WHEN SON ALBERT WAS 4, BAVARIAN PRINCESS Gloria von Thurn and Taxis took him along on a visit to Princess Diana at Kensington Palace. Heir to a fortune estimated at $2.9 billion, Prince Albert might have been expected to feel some solidarity with fellow silver spooners William and Harry, whose grandmother Elizabeth is worth an estimated $11.7 billion. The German Prince, however, was not impressed. After handing over the bibelots he’d brought and receiving a gift in return, he decided that he’d been shortchanged: He bopped Prince Harry, then 2, and reached for his rival’s toy truck.
Trust funds or no, children born into staggering fortunes do have things in common with Everykid. The difference between rich kids and their common-folk counterparts, of course, is that growing pains are cushioned by perks that only Big Money can buy. When he’s feeling restless, Prince Albert, now 9, can bounce off the walls in his huge playroom at St. Emmeram Palace in Regensburg, Germany, while Harry and Wills can splash around the Queen’s private pool at Buck House. Athina Roussel, 7, daughter of the late Christina Onassis, can board one of dad Thierry’s two yachts when the pressures of reading, writing and arithmetic seem intolerable, while the children of Jordan’s King Hussein and Queen Noor (sons Hamzeh, 12, and Hashem, 11, and daughters Iman, 9, and Raiyah, 6) can work off energy by speeding around the palace grounds in their kid-size Jeeps. And 6-year-old Charlotte Casiraghi—Princess Caroline’s daughter—can chase away the Monday-morning what-to-wear-to-school blues by dipping into a closetful of Baby Diors.
Not that the lives of the young rich are devoid of dramatic tension. Having prominent parents means that you can’t set foot in the sandbox without a bodyguard and that the paparazzi come along when you go to Gstaad, Switzerland. (Hounded by photographers at the airport in Ibiza, Spain, this summer, feisty Athina was reported to have said. “If I were a whale, I’d knock them all down.”) If your relations are royals, you must learn to chat up the rabble and sit through speeches without squirming. If your grandfather was a shipping magnate, you may be haunted by tales of his vulgar excesses. In any case, you are likely to feel overshadowed—or embarrassed—by your progenitors.
Experts say that for a child in line for a seven-figure inheritance (or a crown), emotional estrangement is an occupational hazard. “Some of these children are ornaments for their parents,” says Dr. Terry Hunt, a Boston psychologist whose grandfather built a fortune as chairman of Alcoa Aluminum. “The kids are often closer to the servants than to their parents, and when they grow up, they never know whether they’re loved for who they are.”
These days, enlightened parents are doing what they can to defeat the love-starved spoiled-brat syndrome. In the Swiss village of Lussy, near Geneva, the daughter of Christina Onassis is being raised with both feet on the ground. Steeped in both love and discipline, ATHINA ROUSSEL is treated just like half siblings Erik, 7, Sandrine, 5, and Johanna, 14 months. (Father Thierry, a reformed playboy who is heir to a multimillion-dollar pharmaceutical fortune, sired Erik and Sandrine with Swedish mistress Gaby Landhage while he was still married to Christina. He and Onassis divorced in 1987, and in 1990, Thierry and Landhage were wed.)
Although Christina had ordered servants to carry Athina long after the child could walk, Thierry, 39, and Gaby, 40, refuse to coddle the girl who will inherit $1.5 billion at 18—and who made this year’s FORTUNE 500 list. “I want my children to realize that not everything is due to them,” Thierry has said. Their pink stucco home is large and comfortable but not ostentatious, and the little Roussels walk a half mile to the local school in the company of bodyguards. Erik and Athina were placed on a short-lived water diet when they started getting picky at the dinner table. On ski trips, the children carry their own equipment. At Christmas, they are asked to give a favorite toy to the poor.
Not that luxury isn’t part of Athina’s life: Thierry, whose share of Christina’s fortune is $1.42 million annually, owns an estate in Sologne, France, and $100 million worth of property in Portugal. The family is also building a villa in Spain. Athina, whose annual allowance is about $4.25 million, tools about in the requisite electric Jeep, and it was reported last Christmas that Gaby picked out a Ferrari Testarossa (which cost around $235,000) for Athina to give her father.
