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For a while photographers fed on young Wills' misbehavior. He picked a fight with a mite-size flower girl at the wedding of Prince Andrew and Fergie and made gloriously juvenile faces at little girls who were presenting flowers to his grandmother. By the time he was eight or so, he had calmed down and was generally more reflective than Harry. He also showed precocious self-possession. With his ancient great-grandmother he is a model little gentleman, helping to guide her down church steps and holding the umbrella over her head.

Especially since the separation, the boys' leisure life follows two strikingly different tracks. With Charles it's off to one of the family estates. Sandringham, a vast Victorian pile in Norfolk, is a plinker's paradise stocked with a variety of game birds. Like his father, Wills is an enthusiastic shot. At Balmoral, where an aggregation of royals spend the late summer, there are moors to explore. During these times, the brothers are looked after by Tiggy Legge-Bourke, a plump, cheerful young woman — "a jolly, hockey-sticks sort of person," as she has been described — who has aroused Diana's jealousy.

With Diana it's off on a grand trip — a redoubt in the Caribbean, white-water rafting outside Aspen, Colorado, a tour of Disney World. No one questions that Charles loves his kids, but Diana is far more demonstrative, hugging them often or throwing herself into their activities, whether it's shooting the rapids or schussing the slopes. But fun with Mum is a very public affair. She is the most photographed woman in the world, who may call the media before an outing.

A quarrel over the children in 1992 finally broke the marriage. Charles had scheduled his family to join him for a shooting party at Sandringham. Bored with country weekends and disapproving of the slaughter of animals, Diana backed out, proposing that she and the boys go to Windsor to stay with the Queen or to the couple's own country place, Highgrove. That was when Charles' patience finally snapped and he asked for a separation.

The events of the years that followed, and their effect on the boys, leave Charles and Diana with plenty to answer for. Life in a fishbowl is hard on anyone; for a child it is also very confusing. Wills has had to put up with volley after volley of mortifying revelations shouted from the headlines — the tabloids breaking the news, the "respectable" papers and TV reporting on the resulting scandal. Dad wants to be a tampon, the better to be close to his mistress. Mum was having an affair with that young riding instructor, who also taught Wills.

The Waleses were not the only offensive royals. The egregious Fergie, Duchess of York, was a scandal mill all on her own, with miserable sexual and financial escapades. The result has been a growing cynicism about the family. Commentator Julie Burchill expressed a common feeling when she said recently, "I hope for the best for Wills, but I would be very surprised if he turns out to be normal, because that's the maddest family since the Munsters. Every day there's something new. We wouldn't be shocked if he turned out to be a cross-dresser who wanted to marry a corgi. We all feel we know everything about them, and that's a very bad thing for a ruling family."

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