Royal fathering is perhaps the one area of royal life where one’s every move is not dictated by tradition. There’s no Windsor-wide formula, and for the most part royal fathers have been able to schedule family time as they see fit—ensuring, of course, that protocol isn’t compromised. At 2016’s Trooping the Colour, Prince William was on the receiving end of a telling-off from grandma. As the royals gathered on the Buckingham Palace balcony to watch the fly-past he knelt down to chat to Prince George. Motioning him back to his feet, the Queen was quick to remind him that he was on duty. For parents the world over it’s no mean feat juggling work and family life, but royals don’t conduct regular schedules and more often than not, sacrifices have to be made. Sacrifices that can be as hard on parents as they are on the child.
Charles came under fire in 1991 after an eight-year-old Prince William underwent surgery at Great Ormond Street Hospital due to a depressed fracture of the skull. William and his friends had been messing around on the putting green at school when a pal accidentally hit the Prince in the head with a seven-iron golf club. As William was rushed to hospital, his parents both raced to be by his side. Diana stayed with William for the two nights he spent under observation, but shortly before surgery was due to begin, Charles left to attend a performance of Puccini’s Tosca at the Royal Opera House, an engagement which had been scheduled months in advance. From there he traveled by night train to North Yorkshire for an environmental conference.
The next day the tabloids were savage. ‘What Kind of Dad Are You?’ The Sun’s headline screamed. But what the public didn’t know was that Charles only left the hospital having been reassured by the neurosurgeon, Richard Hayward, that William was stable. He called the hospital numerous times to check on his son and he visited William the night following the operation. Was it an ideal scenario? No, but it serves as a perfect example of the conundrum the royals face given public expectation.
The incident was just one of numerous occasions when Charles’s parenting skills were called into question and yet he’s in a position few could ever relate to. Due to his mother’s sudden and early accession, Charles’s own childhood was one lived in the nursery, overseen by nannies and tutors, until he became the first heir apparent to attend school. Over the years he’s complained bitterly about how little he saw of his parents – usually half an hour after breakfast, a quick look in at lunchtime and a half hour before bed – but his duty-bound mother was governed by the burden of queenship.
Given how things have been done before, it’s no wonder that the Queen has actively encouraged William to spend the years since his marriage focused on his young family. His royal vocation is one for life and thanks to the Windsors’ longevity it could be years before William is required to embrace the true implications of his destiny. Having been robbed of quality family time herself, the Queen is keen that the younger set don’t suffer the same fate.
Following his retirement from the RAF in 2013, Prince William joined the Air Ambulance Service in East Anglia. It was the first time a direct heir to the throne had held down a civilian position and for a brief time it allowed William to experience a life as close to normality as possible. Even with the odd royal engagement thrown in, William’s schedule allowed him to be home with his children on a regular basis, but he has spoken openly of his parenting struggles. In an interview with Talk Vietnam during a trip to the Asian country in 2016 he said, “I’ve struggled at times. The alteration from being a single independent man to going into marriage and then having children is life changing… I’ve learnt a lot about myself and about family just from having my own children.” Many a parent can relate to the struggles faced when raising young children, but William has the added weight of the media spotlight recording his every move. Even so, he has committed to doing what works best for his family.
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In September 2016 George and Charlotte accompanied their parents on an eight-day tour to Canada. Taking one child, Prince George, to Australia and New Zealand in 2014, had been done before. Traveling with two on an official trip was more challenging, but the schedule was drawn up with the proviso that William and Kate were able to look after their children between scheduled engagements. The two faced criticism from some quarters as they disembarked from their plane upon arrival; as William greeted the dignitaries waiting to receive them on the tarmac, Kate was crouched down attending to George and Charlotte. But as Canadian PM Justin Trudeau later joked during his remarks at the ceremonial welcome, “As any parent traveling with children knows, it’s a whole different experience when you bring your family with you.” But clearly it worked for the Cambridges. Since their tour of Canada, George and Charlotte have also joined their parents on visits to Poland and Germany.
A children’s prince
It’s no secret that Prince Harry is in his element when it comes to children. Like his mother before him, he’s able to connect in a way that delights children of all ages. His attendance at the annual WellChild Awards is always heartwarming to witness, as are his comical interactions with children of wounded servicemen and women competing in the Invictus Games. In 2004, four-year-old African orphan, Mutsu Potsane, met Harry in Lesotho, home to the Prince’s charity, Sentebale. Then only 19, Harry was in the country on a mission to help vulnerable children affected by or living with HIV/Aids. The two instantly struck up a friendship and have kept in touch since. In May 2018 Mutsu, then 18, was invited to Harry and Meghan’s wedding at St George’s Chapel, Windsor. Children coping with tremendous hardship have arguably touched Harry more than any of his other charitable endeavours. Having lost his mother at age 12 he can relate to them in ways that make their exchanges authentic and compelling.
Now preparing to welcome his own child in the spring, Harry is set to face the challenges of parenthood. Fiercely protective of his wife, Meghan, he, like William, will guard his child’s privacy vehemently. By moving to Windsor, Harry has already opted for a life free of oppressive palace walls, proving that his family’s welfare comes first. For a child whose parents’ divorce was plastered across Britain’s front pages, how could one expect anything else?
William and Harry are very different men with very different roles, but at their core, their mother’s approach informs their personal lives. Both are determined that Diana’s presence be felt, even though she’s long been gone. As with the Cambridge household, the Sussex home will be awash with hugs, play, bedtime stories and love. The children will know that their privilege is one not to be taken lightly.
Given the odds stacked against him following the death of Diana, Charles did an extraordinary job in raising his sons and he enjoys a close relationship with both men. Though a self-professed doting grandfather, the call of duty rings ever louder in his ears and it remains difficult for him to find the balance between his public and private personas. William spoke recently of his wish for Charles to spend more time with his grandchildren, but old habits die hard and as William’s reign draws nearer, he may begin to recognize the constraints imposed on his father. The Cambridge and Sussex offspring will lead lives driven by duty, but that duty will have been nurtured and encouraged to feel less like a prison sentence and more like a calling to be proud of.
Dads in the delivery room
How attitudes have changed to royal births
In 1948, as Princess Elizabeth was in the throes of a long and arduous labour with Prince Charles at Buckingham Palace, father-to-be Prince Philip was playing squash with his private secretary, Michael Parker. It wasn’t customary in those days for fathers, let alone royal fathers, to join their wives in the delivery room so after the game, Philip awaited the news of his son’s safe arrival in his study. Philip wasn’t present for the births of Anne or Andrew either, but come Edward’s birth in 1964, attitudes had changed and doctors actively encouraged fathers to be present.
Jumping ahead to 1982, Prince William was not the first royal to be born in hospital, but he was the first direct heir. Prince Charles was there for his birth as he was for Prince Harry’s. William continued the tradition of being in the delivery room for the arrival of his three children, but he took things one step further when he wrestled with George’s car seat before the world’s media and drove his young family home himself.
It remains to be seen where Meghan will choose to have her baby but, one can be certain, Harry will be right by her side.
This article was first published in The Riches of Britain Special Collector’s Edition ‘Bringing Up the New Royals’