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When is a soccer game not just a soccer game? Aside from when the English national team is on the pitch gutting it out in the Euro 2020 finals?
Perhaps it's when two of Britain's future kings are in the stands, and one is in training for his role as monarch.
No, not Prince William. He knows the drill. We mean his son, Prince George, who, twinning with his dad in a suit and tie, cheered their team's triumphs and needed consoling after the Three Lions' loss to Italy at Wembley Stadium. And while he was on that emotional roller coaster along with the rest of the country, William and Kate Middleton's eldest child was also getting a subtle lesson in how to comport himself at a major event with the world watching.
"This is an official duty for Prince George at the age of 7," royal correspondent Roya Nikkah said on True Royalty TV's Royal Beat after the match. "It's lovely and happy and there's a lot of emotion. Getting him used to big crowds and knowing that he is being watched by millions of people—it's quite a clever way of doing it."
The royal family has come in for its share of jabs, some harder than others in recent months, but Kate and William's young family still tends to get high marks in the court of public opinion. And leading the charge of the cute brigade is George, who's celebrating his eighth birthday July 22.
"It was lovely to watch Prince George's love for his parents when he was mirroring his dad clapping and cheering when England scored and when he rushed to his mum's open arms for a cuddle," Georgina Durrant, author of 100 Ways Your Child Can Learn Through Play, observed to the Daily Mail's Femail. "When children mirror their parents' actions it's often because they have such love for them, think of them extremely highly and see them as their role model."
Which it is both their honor and duty to be, since one day, everything that the light touches will belong to George.
Wait, that's The Lion King (which at least used to be the lad's favorite movie), but his actual birthright—reign over the United Kingdom and, as of now, 16 commonwealth realms—isn't too shabby.
"William and Kate have already talked to George and [his sister, Princess Charlotte] about their future roles," a source told Closer Weekly in 2019, "but in a child-like way so that they understand without feeling overwhelmed...George knows there's something special about him and that one day he'll be the future King of England."
But, a source told Us Weekly last year, "Kate and William go out of their way to keep the kids grounded. While the kids know there's something special about them, they're not spoiled."
And while his parents are determined to give him as normal of a childhood as possible, his ascension still decades down the road, they know there's no time like the present to start molding George into someone who's actually fit to be king, not just destined to inherit the job. Which, if all goes accordingly, should also result in the forming of a kind, empathetic, generous and intellectually curious young man, a well-rounded student of the world first and a prince a distant second.
After all, George already has so many other titles right now, including son, big brother, grandchild, great-grandchild and cousin.
"Stability at home is so important to me. I want to bring up my children in a happy, stable, secure world, and that is so important to both of us as parents," William told British GQ in 2017. "I want George to grow up in a real, living environment, I don't want him growing up behind palace walls, he has to be out there. The media make it harder but I will fight for them to have a normal life."
What there is plenty of time for in the future is teaching him about the nitty-gritty of royalty, the less-fun parts that William's own parents shielded him and brother Prince Harry from as much as they could.
Lately, however, normality hasn't been easy to come by for anybody, royal or not. While George celebrated his 6th birthday on the super-exclusive isle of Mustique in the West Indies, one of the family's favorite vacation destinations, his seventh birthday was pared down to sweets and games closer to home due to COVID-19 pandemic.
The Cambridges spent the remainder of the kids' school year in 2020 at their Anmer Hall estate in Norfolk, where the whole family, including George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis, would join in the nightly applause that rang through the area in appreciation of the National Health Service and other frontline workers.
Kate and William, who caught COVID early on into Britain's lockdown, began making in-person appearances again last summer, social-distancing and wearing masks according to protocol, but England only fully opened up just this month. And considering Kate's recent stint of self-isolation as a precaution after a contact scare, as well as Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank postponing the christening of their son, August, normal days aren't quite here again.
At least George's annual birthday portrait, taken as always by his mom, arrived on schedule.
In April 2020, Kate told the BBC that life at home—including home-schooling—had its "ups and downs, probably like lots of families. With self-isolating, George is much older than Louis is, but they are aware. You don't want to scare them and make it too overwhelming."
At the same time, the Duchess of Cambridge continued, "I think it is appropriate to acknowledge it in the simple ways and in the age-appropriate ways."
Kate divulged that she kept George and Charlotte on their school schedule through the Easter holiday to help maintain their new-normal. "I feel very mean," she quipped.
But with three children ages 8, 6, and 3 at home, all options for entertainment are on the table.
