Where there's a Will there's a way

William Wales (aka Prince William) is reaching the end of his first term at St Andrew's University in Scotland, which we profiled last year (5/2000). What's it like trying to be a normal student getting an education fit for a king?

Life can be tough being an apprentice monarch - especially a British one - when the eyes of the whole world are focused on you. And even more so when your mum was Princess Diana, "England's Rose", whose every move and word was examined and blown out of proportion by a sensation-seeking press.

Prince William is understandably wary of the media, but this time there is an unwritten agreement with the British press to keep journalists away from the university. Strange, then, that within days of his arrival at St Andrews a film crew dispatched by his uncle Prince Edward's TV production company should violate this arrangement, causing a right royal rumpus between Princes Charles and Edward.

So how is William Wales (as he prefers to be addressed by his fellow students - no royal epithets, please) coping with being a student? How can he quietly fit in while he stands out so clearly? Like any other student he shops at the local Tesco supermarket, attends lectures, seminars and tutorials. In the evening he spends time reading or having a pint with his mates in the small town of St Andrews (pop. 16,000) at The Westport, Ma Bells (popular with the rugby crowd) or other pubs close by. If you see a huge crowd snaking down the road outside a pub, then the chances are he'll be imbibing inside.

Just a normal student prince

What's more, the Friday night Student's Association bop is sold out by 4pm. But the student prince hopes the novelty will soon wear off. "It will get easier as time goes by," he said in September. "Everyone will get bored of me." Nevertheless, he's sure to find more than the average number of studious colleagues in the library while he's trying to get on with his Art History and Social Anthropology courses. The latter should come in handy for his future role as Head of State, while the Art History should be a doddle. As one Art History tutor says: "Quite honestly, I think he's just a normal student. A normal student with a wonderful private art collection who might be able to say, 'Yes, I know that work. It's hanging in my grandmother's hall.' "

Most of his lectures take place in Buchanan Hall, just a minute's walk away from his new home, St Salvator's Hall, a mixed-sex college building overlooking the North Sea. His rooms are fairly standard, except that not everyone has a bodyguard sleeping in adjoining quarters. Nor does everyone have a gaggle of aristocratic young blondes lining up at discos asking for dances.

The ways of the world

But Wills will make his own choices. Or will he? Take, for example, the "academic family" that is assigned
to freshers to help them settle in. William's "mother" is 21-year-old Alice Drummond-Hey of Norfolk, Connecticut (10 per cent of students are American). It just so happens that her grandfather, the Earl of Crawford and Balcarres, manages the Queen Mother's household, while her mother, Bettina, briefly dated William's dad back in his bachelor days. His "father" is Gus McMyn, 22, an Eton College alumnus, just like the prince. Despite denials from the Palace, it doesn't take a tabloid editor to surmise they must have been handpicked. Somebody familiar has to keep an eye on him, for according to third-year undergraduate, 21-year-old Nicky Cahill, "parents" also usually take on the responsibility of introducing freshers to the ways of the world, "or the way of life in St Andrews, which involves partying, partying, partying, drinking, occasionally working." And probably partying a bit more.

The hedonism culminates in November on "Raisin Weekend", an alcohol-fuelled bacchanal marked by general debauchery, so named for the tradition of first-years giving a bag of raisins to their "parents" as a thank-you gift.

It certainly sounds like St Andrews, with its cosy tally of 6,000 students, has a real community spirit to it. And that's one very good reason for William choosing it above Cambridge, the favoured choice of princes and future kings (Charles and Edward both studied there), with nearly twice that number. In addition, it's far enough from the nearest grand metropolis to feel happily isolated but still drive the 55 miles to Edinburgh for some culture, haute cuisine and a reminder of real life.

Books, birds and bombs

It's too early to say how academically challenging life at the university is, but he is not, despite claims from some quarters, a party animal. He is certain to be getting his head down so as to out-perform his father and uncle. Your correspondent studied at Cambridge the same time as Prince Edward. Rumour had it that his bodyguard wrote his essays for him. William will do his own studying and let the bodyguard look at the pictures.

And when the degree is over? Well, he probably won't become a museum guide. "I'm much more interested in doing something with the environment," the prince has said, "but I'm not sure what." No doubt there'll be plenty of speculation about that in the tabloids, as well as on the subject of a potential future princess and queen.

For the moment it seems likely that he'll join the army at first, the Welsh Guards, with whom he trained in Belize in summer 2000, but it is unlikely he will be called to enlist should hostilities
in Afghanistan and around the world worsen. Can't risk an early passage through the Pearly Gates with a future king. Keep him in the ivory towers.

- John Edmondson