By Fred Bernstein
July 07, 1986 12:00 PM

Wills, dearest, if you ever want to be King of England, I suggest you take Mummy’s tiara out of your mouth this instant. And stop trying to stab Harry with Daddy’s scepter, or there’ll be no TV tonight. Now, darling, do remember that you can’t use your water pistol at Uncle Andy’s wedding. You will remember, won’t you? Won’t you?

When radiant, red-haired Bride-of-the-Year Sarah Ferguson marries Prince Andrew, the second son of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, she may find herself upstaged by a mere tyke. At the July 23 wedding, Prince William, the boy who will be King, makes his official debut as a working royal in a lifetime that is certain to be top-heavy with ceremonial occasions.

True, Wills, who turned 4 last month, won’t have much to do. He will follow the bridesmaids into the church, sit through the service, then march out with the procession. He will rehearse with the other pedigreed pages—Princess Anne’s 8-year-old son, Peter Phillips, the bride’s 7-year-old half-brother, Andrew Ferguson, and her nephew, Seamus Makin, 5—and is expected to get extra coaching from his parents.

Still, the assignment will be something of a milestone for William, the second in line to the British throne, whose public duties so far have been limited to waving from balconies or smiling as he walks out of airplanes with his parents. For as charming and outgoing as Wills can be, his behavior can be unfortunately erratic. He has been known to bully schoolmates and flash his temper at his mother. Some say he is already too full of himself. Traditionally, royal offspring have been ready for formal appearances at 3. Not William, who has seldom been trusted to behave in public in a country that expects its royals to act impeccably from the time they leave their prams.

Wills’s mounting indiscretions would be harmless enough for any other 4-year-old, and of course there’s no problem when he’s around the house. At his Kensington Palace birthday party, William, his schoolmates and relatives were entertained by a puppeteer. “It was a riot, and William was really squealing with pleasure,” says one eyewitness. But in public that same enthusiasm can cause problems, as Diana learned two weeks ago. She decided to take Wills, without his nanny, to watch Prince Charles play polo near Windsor Castle. The afternoon was viewed as a sort of dry run for the wedding. It turned into a disaster. The minute Diana and Wills arrived, he bombarded her with questions and demands—”Where are the horses? Can I have ice cream? Where are the polo balls? I want a drink!”—while she vainly tried to chat with Fergie and her mother, Susie Barrantes. If Diana didn’t comply quickly enough, her son made faces. He also refused to sit still, at times leaning so far out of the royal balcony that she repeatedly had to pull him to safety by the seat of his blue shorts.

Finally, only 20 minutes into the match, the frustrated Princess grabbed her rambunctious firstborn, carried him to her car and returned to Windsor Castle. There, Wills was reunited with younger brother Harry, nearly 2 and much less trouble. “William’s very enthusiastic about things,” Diana has said. “He pushes himself right into it. Harry is quieter and just watches. No. 2 skates in quite nicely. But the bad luck about being No. 1 is trial and error, so we’re open-minded about William.”

That open-mindedness, however, has made William something of a terror at the Kensington nursery school that he has attended since last September. He has angered his classmates by pushing his way to the front of the refreshment queues, and his rough-and-tumble playground behavior has earned him the nickname among some parents as “the Basher.” Stories circulate that he occasionally flexes his royal muscle, telling other children, “My daddy can beat up your daddy…my daddy’s the Prince of Wales.” Worse still, he reportedly whines when he doesn’t get his way.

William’s behavior has raised eyebrows among those who argue that his outbursts are a result of the liberal upbringing he is receiving from Diana, 25 and a onetime kindergarten assistant, and Charles, 37, who didn’t want his sons to suffer the rigid rules of childhood he endured as heir apparent.

To be sure, both Charles, who calls his son “Willie the Wombat,” and Diana have tried to instruct their little Prince in royal etiquette. Charles has said that the way to learn the royal trade is by aping your parents, so he has been Wills’s doting coach. Too young to grasp the concept of running a kingdom, Wills has been getting his lessons in gradual doses. He’s been “doing the Windsor wave” since the age of 18 months. Charles has paraded him in front of batteries of photographers on many occasions to teach him to be composed when facing cameras (one of the most important skills for a royal). “William has the most amazing aplomb and sangfroid when he meets other people,” says Harold Brooks-Baker, publishing director for Burke’s Peerage, longtime chroniclers of royalty.

