did his best to be supportive — once telling her that he wanted to be a policeman so he could protect her. But he was only ten when his parents officially separated in 1992.
After their divorce was finalised, and William learned that his mother would be stripped of her royal title, he threw his arms around her and exclaimed: ‘Don’t worry, Mummy. I’ll give it back to you one day, when I’m king.’
Even so, he sometimes felt uncomfortable at being appointed her champion. After he went to Eton, she would often ring him there, sometimes crying hysterically down the line.
As Diana’s emotions lurched out of control, he had to ask her to stop saying negative things about his father to him. He didn’t want to have to take sides.
One day, the Daily Mail writer Bel Mooney and her daughter Kitty were invited, along with others, to have dinner with him and his father.
Charles began to chat about his love of The Goons, the comedy radio series of his youth, and Bel burst into a chorus from the show called The Ying Tong Song.
When Kitty turned to William and pointed out how embarrassing parents could be, his response was telling. ‘Papa doesn’t embarrass me — Mama does,’ he said.
Eton became a sanctuary for him as the so-called ‘War of the Waleses’ raged on, largely through leaks to the tabloid Press.
William found it all excruciating, particularly when he spotted fellow pupils reading newspapers with his parents’ photos plastered across them.
None of this was easy for Harry either, of course. Both boys would be shaped by their unconventional childhood, by their parents’ very public separation and divorce, and by the terrible shock of their mother’s death when they were 15 and nearly 13.
In the end, it would be Harry who would have mental health problems and need to turn to therapy.
And it would be William — who might so easily have been permanently damaged, mentally and emotionally — who developed into a well-adjusted and level-headed adult, with an inner core of steel.
Adapted from William At 40: The Making Of A Modern Monarch by Robert Jobson, published by Ad Lib on May 5 at £20. © Robert Jobson 2022. To order a copy for £18 (offer valid until May 7, 2022; UK P&P free on orders over £20), visit mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3176 2937.
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