"Children have got such stamina," Kate said. "I don't know how, honestly. You get to the end of the day and you write a list of all the things you've done in that day. You've pitched a tent, take the tent down again, cook, bake, you get to the end of the day and they've had a lovely time. It's amazing how much you can cram into one day, that's for sure."
Stopping in at Smiths the Bakers, a local small business, to pick up some pain au chocolat last month, William told the owner that he'd done "a little bit of baking" during quarantine, while his wife had been doing "quite a bit of baking."
He added, "The children have been attacking the kitchen and it's just been an explosion of flour and chocolate everywhere."
So it's good to be the future king, and his siblings.
Back in the 1980s, William didn't even really know that he was second in line to the throne until other kids asked him about it at school, his parents having wanted him to just go about the business of being a kid. Princess Diana would tell him that all those photographers just wanted pictures of her, to pay them no mind (though she wasn't exactly wrong).
Talking about George's grown-up new look at the football match this month, Trotters founder and creative director Sophie Mirman told People, "His style hasn't changed, but it's evolved in the way that you would assume it would, and it's very much reminiscent of what the young princes would have worn in the time of Princess Diana. It suits George beautifully."
Prince Charles, born when his grandfather King George VI was still on the throne, and therefore second in line at birth, also had no real idea of his place in the monarchy until he was a bit older and realized just why people were so interested in everything he did.
"I think it's something that dawns on you with the most ghastly inexorable sense," Charles said in an interview on the occasion of his 21st birthday in 1969. "...And slowly you get the idea that you have a certain duty and responsibility."
He was further mortified at 9 years old when his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, announced on television during the Commonwealth Games—which he was watching with a bunch of friends—that she was bestowing the title of Prince of Wales upon him.
That brought his tally of titles up to eight, and he eventually grew into them. He once said that his favorite of the bunch was Lord of the Isles. "I'm an incurable romantic, and it is a marvelously romantic title," he explained. (It comes into effect when he's spending time off the west coast of Scotland.)
Biographer Sally Bedell Smith described him in her 2017 book Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life as "undeniably better prepared to be king than his twentieth-century predecessors as Prince of Wales." And not just because when he turned 65 in 2013 he became the oldest heir to the throne in 300 years.
Rather, Charles developed passions and a work ethic that made him into a fully functioning person rather than just an entitled polo-playing playboy or some disinterested figurehead. He was the first member of the family to attend school as a child outside the palace, Hill House School in Knightsbridge. His father, Prince Philip, said he and his wife wanted their son "to absorb from childhood the discipline that comes from being educated with others."
George has been pursuing his education outside of the house since he was 2 1/2, first at Westacre Montessori School in Norfolk, and then at Thomas's Battersea in south London, where tuition starts at $7,500 a year. The pioneering tyke is the first male in his branch of the family to go to a co-ed school before university. Charlotte joined him in September 2019 and their cousin Maud Windsor, granddaughter of the queen's first cousin Prince Michael of Kent, is also a pupil there.
As the school notes on its website, the No. 1 rule at Thomas's Battersea is to "be kind."
The big question down the road will be whether Kate and William enroll George in a boarding school. (Wymondham School, about an hour away from Anmer Hall, is said to be one of the best in the country.)
William and Harry both boarded at Ludgrove School starting when they were 8, but their youngest first cousins, Prince Edward's kids Lady Louise Windsor, 17, and James, Viscount Severn, 13, go to day school.
As for George's generation, his cousin Mia Tindall, who turned 7 in January, likely will be staying close to home, as well, if her father has anything to say about it.
Mike Tindall told the Daily Mail, "I'm certainly not keen on sending Mia away to a boarding school at the other end of the country. I know many people who say boarding was the making of them because they forge great independence from their parents, but I don't really want her to be distanced from us. Personally, I'd rather she attend a school that's nearby, where we'll always be on hand if she needs us." (His wife, Princess Anne's daughter Zara Tindall, went to Beaudesert Park School, a 10-minute drive from her family's estate in Gloucester.)
Then again, we're talking about kids who are in a different zip code as far as the line of succession goes.
When it came time to go to prep school back in the 1960s, 13-year-old Charles wanted to go to Eton, but his father insisted on Gordonstoun in Scotland, to toughen him up. (Gordonstoun eventually became co-ed in 1972.) The Queen Mother, Charles' grandmother, advocated for Eton as the ideal place for a future king, writing in a letter to her daughter the queen, per Bedell Smith, "One would not be involved in any controversies in a staunchly Protestant place like Eton Chapel!"
