William at 40: A landmark birthday in a life under scrutiny

LONDON — The world watched as Prince William grew from a red-haired student to a dashing air-sea rescue pilot to a bald father of three.

But as he turns 40 on Tuesday, William is making the biggest change yet: taking an increasingly central role in the royal family as he prepares for his eventual ascension to the throne.

That became clear two weeks ago when William took center stage at the extravagant show that marked Queen Elizabeth II’s 70th anniversary on the throne, praising his grandmother as an environmental pioneer in her call to action on climate change.

“Tonight was filled with optimism and joy – and there is hope,” he said, as images of wildlife, oceans and jungles were projected onto the walls of Buckingham Palace behind him. “Together, if we bring the best out of humanity, and restore our planet, we will protect it for our children, our grandchildren and for generations to come.”

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Set back by age and ill health, the 96-year-old queen is gradually handing more responsibilities to her son and heir, Prince Charles. This, in turn, gives William, his eldest son, a more important role to play and more opportunities to put the stamp on a new generation of the monarchy.

“William is very interested in showing 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 this more and more, where the future of the line is being emphasized, with Charles being put more in a kind of support position for William. We always remember that William is after Charles,” he added.

William’s position as the eventual heir to the throne was, of course, sealed at his birth on June 21, 1982, the first child of Charles and the late Princess Diana. This brought him into the public eye the moment Charles and Diana introduced him to TV cameras outside the Lindo Wing of St. Mary’s in London.

The world watched William from his school days in London to his courtship with Kate Middleton at St. Andrews, Scotland, and their spectacular wedding at Westminster Abbey.

He paraded before the cameras once more when he graduated from the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, then moved on to active duty in the Army, Navy and Royal Air Force. Finally, he became a civilian air ambulance pilot before moving into full-time royal duties five years ago.

His charities and causes – from mental health to the environment – ​​have hinted at what kind of monarch he might one day be.

But the events just before and during the Queen’s platinum jubilee celebrations began to give a clearer indication of William’s vision for the future.

William and Kate represented the Queen last March, when they went on an eight-day tour of Belize, Jamaica and the Bahamas, three of the 14 independent countries where the British monarch still serves as head of state.

They were greeted with brass bands and gala dinners, but also with demonstrations by protesters demanding reparations for Britain’s role in the enslavement of millions of Africans. Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness told the royals that his country aimed to become a republic, cutting ties with the monarchy.

After the trip, the young royals were criticized as “deaf” for perpetuating images of British colonial rule.

But instead of resorting to the traditional House of Windsor response of “never complain, never explain”, William took the unusual step of issuing a statement reflecting on all that had happened.

“I know this tour has brought even sharper focus questions about the past and the future,” said William. “In Belize, Jamaica and the Bahamas, that future is for the people to decide.”

“Catherine and I are committed to the service,” he continued. “For us, that’s not telling people what to do. It’s about serving and supporting them in whatever way they see fit.”

This willingness to be approachable is critical to the House of Windsor as it seeks to remain relevant to young people and cement its role in British society, Maclaran said.

“It is important that William shows that there will be changes in the monarchy,” she said.

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