Prince William Impacted By Parents Prince Charles and Princess Diana's Divorce
LONDON -- In public, Prince William looks professional, speaks with easy self-confidence and interacts well with people from all walks of life.
Yet experts say the future king's self-assurance and quality tailoring could mask some damage caused by his parent's failed marriage and his mother's unexpected death when he was a teenager. And, they say, big life events like his upcoming royal wedding are typical triggers for a turbulent emotional time.
"Even though he's a prince, he is not immune to the scars of divorce," said Dr. Carole Lieberman, a psychiatrist and commentator whose radio talk show has dealt extensively with William's relationship with his fiancee, Kate Middleton, who he will marry April 29.
William benefits from the nation's good will – some headlines have already proclaimed him a king for the 21st Century – but experts believe no one walks away easily from the type of family crisis he confronted in his formative teenage years.
There was the 1996 divorce of his parents, Prince Charles and Princess Diana, preceded by a long period of muted hostility, then recriminations and mutual public confessions of adultery. That was followed by Diana's shocking death in a 1997 car crash with her boyfriend, and Charles' 2005 remarriage to his longtime mistress, Camilla – a controversial figure blamed by many for Diana's loneliness and pain.
Mental health experts say that type of family collapse could easily be a recipe for emotional trouble.
Lieberman said this could explain why it took William eight years to propose to Middleton after they met as freshmen at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, although he was just 19 when they met.
"William saw his mother, Princess Diana, heartbroken by his father's ongoing love for Camilla Parker Bowles and Charles' blatant cheating, so even though he sees Kate is very different, there is still that nagging fear that if you give your heart to somebody they can break it," Lieberman said.
Some British tabloids made fun of Middleton's seemingly endless patience, dubbing her "Waity Katie," but she may have understood that William's family history could make him a bit skittish about marriage and meant he would move slowly toward the altar.
Still, despite the private challenges William had to face while growing up, the young man who has emerged since announcing his engagement in November shows no obvious signs of trauma.
It is entirely possible that William, 28, has recovered from the family turbulence of his youth and is well-equipped to deal with the demands of married life and, eventually, the pressures of being king.
William has seemed easygoing and self-deprecating in his public appearances, whether launching a lifeboat with his fiancee by his side or representing his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, at solemn occasions like the recent memorial service for those lost in the New Zealand earthquake.
Palace officials declined to say whether William received counseling to help cope with his parents' divorce or his mother's subsequent death.
Robert Jobson, author of the book "William and Kate: The Love Story", said Diana made many demands of William during her marital crisis, and perhaps leaned too heavily on him for emotional support during that difficult time.
Dr. Jennifer Leonard, founder of UK Parent Coaching, said in general it can be difficult for children if a divorcing parent seeks their companionship rather than maintaining their parental role.
"This does happen sometimes when there is a lot of resentment and the parents try to vilify the other party," she said. "It's not always intentional, but your attitude comes across in your tone of voice."
She said if the teenager suppresses their resentment about the divorce it can "explode" in later years.
But Jobson also praised Diana for trying to instill a measure of normalcy in William's life to prevent him from becoming spoiled. Diana also tried to teach William how he could enjoy life despite the intense media interest he generated, using the late John F. Kennedy Jr. as an example of someone who coped gracefully with tremendous fame.
"It was hard for him as a child but as a man he seems to be pretty balanced, pretty calm," said Jobson.
Diana died more than a decade ago, but she remains a looming presence in the upcoming royal wedding, a fact acknowledged by William on the day his engagement was announced when he spoke movingly of his mother and showed the world Diana's sapphire and diamond engagement ring – now placed on Middleton's finger.
The decision to give his late mother's ring to his fiancee seemed to divide public opinion: Some were impressed, while others found it unsettling since Diana and Charles' union was so ill-starred.
William has also had to navigate an emotionally fraught relationship with his stepmother, Camilla, who divorced her first husband to marry Charles after a long-term love affair that Diana – and much of the British public – blamed for the demise of the royal marriage.
After Diana's death, Camilla was vilified in the press as "the other woman" and held responsible by some for Diana's unhappiness. Charles was cautious, waiting more than seven years for public passions to cool before marrying Camilla.
Joe Little, managing editor of Majesty magazine, says William seems to have borne up well despite the pressures, and cautioned against relying too much on armchair psychology when it comes to analyzing the royals.
"We all think we know these people, but really we don't," he said. "William would have been subjected to all types of turmoil. It would have been impossible for some of it not to rub off on him. But on the face of it I don't see any signs of psychological scars."
William also avoided the obvious missteps that bedeviled his younger brother, Harry, who was disciplined for smoking marijuana and forced to apologize after being photographed wearing a Nazi swastika at a party.
No one suggests that William was an angel, but his teenage rebellion, if there was one, took place behind closed doors.
"When one thinks of the ways in which William could have gone horribly wrong, at this moment it's all coming together in the right way," said British historian Andrew Roberts. "To have chosen a very sensible down-to-earth young woman who is middle class, that is revolutionary for the royal family. I think it shows a huge breath of fresh air."