William and Harry would test those waters later on when they both went to Eton.
Charles and Diana helped shake up the royal parenting routine by being far more hands-on with their kids, giving them baths and not relegating them to the nursery to be largely looked after by nannies—though, of course, they had help. In fact, William and Harry had nannies whom they grew very close to—Tiggy Pettifer (née Legge-Bourke) is one of Archie's godparents, and Jessie Webb came out of retirement to lend a hand to Will and Kate when George was born.
Charles and Diana also brought 9-month-old William with them when they went on an official royal visit to Australia and New Zealand in 1983—a then-novel idea that stuck, with William and Kate touring Australia and New Zealand in 2014 with an 8-month-old George in tow. Not surprisingly, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle took 5-month-old Archie to Africa with them in September 2019, their first and only royal tour as a family before the Sussexes decamped to the U.S.
"We didn't see very much of him, but at least we were under the same sky, so to speak," Diana said about the Australia tour, per Andrew Morton's 1992 biography, Diana: Her True Story. "That was a great fulfillment for me because everyone wanted to know about his progress."
Diana had her two-seater Jaguar XJ-S Cabriolet custom fitted with two special little seats in the back so she could drive William and Harry around herself (with her protection officer sitting in the front passenger seat). When the boys got too big for the Jaguar, she bought a Mercedes 500SL—which caused quite a stir, as no member of Britain's royal family had ever purchased a foreign-made car before.
Even though Charles and Diana were leading increasingly separate lives by the late 1980s, they both still showed up for parent conferences and whatever else was important for their boys.
They dropped William off at Ludgrove together and entreated the headmaster's help in ensuring that William had the normal student experience. For instance, he would hide the newspapers when there were unflattering stories about his parents' marital troubles. (The same happened when William started Eton: Charles and Di, with Harry, reunited for the 13-year-old's first day at the prep school in 1995, and Will's housemaster aided the strive for normalcy.)
When the Prince and Princess of Wales formally separated in 1992, Prime Minister John Major told the House of Commons that Charles and Diana would continue to reunite for important royal and national events, and press on with the goal of giving William and Harry "a happy and secure upbringing."
"One thing I can always say about my mother is she smothered Harry and me in love," William told British GQ in 2017. "Twenty years on I still feel the love she gave us and that is testament to her massive heart and her amazing ability to be a great mother... I would like to have had her advice. I would love her to have met Catherine and to have seen the children grow up. It makes me sad that she won't, that they will never know her."
Aside from wanting them to feel loved and secure and cared for—all feelings that eluded Diana as a girl in the wake of her parents' divorce—the Princess of Wales didn't want her sons to be stuck-up prats, either, so she also taught William and Harry at an early age about the value of forging connections with people of all walks of life.
"I understand that change is frightening for people, especially if there's nothing to go to. It's best to stay where you are. I understand that," Diana told Panorama's Martin Bashir in 1995. "But I do think that there are a few things that could change, that would alleviate this doubt, and sometimes complicated relationship between monarchy and public. I think they could walk hand in hand, as opposed to be so distant."
Asked for an example, she replied, "Well, with William and Harry, for instance, I take them round homelessness projects, I've taken William and Harry to people dying of AIDS—albeit I told them it was cancer—I've taken the children to all sorts of areas where I'm not sure anyone of that age in this family has been before. And they have a knowledge—they may never use it, but the seed is there, and I hope it will grow because knowledge is power."
Diana also said in the tapes she made for Morton's book that she was subtly "altering" what it meant to be in William's shoes. "People aren't aware of it, but I am," she said. "I would never rattle their cage, the monarchy, because when I think the mother-in-law has been doing it for 40 years who am I to come along and change it just like that?
"But through William learning what I do, and his father to a certain extent, he has got an insight into what's coming his way. He's not hidden upstairs with the governess. I've chosen all the schools so far, and there was never any argument."
Similar to Charles' thoughts as a young boy about becoming king, William was "appallingly embarrassed by the whole thing," Diana said. "He's very uncomfortable about that."
At the same time, Diana was in a place, emotionally, where she was wishing that her estranged husband would go off for good with Camilla Parker-Bowles "and leave me and the children to carry the Wales name through to the time William ascends the throne. And I'd be behind them all the way and I can do this job so much better on my own; I don't feel trapped." She reiterated that to an extent to Bashir in 1995, saying, when asked if she would prefer William assuming the throne once he was of age, "My wish is that my husband finds peace of mind, and from that follows others things, yes."