In every other way, though, Wills’s upbringing has been nearly unprecedented. Until recently, preschool royals were educated at home by tutors, and poise was emphasized above academic achievement. Even Charles had no classmates until he went to Hill House, at the age of 8, which left him feeling shy and insecure. Not surprisingly, Charles was determined to send his children to school at an earlier age, figuring, “It teaches you how to look after yourself.”

At Wills’s school, where two of the six teachers are trained in the Montessori method, he is learning such useful skills as how to count and how to tie his shoes. The building was modified for Wills’s arrival (what other nursery school has bulletproof windows?), and a detective or two discreetly stands by during his two-and-a-half-hour, twice-a-week classes. Otherwise, there are no special provisions for Wills, who reportedly enjoys both art and singing. Says the school’s owner, Jane Mynors: “His classmates hardly know who he is. Sadly, that won’t be the case at the next school he goes to.”

Because his parents hope to keep him levelheaded, Wills’s life-style is a mix of the spectacular and the mundane. At home his quarters are regal enough: He and Harry have separate nannies and nurseries. (The stairway in their section of Kensington Palace has been slung with netting, in case one of the young princes shimmies through the banister.) He rises by 7:15, breakfasts with Harry and their nannies and seldom sees his parents until after breakfast. But William wears the same clothes, plays with the same toys and even carries the same Postman Pat flask as do many of his schoolmates. Then again, it is a picture of Wills—not his schoolmates—that hangs in the boardroom of the flask’s makers, Bluebird Toys.

If she wanted to, Diana could turn the raising of Wills over to any of her 40 servants, many of them part of a youthful contingent she brought in during the past year to replace her husband’s “stuffy” retainers. Instead, she occasionally picks him up at school in the family’s Ford Granada station wagon. After Wills and Harry have lunch together, Diana might spend the afternoon teaching her sons to swim in the pool at Buckingham Palace.

Diana allows Wills to watch little prime-time TV: She has said that she is shocked by the violence of such shows as Miami Wee and Starsky and Hutch. Wills does, however, get to watch Blue Peter, a children’s magazine program. By 7:30 he is in bed, and most nights it is Diana who reads him a bedtime story, although Charles enjoys that duty as well. Weekends are usually spent informally at Highgrove, the family estate, where wily Wills once disappeared despite a corps of security guards and a cottage full of electronic surveillance equipment. After a frantic search, he turned up in the larder, drinking from an enormous bottle of cherry pop, most of which he had managed to spill. Upset as she was, Diana still had time to read the label on the bottle. The list of artificial ingredients disturbed her, and since then carbonated drinks have been forbidden.

Like millions of women, Diana combines child rearing with other pursuits. From Wills’s Kensington Palace playroom, which overlooks his parents’ helicopter landing pad, he can see Diana being whisked off to official functions. (Reportedly the first word he spoke was “plane.”) As the most-in-demand royal, Diana has a brutal schedule, often rising at 6 a.m. for flights to remote parts of the country. The job of Princess of Wales, as Brooks-Baker once described it, “is one percent glamour and 99 percent misery.” Adds Britain’s Woman magazine, “For every tango with Travolta, she gets a dozen trips around power plants, factories and unemployment centers.”

Diana’s grind was particularly harsh during a May trip to Canada, where she made 25 public appearances in six days. (The royal couple continued on for a five-day, 29-engagement trip to Japan.) While in Vancouver she had a well-publicized fainting spell, and back home, fears escalated that the country was working its glamorous Princess too hard. Harry Greenway, a Tory member of Parliament, proclaimed that “as a young mother, she is being subjected to intolerable strain,” and called for a reduction in her public duties. Queen Elizabeth also asked for a complete list of Diana’s engagements.

Diana is plagued by rumors about her poor eating habits. At 5’10” and an estimated 125 pounds, the size-8 Princess weighs 20 pounds less than she did at her engagement five years ago. She is said to get through many days on a salad and drives her two chefs to boredom because she seldom eats anything but fish, baked potatoes and the occasional soufflé. One theory is that the image-conscious Princess, who watches herself on television after public outings, thinks of herself as far heavier than she is; TV can make a person look 20 pounds heftier.

