LONDON (AP) — The world watched as Prince William went from blond schoolboy to dashing air and sea rescue pilot to balding father of three.
But now that he turns 40 on Tuesday, William is making his biggest change yet: taking on an increasingly central role in the royal family as he prepares for his eventual ascent to the throne.
That was made clear two weeks ago when she took center stage at the grand concert marking Queen Elizabeth II’s 70th year on the throne, praising her grandmother as an environmental pioneer while calling for action on climate change.
“Tonight has been filled with so much optimism and joy, and there is hope,” William said, as images of wildlife, oceans and jungles were projected on the walls behind him at Buckingham Palace. “Together, if we harness the best of humanity and restore our planet, we will protect it for our children, our grandchildren and future generations.”
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Plagued by age and health problems, the 96-year-old queen is gradually handing over more responsibilities to her son and heir, Prince Charles. That in turn gives William, Charles’ eldest son, a bigger role to play and more opportunity to put his stamp on a new generation of the monarchy.
“William has been very interested in showing how he will treat things differently,” said royal expert Pauline Maclaran, author of “Royal Fever: The British Monarchy in Consumer Culture.”
“And we see that more and more, where the future of the line of succession is emphasized, with Carlos placed more in a sort of holding position for Guillermo. We are always reminded that Guillermo is after Carlos,” he added.
William’s position as eventual heir to the throne was, of course, sealed on the day of his birth on June 21, 1982, the first child of Charles and the late Princess Diana. That put him in the public eye from the moment Carlos and Diana introduced him to cameras outside the Lindo wing of St. Mary’s Hospital in London.
The world has watched William from his school days in London to his courtship with Kate Middleton at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and their spectacular wedding at Westminster Abbey.
He walked before the cameras once more when he graduated from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, and went on to active duty in the Army, Navy and Royal Air Force. He eventually became a civilian air ambulance pilot before moving into full-time royal duties five years ago.
Her charities and causes, ranging from mental health to the environment, have hinted at what kind of monarch she might one day be.
But events just before and during the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations began to give a clearer indication of William’s vision of the future.
William and Kate represented the queen last March when they toured Belize, Jamaica and the Bahamas for eight days, three of the 14 independent countries where Elizabeth II still serves as head of state.
They were greeted with brass bands and gala dinners, but also with protests by demonstrators demanding reparations for Britain’s role in enslaving millions of Africans. Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness told the royals that his country intended to become a republic, severing ties with the monarchy.
After the trip, the young royals were criticized as “insensitive” for perpetuating images of Britain’s colonial rule.
But instead of resorting to the traditional House of Windsor response of “never complain, never explain”, William took the unusual step of issuing a statement reflecting on everything that had happened.
“I know that this tour has brought questions about the past and the future even more into focus,” the prince said. “In Belize, Jamaica and the Bahamas, that future is decided by the people.”
“Catalina and I are committed to service,” he continued. “For us, that’s not telling people what to do. It’s about serving and supporting them in whatever way they see fit.”
That willingness to be accessible is critical to the House of Windsor as it seeks to remain relevant to young people and cement its role in British society, Maclaran said.
“It is important that Guillermo shows that there will be changes in the monarchy,” he said. “Otherwise, I suspect that he really won’t be able to survive.”
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