Nowadays, however, the role of king is like a hot potato, nothing that anyone can admit to wanting to do but a reality that still needs to be prepared for.
"How do I make the royal family relevant in the next 20 years' time—you know, it could be 40 years' time, it could be 60 years' time—I have no idea when that's doing to be and I certainly don't lie awake waiting or hoping for it because it sadly means my family have moved on and I don't want that," William said in a 2016 BBC special about his work as an air ambulance pilot.
Understandably, he's been perfectly happy to just focus on being a so-called normal dad to so-called normal kids in the meantime.
George is "a little bit of a rascal...He either reminds me of my brother or me when I was younger, I'm not sure, but he's doing very well at the moment," William, who broke all the molds when he changed his firstborn son's very first diaper, said on CNN's New Day when George was a month old.
William also was the picture of modern-day fatherhood when he and Kate brought George home from the hospital, strapping the newborn's car seat into their Range Rover and then getting behind the wheel.
"I think driving your son and your wife away from the hospital was really important to me," the new father explained on New Day. "I don't like fuss, so it's much easier to do it yourself.
"I'm as independent as I want to be, same as Catherine and Harry," William continued. "We've all grown up differently to other generations. I very much feel if I can do it myself I want to do it myself. And there are times when you can't do it yourself and the system takes over—or it's appropriate to do things differently."
"I'm just doing it the way I know," he added. "And if it's the right way, then, brilliant. If it's the wrong way, then I try and do it better. I'm reasonably headstrong about what I believe in and what I go for and I've got fantastic people around me who give me great support and advice."
At the time, though, "the only legacy I want to pass on to him is to sleep more and maybe not to change his nappy quite so many times."
He gushed that Kate was doing "a fantastic job" as a mom so far.
Once Charles and Diana had officially separated in 1992, their parenting styles started to diverge in at least one respect: She became more public with the boys while he preferred to keep family time to themselves.
"I feel very strongly that they should be protected as much as possible from being dragged from pillar to post," Charles said at the time, per Bedell Smith. "I don't want them to do too many official things until they have to."
Diana later told Bashir that the reason she was so adamant about taking them on all sorts of outings was, "I want them to have an understanding of people's emotions, people's insecurities, people's distress, and people's hopes and dreams."
Both sentiments, uttered decades ago, have helped shape William and Kate's current approach to parenting.
"I have two children, as you probably know," William, whose third child was on the way, said in 2017 in his keynote address at the Charity Commission's annual Public Meeting, "and when I first became a father about four and half years ago, I began a process of thinking about the way I had been brought up, and the values that my parents had instilled in me.
"As any parent will know," he continued, "this process is not necessarily one that you undertake consciously—you find that certain values and habits, ones that you didn't know you had, start bubbling up to the surface. Some of my earliest memories relate to times that my parents spoke to me or—even better—showed me what it meant to have both privilege and responsibilities."
By observing Charles and Diana's respective commitments to worthy causes, he recalled, "Without my realizing it, what my parents were doing was instilling in me and Harry a lifelong habit to put charity at the heart of our lives."
All values William and Harry will duly pass along to their children, starting in a more private capacity.
"I think royal duty is extremely important," William also told the BBC in 2016. "It's part of the fabric of what the royal family and any future monarch has. I take my responsibilities very seriously. But it's about finding your own way at the right time and if you're not careful duty can sort of weigh you down an awful lot at a very early age, and I think you've got to develop into the duty role."
Though Diana was said to be considering a full retreat from public life before she died in 1997, earlier in the decade she had grand designs on what she could still accomplish with her platform as the Princess of Wales.
"I think I'm going to cut a very different path from everyone else," Diana said. "I'm going to break away from this set-up and go help the man on the street. I hate saying 'man on the street'—it sounds so condescending. I don't know yet but I'm being pushed more and more that way."
The torch has indeed been picked up by William and Harry, who along with their wives are very much "out there," and have been committed to extending her legacy—albeit now from unexpectedly divergent directions. Still, though Harry and Meghan are no longer senior royals, like William and Kate they still have the resources, the connections and now even more flexibility to do good work as they see fit.
On William's end, meanwhile, he has acknowledged that there are limits to what he can do, being the person he is.
Asked why he didn't run the London Marathon himself, after the Heads Together campaign he started with Kate and Harry christened the 2017 race the "Mental Health Marathon," William explained to GQ, "I would love to, but from the policing point of view, they tested it and they were like, 'What?'"
