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Prince William was still a schoolboy when he became mother Diana’s protector – and that shift in their relationship would shape his entire life. Caught in the middle of the warring Waleses, the sensitive youngster agonised over his parents’ unhappiness and felt torn between them.
But, living with Diana at Kensington Palace, he could not ignore the depth of his mother’s heartache and tried his best to help bear her emotional burdens.
Once, aged 10, William found Diana sobbing in the bathroom. He knelt down and stuffed tissues under the door, telling her, “I hate to see you sad.”
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He was, Diana later told a friend, “an extraordinary moral support” and promised to always look after her.
Indeed, when she was stripped of her HRH title following her divorce from Charles in 1996, William, then 14, told the Princess, “Don’t worry, Mummy, I will give it back to you one day when I am King.”
But Diana’s death a year later in a Paris car crash changed everything. William would never be able to make things right for Mummy and his grief was overwhelming.
Yet it filled him with a new determination to protect Diana’s memory, preserve her legacy and – most of all – make her proud.
And he found the perfect partner in Kate Middleton, who also values Diana’s legacy.
Royal expert Katie Nicholl, author of Kate: The Future Queen, says, “William has always been fiercely protective of his mother and is now just as determined to protect her legacy.
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“From a very early age, he was shaped by Diana, her ideology and the values that she instilled in him, and he will carry those throughout his life and into his reign as King.
“Everything he does is informed by Diana’s legacy because William, more than anything, just wants to make his mother proud.
“What is so remarkable about Kate is her own determination to keep Diana’s memory alive, for the public but also for their children.”
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Just four days after Diana’s death on 31 August 1997, William found the strength to go and thank well-wishers leaving tributes outside Balmoral Castle. A generosity and awareness of others’ suffering is exactly what had led to Diana being dubbed the People’s Princess.
And since then, William has proved he is very much his mother’s son by continuing the work she began helping the homeless, the sick, children and the underprivileged.
But what would make Diana proudest is his strong 10-year marriage and the beautiful family he and Kate have created.
And she would be touched at the way Kate has embraced her memory too. “I would
love her to have met Catherine and to have seen the children grow up,” William said in 2017.
“It makes me sad that she won’t, that they will never know her.”
They may never know Diana in person but George, Charlotte and Louis will be shaped by her as surely as her own sons were – because William and Kate go to extraordinary lengths to keep her memory alive at home and through their public duties.
And their touching tributes are treasured by all those who miss and mourn the woman who was also known as the Queen of Hearts, thanks to her selfless concern for others.
“I find talking about my mother and keeping her memory alive very important,” William once said, adding, “I find it therapeutic to talk about her.”
In 2007, Kate was in the stands at Wembley Stadium when William and
Harry marked the 10th anniversary of their mother’s death with the Concert for Diana, which raised £1.2million for causes that had been close to her heart.
“We wanted to represent exactly what our mother would have wanted,” William said. “We wanted this big concert, full of energy, full of fun and happiness.”
Diana was always determined to make life happy and fun for her boys and to show them a world outside their royal confines.
She took them to see Father Christmas at Selfridges – and they had to queue outside like everyone else. There were cinema trips and pantos, visits to McDonald’s and the Chicago Rib Shack, and those glorious days out at Thorpe Park and Alton Towers.
And she ensured they recognised their privileged status by talking to them about her visits to cancer hospitals or HIV/AIDS patients – and taking them on secret visits to a Centrepoint homeless shelter.
William said the trips with his mother “helped to open my eyes to the world so many young people face”.
He became patron of Centrepoint in 2005 – one of several patronages he took over from his mother – and four years later slept under cardboard on the streets of London to learn more about homelessness. William and Kate want their own children to have a similar insight.
“I want George to grow up in a real, living environment,” William said when their first child was born.
“I don’t want him growing up behind palace walls, he has to be out there. I will fight for them to have a normal life.”
Kate’s normal upbringing was one of the things that drew him to her when they met at university. But he had to be sure she could cope with Diana’s legacy and the pressure of following in her footsteps.
Katie Nicholls explains, “From the moment he presented Kate with Diana’s engagement ring, he knew the comparisons would be inevitable. But what’s quite remarkable about Kate is the way she has remained her own woman while still referencing Diana and paying tribute to her. That shows real strength of character.”
Kate has welcomed the chance to honour Diana’s memory through her work, her parenting style and even her clothing and jewellery choices.
William has given Kate many of his mother’s priceless jewels and she is particularly fond of a pair of diamond and South Sea pearl dangle earrings and a three-strand pearl bracelet designed in 1988.
In 2014, on their third wedding anniversary, he also gave Kate Diana’s Ballon Bleu De Cartier watch, which she wears all the time.
And fashion experts point to countless occasions on which Kate has echoed Diana’s outfits. When she left hospital with George in 2013, Kate’s blue polka-dot dress, specially made by Jenny Packham, was a clear nod to the frock Diana wore leaving the same hospital with William in 1982.
She paid a similar tribute when Louis was born, wearing a red dress with a lace collar that mirrored what Diana wore when holding Harry on the steps in 1984.
Kate’s outfits on royal tours often bring back poignant memories too.
While visiting a mosque in Malaysia in 2012, she wore a white headscarf and buttoned tunic almost identical to those Diana wore at a hospital in Lahore, Pakistan, in 1996.
“Nothing is accidental when it comes to the clothes and jewellery she wears,” says Katie Nicholl, “it is all very carefully considered.
“She is going to be the next Princess of Wales and there is a history and a lineage to reflect. This was the mother-in-law she never had the opportunity to meet and she really wants to pay tribute to Diana in both a personal and a public way.”
Kate also dresses George and Louis in outfits just like those William wore as a child. The couple even chose the same designers to decorate the nursery at Kensington Palace.
And the arrival of their baby daughter prompted an especially heartwarming tribute to the late Princess. They named her Charlotte Elizabeth Diana and she was baptised at St Mary Magdalene Church in Sandringham – the same church where Diana was christened in 1961 – with godparents who all had close ties with William’s mother. Mario Testino, Diana’s favourite photographer, was asked to take the official pictures.
The Princess would be so proud of the grown-up William – a loving husband, devoted father and popular King-in-waiting.
And she would adore the wife standing beside him to help ease his burdens.
But there is one occasion in particular that would have moved Diana to tears.
In 2016, during a visit to India, Kate and William visited the Taj Mahal and posed on the marble bench where Diana was famously pictured sitting alone in 1992.
The Prince made sure photographers had exactly the right angle to mirror the iconic shot. And as they left, he became emotional and was seen to wipe his eyes.
William knew that Diana’s visit to the architectural wonder – considered a symbol of love the world over – had been marred by the heartache of her marriage breakdown.
But he and Kate were protecting her memory with their own legacy of love.
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