Much has been made about the comparison between the late Diana, Princess of Wales and the new Duchess of Cambridge, aka Catherine Middleton. Less attention has been paid to the contrast between William and his father, Prince Charles.
Yet not since the days when Queen Victoria reigned with both her son, the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, and her grandson, later George V, waiting in line, have there been complete households for the immediate heir and his successor.
In the past it has been a recipe for rivalry and even rancour as households competed and clashed. Prince William has been at pains to avoid any such confrontation with his father, even though his style is completely at odds with that of the Prince of Wales. As the historian David Starkey observes: "William does not seem to have developed a sharp taste in Palladian architecture. Nor does he employ someone to squeeze his toothpaste for him."
The royal helicopter pilot and his wife have set up home in a rented cottage in
north Wales with bodyguards for
company. The Duchess publicly walked down the aisle again this week - as she
picked out food and other domestic items at the Waitrose supermarket in
Anglesey. In spite of the gulf in lifestyles, Charles's oldest son has, however, been at pains to point
out his father's achievements, dismissing the constant speculation -- started
rather mischievously by his late mother -- that the Crown might skip a generation.
As William said of his father in his 21st-birthday interview: "He does so many amazing things, I only wish people would see that more because he's had a very hard time and yet he's stuck it out and he's still very positive."
Yet as one half of the world's most glamorous royal couple, William will inevitably overshadow his father. Prince Charles's former spin doctor, Mark Bolland, once remarked: "The real worry is for Prince Charles, who can't seem to get in the newspapers now without standing next to his son. That was always one of his nightmares and it is clearly coming true."
William is walking a tightrope, supportive of his father and yet, certainly in the public's mind, the flag bearer of his mother's memory.
"He is undoubtedly the star of the future, the one on whom the Royal family's hopes rest," says his biographer, Brian Hoey.
A reluctant star, though. He employs a threadbare household simply because he is so deeply distrustful of the outside world.
"William is very suspicious and wants to control everything," notes a former aide. "If necessary he will do everything himself. He has become used to dipping in and out of the royal world. But there will come a time when he can't do that. He realizes that his future is as head of state and it is a very heavy burden on him."
For much of his life, he has striven towards normality, finding companionship with a decent, loyal -- and endlessly patient -- middle-class girl, while performing his duty.
This quest for ordinariness has, however, placed him at odds with the sometimes almost mystical, quasi-religious part he must ultimately play. Much as he may avoid the issue, as the young man actually and metaphorically suffused with Diana's spirit, it is up to him -- with the help and support of his bride -- to rekindle and renew the ideal of monarchy.
As the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has argued, what we saw with Diana's death was a "potent lament for lost sacredness, magical and highly personal, but equally a ritualized focus for public loyalty. The lost icon was not simply the dead princess; it was the whole mythology of social cohesions around anointed authority and mystery -- ambiguous, not very articulate and not easy for either right or left in simple political terms."