But overall, the plan to groom future kings by raising upright, well-rounded, empathetic young men to lead the monarchy into the future is moving along accordingly.
"The great thing is to encourage them," Charles told a ladies' circle on a visit to Wales shortly before George, his first grandchild, was born. "Show them things to take their interest. My grandmother did that; she was wonderful." As for himself, he agreed, "It's very important to create a bond when they are very young."
Kate and William have always made sure that their kids are immersed in activities, whether it's arts and crafts, baking or gardening—George and Charlotte were both involved when Kate designed a garden space for the Chelsea Flower Show in 2019. Prince Louis was only big enough to toddle around while his big brother and sister did some more serious exploring.
"There are also the environments you spend time in as well: a happy home, a safe environment," Kate said in 2019 in a rare solo interview on the Happy Mum, Happy Baby podcast. "As children, we spent a lot of time outside and it's something I'm really passionate about. I think it's so great for physical and mental well-being and laying [developmental] foundations. It's such a great environment to spend time in, building those quality relationships without the distractions of 'I've got to cook' and 'I've got to do this'. And actually, it's so simple."
Kate said she was perfectly happy "with my family outside in the countryside and we're all filthy, dirty!"
When it does come time to focus on the brass tacks of assuming the throne, they have the supreme role model in George's great-grandmother, or Granny as the younger generations call her, Queen Elizabeth II.
"My grandmother has done a remarkable job leading the country," William said, praising the monarch to GQ in 2017. "Her vision, her sense of duty, her loyalty, her steadfastness, it has been unwavering."
That being said, "You learn on the job. There is no rule book. I sometimes wonder if there should be, but in the end I think probably not. Having that difference in how we do things makes the Royal Family more interesting and more flexible. If we all followed the same line, it would all be quite stifled. Our characters are different and the different opinions are important to have."
Members of William's family aren't supposed to get involved in politics, for instance, be it to endorse a candidate or party or throw their weight around in influencing policy. But Prince Charles has notably—and controversially—pushed those boundaries by not only being quite vocal about the causes he's passionate about but also by relaying exactly what he thinks should be done.
"My father has always come at this from a depth of knowledge and a desire to help," said William, who said he himself probably won't be writing advice to 10 Downing Street but is happy to connect someone with a cause with the right person up the food chain. "He only gets involved in anything when he has those two things: knowledge matched to a desire to help. He genuinely cares. We can argue till the cows come home about whether what he says is right or wrong, but he lives this stuff every day, goes into minute detail, wants to help inform opinion and provide knowledge. I would love to know what the public really think, whether they feel shocked or pleased he gets involved.
"He has done this for a long, long time, and I think he has used his role really well to raise a lot of questions that people need to ask."
These royals aren't advocates for silence, that's for sure, not when it comes to causes that are important to them—such as the homeless crisis, veterans services and mental health care—and not when it comes to their own personal, private feelings, either. Unlike the push-it-aside stoicism practiced by those of Prince Philip's era—and to an extent Charles himself, when it came to maintaining the royal family's image befitting a centuries-old institution—William and Kate want their children to feel free to express their emotions.
"If I look at my parents' generation, there was a lot more stiff upper lip going on," William acknowledged. "Don't get me wrong, there is a time and a place for the stiff upper lip, and, for those of us in public life, times when you have to maintain it, but behind closed doors, in normal everyday life, we have to be more open and upfront with our feelings and emotions."
That being said, he knows from personal experience—having lost his mother at 15 and then being encouraged to walk behind her casket in the funeral procession in front of a billion people—what it's like to want to fall apart in public but can't because it's out of the question.
William added, "You have to project the strength of the United Kingdom—that sounds ridiculous, but we have to do that. You can't just be carrying baggage and throwing it out there and putting it on display everywhere you go. My mother did put herself right out there and that is why people were so touched by her. But I am determined to protect myself and the children, and that means preserving something for ourselves. I think I have a more developed sense of self-preservation."
For now, George has the luxury of getting to focus on cake and ice cream, on chores and homework, on sports and bonding with his siblings—on being a kid. His parents also have other things on their minds, like getting their children to eat dinner, even when their favorites aren't on the table. They know that certain lessons will have to be learned eventually, but there's no need to rush.
Besides, first king's first.
"We now have three generations of working royals, four altogether, and having that movement through the generations allows for the monarchy to stay relevant and keep up with modern times," William told GQ. "You are only as good as your last gig and it is really important you look forward, plan, have a vision."
(Originally published July 22, 2019, at 3 a.m. PT)