It was a royal engagement many may have thought would once have been better suited to fun-loving Prince Harry. Surrounded by primary schoolchildren with worms in their hands, the visit to All Saints Catholic Primary School in Liverpool was full of potential pitfalls.
Yet as the touching exchanges between the future king and these inner-city children revealed during Monday’s TV documentary on the environment, it is William – not Harry, who is taking on the role of the “People’s Prince”.
As he took great delight in opening the Anfield school’s new bug hotel – dubbed “Bugingham Palace” – the heartwarming scenes showed a William many have never seen before. Viewers welcomed this self-deprecating and candid side to him as the father of three kept his humour while being bombarded with questions about Prince George, seven, Princess Charlotte, five, and Prince Louis, two.
Revealing that the eldest were as “cheeky as each other” and that his wife Kate was better at “flossing” than him, despite all the turmoil of the last two years, A Planet For Us All depicted a prince at peace with himself. William’s calm and thoughtful demeanour could not have been more at odds with historical reports of the “hot-headed” Prince’s “petulance”.
Yet as royal author Ingrid Steward put it: “Becoming a parent has mellowed him. William has always had this ability to connect with people. I remember from some of his earliest engagements how much he reminded me of Diana.
“He’s very natural and not at all fake. He’s always had it but I think perhaps he was overshadowed by Harry. Now he’s no longer on the scene, we are reminded that William has the same qualities in spades.”
It is certainly a new take on the latest royal chapter, which has seen William pitted against his beloved brother ever since Harry married Meghan Markle in 2018.
This week, the Royal family has been plagued with yet more revelations about the tensions between the Cambridges and the Sussexes with the serialisation of Robert Lacey’s new book Battle of Brothers.
In it, the respected royal author claims that Harry felt overshadowed not only by his sibling’s superior status in the royal pecking order, but by his tendency to always put the Firm first. Lacey’s book also references William’s fiery temper, revealing that even Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, was taken aback by the extent of his “ranting and raving” at Prince Charles when she married into the Royal family in 2005.
Describing William as “letting rip with no apparent inhibition in his presence”, he said: “The rows had been earth-shattering by her account, with William doing the shouting and Charles submitting meekly.”
Stubborn and strong-willed William was begged by palace PRs to acknowledge his father’s role in his upbringing in media appearances to mark the 20th anniversary of the Princess’s death in 2017 but he refused.
Diana, Princess of Wales et al. posing for the camera: A young William and Harry with their mother, Princess Diana – PA© Provided by The Telegraph A young William and Harry with their mother, Princess Diana – PA
Yet, as Mr Lacey points out, in the wake of their disagreements and the departure of Harry, father and elder son have “grown much closer together”, working ever more in tandem to secure the future of the monarchy.
Those who know the couple best credit Kate – and indeed the Middleton family – with helping to calm fiery William. “When William is flying off the handle, it is often Kate who pulls him back,” said one source who knows them both well. “Sometimes William would let the press get to him. Kate would always be the one to say: ‘Let it go’.”
During the nearly two decades they have been together, William has also sought the wise counsel of Michael Middleton, Kate’s father, whom he jokingly refers to as “Dad”. The mild-mannered former BA flight dispatcher has been an invaluable sounding board over the years, but the success of this week’s documentary is also a testament to the team around William who have helped him to realise his ambitions.
His former private secretary, Simon Case, recently appointed as Cabinet Secretary by Boris Johnson, is credited with bolstering the Duke’s statesmanlike image. One of Mr Case’s last jobs at Kensington Palace was to help William write a diplomatically delicate speech during a visit to Ireland in March in which he insisted the monarchy was “determined” to play a part in protecting the bond between the UK and Ireland, post-Brexit.
William became the first royal to visit Jerusalem and Palestine in 2018 and a year later he and Kate became the first royals to visit Pakistan in 13 years.
A collaboration with Sir David Attenborough has seen the naturalist become William’s “mentor” on conservation issues, too.
Intent on spinning a positive message as opposed to finger-wagging doom-mongering, the Duke launched the Earthshot Prize in December, his biggest charitable endeavour to date, in a bid to galvanise a decade of action.
The initiative, backed by Sir David, aims to encourage and inspire people across the world to find innovative new solutions to one of the gravest problems facing the Earth. A multi-million-pound prize will be awarded to five winners a year over 10 years, comprising at least 50 solutions to the world’s greatest problems by 2030.
According to a source close to the Duke: “It’s about saying, ‘We can do this’, rather than feeling like it’s all too much of a daunting challenge.”
Much has been made of Harry and Meghan’s campaigning videos on issues including racism and voting, but William’s style is markedly different. Those closest to him insist that the last thing he wants to be is a “preaching Prince”.
“The Duke has no interest in telling people how to live their lives,” added the insider. “He is realistic. What he is trying to do is come up with solutions to the challenges we face.”