Considering all the hosannas that surrounded his arrival, the first birthday of His Royal Highness Prince William Arthur Philip Louis of Wales shapes up, by comparison, as a real, if royal, yawn: no 41-gun salutes, no rain of hand-knit booties, no breathless crowds outside Buckingham Palace’s gates. Worst of all, not even a mommy and daddy around to blow out the candle on his cake. With Prince Charles and Diana locked into an official two-week visit to Canada that covered the June 21 birthday, what’s a royal heir to do back home in Kensington Palace? Nanny Barbara Barnes and her assistant, Olga Powell, would be on hand for a special tea, and maybe even to present him for an audience with the Queen (that’s Grandmother in family talk). But while millions of admirers around the world would be going gaga at the mere sight of his picture (they’re entitled; he is a gorgeous bloke), young William’s first birthday would be surprisingly, heartwarmingly commonplace—devoted to plebeian pursuits like teething, napping and splashing about with his favorite tub toy, a blue plastic whale.
The separation from his doting parents, of course, did cause consternation all around. “There will be a lot of disappointment [on the part of Canadians hoping for a glimpse of William], but the Prince and Princess are unhappy, too,” says Victor Chapman, Prince Charles’ press officer. “They felt the trip is too short to take Prince William. They will be spending much of their time on the royal yacht Britannia and the seas can get pretty rough this time of the year.”
Ever-vigilant Fleet Street has already embarked on a round of speculation about William At One and about “the year’s most exclusive party”—the prospective private gathering that palace observers expect to be held July 10, when most of his family will be together. According to one scenario, guests would include: Lord Freddy Windsor, 4, and his sister, Lady Gabriella, 2, the offspring of Prince and Princess Michael of Kent; Laura Fellowes, 2, the elder child of Princess Diana’s sister, Lady Jane Fellowes; Lady Tamara Grosvenor, 3, daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Westminster; and Prince Charles’ godson, the Hon. Nicholas Knatchbull, 2—all accompanied by their nannies.
If other upper-crust birthday parties are any indication, William’s palace gala would feature balloons, party hats and streamers—not to mention a menu of egg mayonnaise sandwiches, potato crisps, jellies and chocolate biscuits. Cakes come from Harrods, which offers a lavish ice-cream number for about $39.25, while the beverage of choice is fresh orange juice served in personalized mugs.
It isn’t likely that the press will be invited to document William’s initial outing as a host; even a prince must have his privacy. The palace is vague on particulars, and much of the intelligence about the babe’s teething (six in so far) and growth spurts (he is 30 inches tall and weighs in at a hefty 27 pounds) comes from his parents, who drop nuggets about William on their “walkabouts.” Other family members provide tidbits, too: “I think he recognizes me now,” says Earl Spencer, Diana’s father. “Or at least he recognizes my enormous feet.”
An open, affectionate child, “Wills,” as Charles and Diana call him, is being raised in a much less formal manner than were his royal progenitors. “The very fact that he sees so much of his mother and father—and that they refuse to be separated from him unless it is really necessary—is different from what even Prince Charles experienced,” says the Earl, who describes the royal couple as “quite potty” over little William. Indeed, Diana phones Nanny Barnes twice daily whenever she is away from her son.
Charles has admitted that his was a lonely childhood. Prince William, however, already has a ready supply of playmates: Five royal cousins under the age of 8 live in neighboring quarters at Kensington Palace (which, because of the plethora of relatives, Charles has dubbed “the aunt heap”), as do two cousins on the Spencer side. (Princess Anne’s Zara, 2, and Peter, 5, live near Highgrove, Charles and Diana’s country home, but they seldom visit.) When her son gets older, Diana may set up an in-house nursery school—something that was done for Charles’ brothers, Andrew and Edward.
Aside from his six-week sojourn Down Under this spring, William has spent much of his first year lolling about his own yellow-and-white nursery. Though his father’s day begins with a 6:30 a.m. jog around the grounds, the little Prince isn’t likely to see Charles and Diana until they have breakfasted and he has been cloth-diapered and clad in his royal rompers—these days cool linens and cottons.
When Diana, who stopped breastfeeding him at 3 months, has no official engagements, she often spends the morning attending to correspondence in her pink-and-blue sitting room while William plays nearby. The early afternoon might be devoted to an airing in Kensington Gardens; Nanny Barnes is frequently spotted wheeling William in a pram while a detective follows behind at a discreet distance.
Weather permitting, William naps in the palace’s private garden; a safety net over his pram prevents birds or insects from popping in uninvited. His mother makes an effort to be there when he awakens around 4 p.m. The two usually have a play session before the tyke plunges into a dinner of pureed beef (Wills’ favorite) and vegetables—sometimes leftovers from palace meals—or cereal and milk. At the moment he is said to favor (as a playmate, not as a first course) a fluffy foot-high stuffed kiwi given to Diana in New Zealand. Charles and Diana often take turns administering the royal bath, which comes just before lights-out at 7 p.m. Teething pains notwithstanding, he sleeps through the night.
On occasion, William pays a call on his peripatetic royal grandparents, who may be at Buckingham Palace, Windsor, Balmoral or Sandringham. High-spirited in private, the Queen, like any proud grandparent, treats the Prince to a bit of crawl-around-on-the-floor play. William also spends time with his maternal grandmother, Frances Shand-Kydd, at her London flat. And like other upper-crust kiddies, he weekends in the country: Charles and Diana frequently drive to High-grove at midday Friday and return to London Monday morning.
The regimen seems to agree with Wills. He has already taken a few steps while clinging to the side of his playpen, and he is a fearless climber of stairs—even though, as his maternal grandpa puts it, “He falls over a lot.” There is no official confirmation, but careful listeners claim to have caught his first word: “Dada.”
Someday William will almost certainly have to share the spotlight. His parents have made no secret of the fact that they are eager to have more children. Nonetheless, Di’s dad insists, “They’ll wait a while before the family gets any larger.” And the Princess looked anything but pregnant at the recent London premiere of Octopussy: She wore a form-clinging gown that belied rumors a sibling rival was on the way. For a time, at least, Wee Willie will hold onto his other title: the World’s Top Tot.
Written by MICHELLE GREEN, reported by JERENE JONES, TERRY SMITH and NIGEL DEMPSTER in London