Splurges aside, family friends predict that Athina is more likely to live comfortably with her riches than did Christina (who was alternately spoiled and neglected by Ari O). “She isn’t being treated like a little princess,” says one. “She has a better chance at happiness than Christina ever did.”
In Bavaria, Princess Gloria is similarly vigilant with her children. A blue blood who worked as a waitress before her 1980 wedding to His Serene Highness Prince Johannes—a 53-year-old bisexual desperate to produce an heir—she has been an attentive single parent since her husband’s death in 1990. Once known as the Punk Princess, Gloria, 32, is now studying tax and business law to help manage her son’s inheritance, which he is to receive on his 18th birthday.
PRINCE ALBERT and his sisters, Maria-Theresa, 11, and Elisabeth, 10—the girls, in keeping with family tradition, will inherit nothing—live with Gloria in a palace where 75 liveried servants are on stall and underlings call the chatelaine Your Highness. Now a towheaded schoolboy, Albert will inherit six treasure-laden castles, real estate in America, forests in Europe, a bank and several breweries. Never out of sight of a bodyguard, he is driven with his sisters to the local school in a bulletproof Mercedes. Their route is changed every day, and the children must stay in the car until guards check the parking lot.
A socialite famed for her wild parties, Gloria arranged a high-watt celebration to mark her son’s ninth birthday in July. When Michael Jackson kicked off his world tour in Munich, she took the Prince and his sisters to his concert. At the $1 million midnight gala afterward, Albert rode with his hero on a motorcycle, and two days later, child-at-heart Michael accompanied the Prince to Euro Disney.
In terms of sheer indulgence, it’s hard to beat the parenting style of the Sultan of Brunei, the fortysomething Muslim who, with a $37 billion fortune, is the world’s wealthiest man. Head of the oil-rich sultanate on the northwest coast of Borneo, he is wildly generous with the 10 children borne him by his two wives. When one of his daughters turned 11 in 1988, he gave her a $100,000 fete at Claridge’s in London. Two years later, when second son Bahar turned 9, the Sultan flew the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to London to serenade him.
Nothing, however, compared to the coming-of-age bash for his eldest, PRINCE AL-MUHTADEE BILLAH. When he turned 15, in 1989, the Sultan staged a four-day celebration in Bandar Seri Bagawan that included a lavish ceremony in the throne room of his 1,788-room, $500 million palace—the world’s largest. Wearing a gold costume and jeweled crown, Billah sat in a golden carriage for a procession before 25,000 subjects.
In comparison, the four youngest CHILDREN OF JORDAN’S QUEEN NOOR AND KING HUSSEIN, 56—he has seven others by three previous wives—live like the kids next door. Much of their time is spent in a cream-colored palace in Amman, Jordan, which, though equipped with a children’s zoo, is modest by royal standards. The entire family is quartered on the second floor, where there are a mere eight bedrooms. “The children are not compartmentalized,” Noor, 41, has said. “I am determined that we should have as much of a family life as possible.” Junk-food sprees are not unknown chez Hussein: After a trip to London, the parents flew home with a cache of Big Macs. Attended at home by a nanny, a tutor and bodyguards, the children attend public rather than private school. Fluent in both Arabic and English, they eventually will study abroad—like their father, a graduate of Sandhurst. “To learn how to stand on their own feet,” says Noor, “they need to get away.”
Like King Hussein’s offspring, the children of Monaco’s Princess Caroline are being brought up as pragmatically as possible. After husband Stefano Casiraghi died in a boat-racing accident in 1990, the stricken Caroline went into seclusion, taking Andrea, now 8, Charlotte, 6, and Pierre, 5, with her. Two years later, they still live quietly—spending most of their time at Caroline’s 19th-century farmhouse in St.-Rémy de Provence, France, two hours from Monaco. There, they attend public school and make trips to the local bakery with actor Vincent Lindon, 32, Caroline’s beau since 1991.
