STATESMANLIKE as he stared down the TV lens, Prince William unleashed a devastating rebuke against those who had deceived his beloved mother.
Over 126 seconds of righteous yet controlled fury, the Duke of Cambridge eviscerated sleazy “rogue reporter” Martin Bashir and duplicitous BBC bosses.
This was William, 38, leaving behind his sometimes cautious public persona as royal firstborn in a measured but passionate way.
In a year where he has been at the forefront of the Royal Family’s pandemic response, lost his grandfather and found himself entangled in a public feud with his little brother, it was also a sign of a new maturity.
Those with an insight into his thinking say William’s emotion-wrought months since Megxit have only strengthened his commitment to public service.
And brother Harry’s barrage of prime-time potshots at the institution William will one day lead has reinforced his resolve.
A royal source told The Sun: “The pandemic, coupled with what Harry is doing, has actually given William a renewed sense of purpose.
“He can now really see the difference between being a celebrity and leading a life of proper public service.
“In times of crisis the royals provide the public with reassurance, which isn’t something celebrities can do.”
‘WILLIAM IS MODELLING HIMSELF ON THE QUEEN’
William’s blistering response last week to the underhand way the BBC’s Panorama procured an interview with Diana, and the disgraceful cover-up that followed, was written at Kensington Palace.
Through the high windows there he is able to gaze out at the scrap of now shrub-covered grass where he and Harry played as boys.
The brotherly bond that once seemed unbreakable has long been frayed.
Even so, Harry’s assertion to chat show queen Oprah Winfrey in March that William was “trapped” inside the monarchy is likely to have stung.
The Duke of Sussex insisted: “My brother can’t leave that system, but I have.”
Rather than William enjoying his gilded birthright of honour and service, the implication was that the crown would lie heavy on his head.
Acclaimed royal author Penny Junor, who wrote Prince William: The Man Who Will Be King, told The Sun: “Harry is absolutely wrong. I don’t think William feels trapped at all.
“I think he absolutely gets what his destiny is and he is embracing it. He is modelling himself on his grandmother the Queen.”
Such is his popularity, William came top, followed by Sir David Attenborough, in a recent YouGov survey asking: Who would you pick to be Britain’s elected head of state?
Yet just five years ago, William was still facing accusations he was a “reluctant royal” as he combined Palace duties with his job as an air ambulance pilot.
The Sun’s legendary royal photographer Arthur Edwards has been observing William since the prince emerged as a newborn from London’s St Mary’s Hospital in June 1982.
He said: “I’ve watched William grow into a major statesman. But at one stage he didn’t seem to want to do the job and I didn’t think he was going to do it.”
During William’s childhood, Diana made sure he enjoyed some facets of “ordinary life”, visiting McDonald’s and staying over at friends’ houses.
It was plain William Wales who graduated alongside girlfriend Kate Middleton from St Andrews University in 2005.
And it was Kate who provided the love and stability that allowed William to slowly build his royal persona.
In September 2010, the now Flight Lieutenant Wales became a full-time search and rescue pilot at RAF Valley on the Welsh island of Anglesey.
William would later say he did not “lie awake waiting or hoping” to be King, adding: “If you’re not careful, duty can weigh you down an awful lot at an early age.”
Our royal source added: “As a young man William was really struggling with the burden of his role.
“He was angry about his mother’s death and probably questioning whether he wanted a royal life. Now he’s really embraced it.”
Harry is absolutely wrong. I don’t think William feels trapped. I think he gets what his destiny is and he is embracing it.
Author Penny believes the turning point came on his visit to Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2011, after the earthquake that killed 185.
She revealed: “I think it was in New Zealand that he realised the power of the monarchy to help others.
“He discovered that just by being there, and because of who he was, he could make a difference.”
After he and Kate’s 2011 Westminster Abbey wedding, William was keen to protect his family life — as well as wanting a meaningful career — before becoming a full-time royal.
Prince George was born in 2013, Princess Charlotte two years later and Prince Louis in 2018.
Hands-on dad William now has the settled family life he never had as a boy.
And he is determined to be around as much as possible as his brood grows up.
The royal source said both William and Kate “work really hard but family time is family time”.
Following his RAF service, William began flying a rescue helicopter for the East Anglian Air Ambulance in 2015, basing his family at Anmer Hall on the Queen’s Sandringham estate in Norfolk.
He would later tell how an accident involving a child he attended as an air ambulance pilot left him feeling “very sad and very down”.
William added he was grateful for the support he received after the incident, which had taken him “over the edge”.
‘What a great sense of humour he has’
Miguel Head, William’s former private secretary, said: “The RAF and air ambulance jobs were about knowing what his abilities were, what he was good at in his own right.
“Without that he would still be hankering for something that was his own.”
In 2017 William finally became a full-time royal, moving the family base from Norfolk to Kensington Palace. It was a year later that photographer Arthur became convinced of his newfound statesmanship while accompanying him on a royal visit to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.
Arthur said: “When we went to Israel I still wasn’t sure William wanted the job.
“The trip was a diplomatic tightrope for him. One misplaced word could have gravely upset either side. But he brilliantly represented our country and had visibly grown into the role.
“I don’t think being born into the Royal Family is the worst thing that could happen in your life. There’s great privilege, but the price of that privilege is duty. William completely gets that now.”
On a 2019 trip to Pakistan, William’s flight hit severe turbulence in an electric storm. Arthur tells how William walked to the rear of the plane, where the terrified Press pack were seated, and joked: “Does anyone need a change of underwear?” He added: “No, it wasn’t me flying.”
Arthur said: “That’s what a great sense of humour he has. It calmed everyone down and showed the measure of the man.”
And the seasoned royal watcher credits Kate for his transformation, adding: “They’re a great team. They encourage and give each other confidence. Kate is the secret to William’s success.”
William never wanted to be a “ribbon-cutter royal” and has pared down the issues he champions to those close to his heart.
They include raising awareness of mental health, fighting racism in football and promoting green issues, including his landmark £50million Earthshot Prize to find initiatives that will help save the planet.
As joint patrons of NHS Charities Together, William and Kate have been supporting key workers during the pandemic.
This week, they hosted a drive-in cinema screening of Disney’s Cruella — starring Emma Stone and Emma Thompson — for NHS workers at Edinburgh’s Palace of Holyroodhouse.
In April 2020, William, Kate and their three children – all in NHS blue – were pictured clapping for the NHS on the steps of Anmer Hall.
After William was pictured having his first Covid jab last week, social media was ablaze with swooning comments about his shapely “guns”. One labelled him “Prince Hottie”, while another described him as looking “pretty fit”.
Yet could the Cambridges’ soaring public approval be derailed by the rival Sussex court on the celebrity media circuit in California?
Penny does not think so.
“My gut feeling is that people will get very bored with Harry and his pronouncements,” the author said.
“I think people are growing weary of it and are beginning to see Harry and Meghan as self-serving.”
What is certain is that the future William V will fight to maintain the legacy of his mother, just as he did on our TV screens last week.
The royal source added: “William understands the unique bond Diana had with people. He doesn’t want to let her, or the public, down.”
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