Prince William: Diana's son and a 'normal' royal
When Prince William walks his university sweetheart Kate Middleton down the aisle, a nation will hope this most 'normal' of royals can find the happiness that eluded his mother Diana.
William has overcome the tragedy of Diana's death when he was 15 to become the great hope of the British royal family in the 21st century.
A measure of his popularity is that opinion polls show a majority of the public want the 28-year-old to leapfrog his father Prince Charles and become heir to the British throne, although such a move would be unprecedented.
Where Charles is stuffy, traditional and surrounded by staff, his eldest son has managed to lead a relatively normal life by royal standards.
"William cooks for himself, he makes his own bed. He behaves like a normal person and he seems to relish that," said royal author Penny Junor, who is writing a biography of the prince.
"He is a very good egg, a very straightforward guy. He is not particularly fussed about royal life. He would much prefer people to call him William, rather than your royal highness.
"I don't think it is just his age. The Prince of Wales was much more formal when he was young."
Born on June 21, 1982, less than a year after his parents' fateful wedding, William and his brother Harry enjoyed a childhood infused with their mother's sense of fun and a warmth lacking in their father's upbringing.
Determined that they should escape the rarefied atmosphere of the palace and have a glimpse of ordinary life, she took her sons to theme parks and made secret visits with the young princes to homeless shelters.
"William had a much more normal upbringing than his father," Junor told AFP. "His mother understood what it was to go a cinema, a funfair or a restaurant and she would introduce him to her friends."
After their parents' marriage disintegrated, the princes then had to grieve for their mother in the full glare of publicity.
Unforgettably, the two boys, accompanied by their grandfather, father and Diana's brother Earl Spencer, walked stiffly behind their mother's coffin through the streets of London for the funeral in Westminster Abbey.
It will be a far happier occasion when he returns to the abbey on April 29.
Ironically, it was Diana's death as her car was chased by photographers though a Paris road tunnel in August 1997 that allowed William to grow up relatively undisturbed by Britain's voracious tabloid press.
His father struck a deal with newspaper editors under which William and Harry were left in peace in return for stage-managed photocalls.
William attended the elite Eton College and then spent a year off in Africa and trekking with the army in Belize, but it was a stint working on a dairy farm in southwest England that he enjoyed the most.
He enrolled at St Andrews University in Scotland, dubbed the Oxford of the North, where he met his bride-to-be, and they shared a house together. They split up briefly in 2007, but were soon reconciled.
Perhaps mindful of his position in the line of succession, William has avoided the controversies that have occasionally ensnared his brother.
When Harry attended a fancy dress party in 2005 wearing a now infamous Nazi costume, William was dressed inoffensively as a lion.
By joining the military he has followed a well-trodden royal path, training at the Sandhurst officers' school before opting for a career as a Royal Air Force search and rescue helicopter pilot.
The royal family has slowly increased his public duties and last year he embarked on his first official overseas tour, to Australia and New Zealand.
He got a warm welcome when he returned this year to see the damage caused by the Christchurch earthquake and the devastating floods in Queensland, Australia.
Public relations guru Max Clifford said the British people had already warmed to William and his future wife.
"People see him as his mother's son. So all the Diana fans are his fans," he told AFP.
© 2011 AFP