By DANICA KIRKA, Associated Press
LONDON (AP) — The world has seen Prince William go from a blond-haired schoolboy to a dashing air-sea rescue pilot to a balding father of three.
But turning 40 on Tuesday, William is making the biggest change yet: taking on an increasingly central role in the royal family as he prepares for his eventual accession to the throne.
It was clear two weeks ago when William took center stage at the extravagant concert marking Queen Elizabeth II’s 70 years on the throne, praising his grandmother as an environmental pioneer as he called for action on climate change.
“Tonight has been full of optimism and joy – and there is hope,” he said, as images of wildlife, oceans and jungle were projected onto the walls of the Buckingham Palace behind him. “Together, if we harness the best in humanity, and restore our planet, we will protect it for our children, for our grandchildren, and for future generations.”
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Slowed down by age and health problems, the 96-year-old queen is gradually handing over more responsibilities to her son and heir, Prince Charles. This in turn gives William, his eldest son, a bigger role to play and more opportunities to mark a new generation of the monarchy.
“William was keen to show in a way how he will treat things differently,” said royal expert Pauline Maclaran, author of “Royal Fever: The British Monarchy in Consumer Culture”.
“And so we see that more and more, where the future of the line is being pushed forward, with Charles being put more in a sort of holding position for William. We are always reminded that William is after Charles,” she added.
William’s position as the eventual heir to the throne was of course sealed at his birth on June 21, 1982, the first son of Charles and the late Princess Diana. It put him in the public eye from the second Charles and Diana introduced him to TV cameras outside the Lindo Wing of St. Mary’s Hospital in London.
The world has watched William from his school days in London to his courtship with Kate Middleton at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and their spectacular wedding at Westminster Abbey.
He paraded in front of the cameras again when he graduated from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and then went on to active service in the Army, Navy and Royal Air Force. Finally, he became a civilian air ambulance pilot before taking up full-time royal duties five years ago.
His charities and causes – from mental health to the environment – have given clues to the kind of monarch he could one day be.
But events just before and during the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations have begun to give a clearer indication of William’s vision for the future.
William and Kate represented the Queen last March on an eight-day tour of Belize, Jamaica and the Bahamas, three of the 14 independent countries where the British monarch is still head of state.
They were met with marching bands and gala dinners, but also demonstrations by protesters demanding reparations for Britain’s role in enslaving millions of Africans. Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness has told the royal family that his country intends to become a republic, severing ties with the monarchy.
After the trip, the young royals were criticized as “deaf” for perpetuating images of British colonial rule.
But rather than fall back on the House of Windsor’s traditional response of ‘never complain, never explain’, William took the unusual step of releasing a statement reflecting everything that had happened.
“I know this tour has brought to light even deeper questions about the past and the future,” William said. “In Belize, Jamaica and the Bahamas, it’s up to the people to decide that future.”
“Catherine and I are determined to be of service,” he continued. “For us, it’s not about telling people what to do. It’s about serving them and supporting them in whatever way they think is best.
This drive to be accessible is essential for the House of Windsor as it seeks to remain relevant to young people and cement its role in British society, Maclaran said.
“It’s important for William to show that there will be changes in the monarchy,” she said. “Otherwise, you know, I suspect she really can’t survive.”
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