Once upon a time, many years ago, there was a beautiful young woman who had a dream for her son of the kind shared by millions of mothers all over the world, which was that he could be - and indeed must be - whatever he wanted to be in life. The only trouble with this charming notion was that it made the boy's father quite angry. And it did so for the simple reason that, barring tragedy, revolution or a personal decision of historic proportions, the child could not actually be what he wanted to be at all. For his name was Prince William and he was destined to be king.
But looked at through the prism of where we are today, few would argue that Princess Diana was wrong to have put such ideas into the head of her 11-year-old son. I hope it is many decades until anyone gets around to discussing what will be marked on William's gravestone, but we could already have a stab at it: He did it his way.
Yes, he may be king one day. But within the confines of that straightjacket, William does seem more than usually determined to carry off his destiny in a manner of his choosing. Indeed, the quickest way to make him really, really mad is to suggest that something should be done in a certain style because it has always been done that way.
He fights protocol tooth and nail. He doesn't like titles, nor care much for pomp and circumstance. He prefers most things in life to be kept low key and simple.
So you can imagine that negotiating details of the wedding with the keepers of the traditional flame across the park at Buck House has not been without its issues. It is no great secret that William would much rather be getting married in the village church in Bucklebury with 200 of his closest mates. He accepts the fact that Westminster Abbey will be full of dignitaries he has never met and that hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people will watch the event on TV all over the world, but he doesn't particularly relish it. I mean, would you?
He has seen the way this life has constrained his father and - literally - destroyed his mother and he views it with caution and suspicion. He is at his most decisive and impressive when his protective instincts are aroused, particularly on behalf of his bride and her family. Indeed, what he would really like as soon as he and Kate are married is to return to Anglesey and hole up there for as long as possible in pursuit of a conventional military career and domestic happiness.
But here is the conundrum: if William remains in some ways cautious of the life fate has allotted him, he does seem to be driven by a desire to perform the role with gusto. As soon as the earthquake hit New Zealand's South Island in February, for example, he was chomping at the bit to get out there and pay his respects. And he didn't stop hassling until he landed in Christchurch a few weeks ago.
He understands the importance of leadership. He was proud of his role in the World Cup bid, even if he was perplexed by the result. He appreciates how privileged his existence is. He understands the importance of doing his duty and wants to be a good king. It is clear to anyone who knows him that his life has long been characterized by an aching determination to make sure he never gets anything wrong, an ambition which is notably shared by his wife-to-be.
I used to look on perplexed as Kate was painted in some quarters as a grasping and lazy social climber with her eye on the main chance, because what I have seen is a loyal and rather straightforward woman who has been determined throughout to avoid doing anything that would make her boyfriend's position more difficult.
William will turn 30 next year and about the worst thing you can say about either of them is that he once landed a Chinook in her parents' back garden. He's got the wrong side of a bottle of whisky a few times, it's true, but that's about it.
Nobody is suggesting they are perfect, but they have kept a remarkably clean sheet. For a couple destined one day to assume such an elevated position of national leadership, it's a record that is hard to argue with.
My own association with William goes back about a decade to the period when I was Royal Correspondent for ITV News. I had previously been Asia Correspondent, but had got shot in a riot in Jakarta and had decided that I wanted to steer clear of war zones for a while. No one ever came into journalism wanting to be a royal correspondent, but I wasn't in a position to choose and I didn't think I would stay long.
I don't know whether the fact that I had just been wounded made me seem like a slightly different beast, but it was decided that it would be a good idea for William and I to get together. It was clear to me that the purpose of the meeting was to convince the young Prince that not all journalists had two heads and breathed fire. He wasn't wholly keen and the lunch was postponed a couple of times. But eventually, we did get together at a restaurant in Fulham.
I was very careful to ask him as little about his life as possible, since I knew - or suspected - that he disliked the way the media treated him as a commodity and I didn't want him to feel that he was being traded. I told him lots of stupid and indiscreet stories from my time on the road and we joshed along happily. I liked him a lot. He was - is - a good bloke. He certainly doesn't like to take everything in life too seriously.
It seemed to start something, because we gradually built a relationship. I went off to Lesotho with his brother shortly afterwards to make an hour-long documentary for ITV, the proceeds of which went to found Harry's charity, Sentebale. It was the first time either of them had talked publicly about their mother, though I knew it was a subject that exercised them both greatly.
They were written up at the time as reluctant royals and in many ways this was a true picture of their sentiments. They quite openly blamed the paparazzi for their mother's death in Paris and believed the press more generally to be responsible for hounding her into an early grave. On occasions, it made them very, very angry.
They were also wound up by the constant leaks of personal information to the press. The stories kept coming, week in week out, and they had periodic bouts of trying to work out who it was that was betraying them. Trust was the defining issue in all their relationships and I was tolerated because I proved repeatedly that I could - and did - keep my mouth shut. I took the view that if I didn't tell anyone anything, then nothing could leak. And it didn't.
