HERE COMES WILLS

HIS MISFIT PARENTS HAVE FINISHED THEIR BUSINESS WITH EACH OTHER. ATTENTION NOW TURNS TO THE PROMISE OF THE NEXT GENERATION, AND THE FUTURE KING WILLIAM V

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Diana started the revelation wars by tacitly cooperating with Andrew Morton on the book that revealed Charles' return to his old lover, Camilla Parker Bowles. Charles' approved biography, Prince of Wales, written by Jonathan Dimbleby, may make even more painful reading for Wills. In an apparent effort to puncture the Princess's popularity, Dimbleby is at pains to portray her as shallow, willful and dangerously unstable. He goes into detail about her depressions and bouts with bulimia, first revealed by Morton, and gives an unintentionally hilarious account of a trip to Italy in which the aesthete Charles tried to imbibe the culture while the vacuous Diana waited around to receive the adulation of the crowds. For a son it must be disagreeable fare.

Still, there are some things that Wills, as he grows older, can learn from his father's hard experience. One is that he cannot rely on others to be discreet. While Charles was a student at Trinity College, Cambridge, the wife of R.A. Butler, a Tory elder statesman and Master of the College, introduced him to Lucia Santa Cruz, the daughter of the Chilean ambassador. When the young pair hit it off, the Butlers boasted that Charles had learned the fine points of physical love from Santa Cruz. Another lesson is that however irresponsible his parents became, they at least gave Wills options and some say in his own life. Charles' upbringing was run by committee. One such panel decided to send him to Cambridge. More meetings followed concerning his career.

Wills will have plenty to say about what university he attends and what he does after that. Meanwhile, he might consider his father's royal duties. They are numbing. Charles shuttles from conference to opening, from funeral to investiture, from fund raiser to military parade. Wills' life will be one of wealth and privilege, but he will pay for it in an exacting round of obligations in which any spontaneous word or gesture will probably land him in trouble. Novelist Allan Massie, who is also a royals observer, points out that as Prince of Wales, William will have maximum opportunity to let slip things he'll soon regret saying. While a monarch's speeches are cleared with the government of the day, the Prince of Wales is free — or freer anyway — to say what he thinks.

There is one person close at hand who is ready and willing to instruct Wills in what is expected of him. "The Queen feels responsible and has great concern for him," says Bradford. Eton is close to Windsor — "he's right there in the bottom of her garden," as Bradford puts it — and William very frequently has tea with the Queen by himself on Sundays at 4 p.m. A car is sent for him, and they spend a couple of hours together. What do they talk about? Duties.

Much has been written, some of it bitingly critical, about the arcane ways of English public school education, but it has probably been a refuge for a boy for whom the limelight has become a laser. Wills has gone the conventional route, and that means he started boarding school at eight. The place was called Ludgrove, and it was an exclusive feeding station for Eton. To Americans the notion of sending so young a child out to board seems cruel, but those who have weathered the experience point out that if a child didn't start the English drill early, he'd never adjust to it or even get the point. American writer Paul Watkins, who grew up in the system at a school similar to Ludgrove and at Eton, has written a perceptive book about his experience, called Stand Before Your God. He says, "It's a singular existence, though you don't totally realize it at the time. It's like Alice going through the looking glass."

Eton is famous for its blue bloods and for the statesmen and men of letters it has turned out. The students there acquire an elegance and gloss. Sue Townsend, author of the satirical The Queen and I and no monarchist, says, "William has that Etonian look already. The boys are burnished; they are like angels, you know, and they float around the world." It is likely that during his five years there, Wills won't have too much time to think about his battling parents. His day is a strict drill. Up at 8, compulsory chapel after breakfast, classes all morning. A lengthy sports session follows, and afternoon classes start at 4. The traditional university prep subjects are required, but some outre electives like Swahili and cooking are offered. There is also counseling for boys whose parents are divorcing. Britain has the highest divorce rate in Europe, so Wills will get sympathetic understanding from many quarters.

There are rules for everything, and punishment is automatic. If a boy is late for a class, he has to get up early the next morning and trudge to the office to sign the "tardy book." Eton has upgraded itself academically in the past 10 years and is considered not just a training ground for the rich and titled but one of the best schools in the country. Wills seems equal to the rigors. Says Bradford: "If he were not up to it, they would not have sent him."

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