Although her children would be in line for the throne should Prince Albert fail to produce an heir, Caroline, 35, is not preparing them for a life of public duty. “I raise them as Casiraghis,” she has said. “Just because their grandfather is a reigning Prince doesn’t mean they are rich royals or even Grimaldis.”
In St.-Rémy, Caroline’s two eldest, who are fluent in English, French and Italian, are registered at the Ecole de la République as Andrea and Charlotte Casi. Although they have both a governess and a nurse, they are hardly pampered: Classes last from 8:30 until 4:30, and they have a heavy load of homework.
Yet while they may not be quartered in Prince Rainier’s salmon-pink palace, his grandchildren have plenty of material advantages. In addition to the Grimaldi wealth, Caroline’s children stand to inherit some of the vast Casiraghi landholdings in Italy. (On Charlotte’s fifth birthday, Stefano’s parents reportedly gave her an island off the Italian coast valued at about $7 million.) Caroline dresses her kids in togs from Paris as well as in jeans, and she makes sure that they never leave home without the ultimate accessory: a bodyguard.
Unlike the young Casiraghis, Princess Diana’s elder son is being brought up as a ruler-in-waiting. With the Waleses embroiled in one scandal after another, royal watchers are speculating that the Queen might choose to be succeeded by PRINCE WILLIAM rather than by Prince Charles, 43. Should that happen, William, 10, will be well prepared; like his father, he is being raised with a sense of mission.
Since September 1990, William has been enrolled at Ludgrove (tuition: $7,050), 35 miles from London. He sleeps in a spartan dorm, gets $9 per term pocket money and goes home about every third weekend. This year, he was joined at the school by 8-year-old HARRY. Security, of course, is a major concern; the Princes have two bodyguards, and policemen provide round-the-clock protection.
As wealthy as they are, the Windsors have a decidedly eccentric attitude about family assets. Money, in the words of Prince Charles, is considered “a vulgar subject,” and the Queen is notoriously frugal. Charles’s pram was recycled for Wills and Harry, both of whom played with the same wooden soldiers that Charles was given as a child.
At Kensington Palace, the Princes are only mildly overindulged. Both wear jeans from Benetton, and Harry sometimes turns up in hand-me-downs. Their Christmas gifts included low-priced Swatches. Skateboards are favorites with both, and William has a passion for Nintendo.
It is Diana, 31, who takes the boys to theme parks and to McDonald’s and who collects William for weekend leaves. “She arrives religiously, absolutely on time and drops him back at the last minute so she can spend as much time with him as possible,” a source said last year. On weekend. when the family is at Highgrove, their country estate, Diana and the boys arrive on Friday afternoon at 5:15 and are seldom met by the distant Charles. “If he’s in the garden, he won’t stop what he’s doing,” a former police guard has said. “As the children are forbidden to enter his private garden, they won’t meet up until suppertime.”
While Harry is still sweet and shy, William established a reputation for rambunctiousness early on. He wrecked his miniature Jaguar, and he was known to throw food at parties. Playmates often heard him say “When I am King,” followed by, “I’m going to make a new rule that…”
For all of that, palace watchers say that William has displayed a new maturity of late. In the last few months—as his parents’ marriage has deteriorated and the House of Windsor has come under siege—he has impressed observers as a polite, decorous boy who is maturing fast. In April, he took the Queen Mum’s arm to steady her as they left church in Windsor. Insiders say he often comforts his moody mother—by one report, feeding tissues under the bathroom door after she locked herself in for a cry. “When Diana seems uncertain, William naturally takes the lead,” the Daily Mall observed recently. “He walks out with his mother…as if she has taught him that the outside world will comment on his family, and he will just have to show moral fiber about it.”
A useful attitude, it would seem, for anyone born with a bundle.
CATHY NOLAN in Paris, TERRY SMITH and MARGARET WRIGHT in London, JOEL STRATTE-McCLURE in Monaco, ELLEN WALLACE in Switzerland and ELIZABETH VALEZ in Washington, D.C.