At the same time, Diana has never seemed more at ease in her role. She is confident enough to indulge in innocent flirtation—as she did with singer Bryan Adams on her trip to Canada—and has even lunched with one of Charles’s previous women friends. In Sarah Ferguson, 26, she has finally found a royal soul mate near her own age. She has loaned Fergie clothes and jewelry and coached her on royal public behavior. “Keep smiling, for goodness sake, keep smiling,” she told her future sister-in-law when photographers snapped away at the two of them.

If Diana is more relaxed about her status, Charles grows less so with his. “He has become bored stiff meeting the same kind of people and opening the same kinds of places week in and week out,” a close friend has said. Warns Michael Pearson, author of a best-seller on the royals called The Ultimate Family: “As the couple’s fifth anniversary approaches [July 29], Diana’s role as the triumphant royal goddess seems unshakeable, and Charles seems in danger of adopting the role of husband to a famous wife.”

Nowhere is the contrast between the Prince and Princess more apparent than at musical events like last month’s charity concert at Wembley Arena. Charles, wearing his customary concert garb—a business suit and earplugs—seemed bored by a lineup that included Paul McCartney, Phil Collins, Tina Turner and Mick Jagger. His only concession to the atmosphere was to take off his jacket and carefully fold it on his lap. When he tried to clap, a music student in the audience noted, “He couldn’t keep time at all.” Meanwhile, Diana, in a black satin tuxedo with a sinuous snake pin inching up one lapel, rocked from side to side, cheered, and even executed a few un-princess-like pelvic thrusts. Said one observer, “It was as if the queenybopper Diana had come along with an un-hip uncle who prefers Lawrence Welk.”

To his credit, Charles spends an inordinate amount of time with his children and even managed to show up at Wills’s nursery school Christmas play. (While onstage, the Prince spotted his parents and burst into tears.) But Charles has also scheduled more than his usual quota of polo matches this summer, and turned down an increasing number of other invitations. Even the appointment of a new private secretary hasn’t forced Charles, who some say is in the midst of yet another identity crisis, to buckle down as much as insiders would like. Says one palace aide: “It’s hard to tell a 37-year-old Prince of Wales that there’s a problem.”

Since the death of his mentor, Lord Mountbatten, in 1979, the Prince has turned increasingly to Occidental Petroleum chief Dr. Armand Hammer, 88, for advice. He was the second person to visit Kensington Palace after Harry was born. (Prince Andrew was the first.) Then, last winter, Hammer, a heavy contributor to Charles’s pet charities, lured the royal couple to Palm Beach for further fund raising. Diana was none too thrilled when Hammer made an unexpected appearance at a luncheon at the Palm Beach Polo Club. She reportedly blurted out, “Oh, my God, not that man again. I can’t stand it.”

Another of Charles’s confidants is Sir Laurens van der Post, the 79-year-old author-guru (and a godfather to Harry) who reportedly has influenced the Prince’s thinking on a wide variety of spiritual subjects. Under van der Post’s tutelage, Charles has taken up meditation and even suggested that he’d like William and Harry to do the same, to attain the calm of a monk. In Canada, Charles gave a rambling discourse on inner peace to an audience of bemused lumberjacks. “I rather feel that deep in the soul of mankind there is a reflection like the surface of a mirror, or a mirror-calm lake, of the beauty and harmony of the universe,” said Charles. “It seems to me he’s a bit of a cookie,” remarked one member of the audience. Fleet Street, too, quickly pounced on the Prince. Charles “should examine his mirror for nothing more than the secret of covering his bald spot,” snickered one columnist.

Even Prince Philip, who has faulted his son for taking on too few royal chores, is reportedly concerned that Charles is an intellectual pillow, bearing the impression of the last person who caught his attention. Their estrangement is evident: In Charles’s office is a picture of Philip on which he has scrawled, “I was not born to follow in my father’s footsteps.”

Charles, unusually close to his own sons, hopes to avoid any such schism. Judging by the Queen’s apparent good health, Charles may not ascend to the throne until he reaches an age when most people retire. If that happens, it is likely he would be King for a relatively short time, and Wills could reign for much of the next century. On July 23 Sarah Ferguson will become a Princess. But around the world, more than a few eyes will be on King Tot.