Until, that is, one day in 2005, when I woke up to a very surprising story in the News of the World. To cut a long tale short, I had said I would help William pull his gap-year videos together and he had called me to say that he was in London and would I fancy meeting up for a beer to talk about it. I asked him to tell security at the gate I would be in on Monday, but I didn't mention it to anyone else so I was pretty surprised to read a small story about our proposed meeting in the News of the World the following morning. When William and I got together to discuss how this could possibly have leaked, I mentioned that as Royal Correspondent (I was now Political Editor), I had heard that some newspapers routinely tapped into people's phone-messaging services.
William called in his private secretary, a ruthlessly effective former SAS officer called Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton, and the rest is history. I did notice, however, that almost as soon as Clive Goodman and Glenn Mulcaire were arrested, the leaks about William and Harry's private lives dried up. They have had the pleasure of discovering that no one ever was betraying them, after all.
I suspect this development has contributed more than any other to their ability to retreat effectively from the public gaze and this in turn will increase their ability to survive the strains of their strange existence.
I have been asked about a thousand times since the interview I did with William and Kate what kind of couple they are and it is always hard to know what to say.
They have a tight circle of close-knit friends and I should stress that I am not one.
But quite a lot of information has passed through my brain these past 10 years, which has allowed me to form a relatively clear picture of what kind of guy William is.
For the purposes of balance, I have sought out the negatives. He can certainly be stubborn at times, but even this seems only the reverse side of his determination to beat back a system that he feels overwhelmed his mother. He is loyal. He forms close friendships with people who seem, for the most part, to be pretty solid. He would like to a have a conventional life conducted far from the madding crowd, but certainly doesn't want the historical, not to mention global, opprobrium that would result from a rejection of his destiny.
I do not know Kate well, but my wife, Claudia, who worked with her briefly when she was at Jigsaw, says pretty similar things of her. She always said she thought the royal family was lucky to have her and felt sad that Kate wasn't able - or didn't feel able - to pursue many of the career interests that attracted her.
Claudia always thought she was pretty smart.
And as for all the snobby bitching about the Middletons that got written up from time to time? I never knew whether to laugh or cry when I read those. Her mother chews gum at Sandhurst? Ooh, er. It is difficult to think of anything that the Queen, let alone her grandson, could care less about. But there you are.
Maybe someone did get offended. There are some very sad people around.
I certainly don't know William and Kate well enough to have a handle on what makes their relationship tick. My guess - based on no more than a hunch - is that Kate was probably the first person apart from Harry that William ever really talked to about his parents' divorce, his mother's death and all the hideous public scrutiny of his teenage years. They seem to have a deep friendship, founded on loyalty and mutual respect (not to mention physical attraction). At one point, William seemed quite an angry young man, smooth and amusing on the surface but intense and sometimes anxious underneath. I'd hazard she is a calming influence.
As I look at them in the church on April 29, I will have at the forefront of my mind the fact that this is a young couple locking themselves into a system that will provide them with some very substantial challenges. I am not going to go as far to portray them as victims, since it is a pretty gilded cage and at least they will never have to worry about paying the mortgage. But they are rare among their peers in having so little choice over so much of what they do. I suppose that is what makes their journey so interesting. They are an ordinary couple facing an extraordinary life.
Amidst all the splendour, the friends, the families, the dignitaries and the assorted others, my wife and I will have a very simple wish, which is that they find the domestic happiness and tranquillity they so keenly seek. They're good people. And they deserve it.
Tom Bradby , political editor of Britain's ITN, is Special to The Globe and Mail
ROYAL WEDDING DEVELOPMENTS
* Kate Middleton's "living avenue" began to take shape inside Westminster Abbey with Tuesday's arrival of six potted English field maples and two hornbeams that will line the aisle leading to the altar. Whatever the weather, it promises to be a perfect English country garden inside as the six-metre trees will create a canopy under which guests will walk on the way to their seats. AP/AFP
* A self-confessed "super fan" of Prince William's mother, the late Princess Diana, was the first to arrive at the abbey late Monday to ensure a front-row spot. John Loughrey, 56, was equipped with only a sleeping bag and two bags at the start of his four-day wait. His T-shirt read "Diana Would Be Proud." AP
* A Boston woman who shares the same name as Kate Middleton says she was recently booted off Facebook and accused of running a fake account. But the 32-year-old bicycle enthusiast says Kate Middleton is her name and convinced Facebook to reinstate her account. AP
* The country's bookmakers, meanwhile, hope to make a mint. Wedding-themed wagers include: How long will Kate make William wait at the aisle? What colour will the Queen wear to the wedding? And will Prince Harry be sober enough to deliver the best man's speech? AP
* U.S. online media outlets have generated more coverage of the royal wedding than their British counterparts. The Nielsen Company says the United States has had the highest share of news coverage by traditional online news sources of the wedding when compared with corresponding coverage in Britain. AP
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