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Prince William: On a somber anniversary, a fan recounts how he won her heart

By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 6, 2010; C01

Present and past members of the Prince William Fan Club, I think we may all agree that there was a single moment. Any of us can recall that time in which William, or "Wills," or "WOW" -- as the back of his sports uniforms once read, for "William of Wales," arguably the most appropriate acronym in the history of acronyms -- entered his most appealing stage.

It is 1997 and he walks behind a casket. He walks in his double-breasted suit, in his grave blue eyes, in his sleek summer blond hair, which is normally tousled. He walks stoically in his starched, white collar, in his gangly height -- as tall as Charles, towering over Harry -- in his grief. The grief made him not only beautiful, which he had always been, but also haunted, which made him damaged, which made him something to admire but also something to nurture, which signified loudly: The future king has a broken wing. Women of the universe, grab your splints.

The 13th anniversary of Princess Diana's funeral is Monday. Lately William has been in the news again, rumored to be planning a wedding (we always wanted this for him, honestly) for next summer to Kate Middleton (but he was supposed to marry us). " 'To Marry in July' Claim Dismissed," said the Telegraph, which Gather.com updated with the hopeful, "Will Prince William Make Kate an August 2011 Bride?" (Nobody really knows anything and the royals aren't talking.)

But it seems as good a time as any to revisit the longest relationship of our romantic history, to make some sort of philosophical or mathematical sense of it all. Let x equal our devotion. Let y equal the fact that our single, optimal boyfriend has no idea who we are. Subtract y from x. Let z equal the late '90s Balmoral photo shoot in the blue shirtsleeves -- you know -- and the University of St. Andrews graduation pics, the sheepish smile, and the Air Force flight suit, and the sick AIDS babies on humanitarian trips to Africa. Let there be one z for every AIDS baby.

Let b stand for the baldness. People debate the value of b.

His Royal Highness is indivisible, with no justice for all. Only for one odds-beating bride. Having done the math, we shall mourn. We shall mourn on Facebook: "A little part of me died when I heard Prince William is getting married" is the title of one group, which has been long preparing itself for a day that is entirely speculative. "Childhood dream destroyed . . . completely," writes Angel Lam, the bereft group administrator.

Part 1: Tiara dreams

The childhood dream that Lam writes of probably involved a tiara. At the ages of 7 or 8 or 9, princess dreams are mostly sartorial; one thinks not about what a princess does but what she wears. The childhood dream also involved an unfamiliar emotion best described as "naughty," in that whatever we wanted to do with that ruddy-cheeked boy wasn't something to announce and show and tell.

He was the nice one, the thoughtful one, the one who reportedly wanted to become a policeman when he grew up, to better protect his mother. He looked like Diana, astonishingly so. He bore his royal duties with dignity and resignation. Harry wore a Nazi costume and made a few bad choices on exams and at bars.

(Do you think that when William acted spoiled as a child, his nannies ever turned to each other and said, "Who does he think he is, the king of -- oh, wait.")

People often describe princess dreams as fanciful, but they are actually the opposite: 7-year-olds do not dream about marrying, for example, the future president because there is no guarantee that aspiring presidents will be elected, and therefore worth the risk. Prince William was a sure thing, a man who had a successful career path from the age of zygote. Princess dreams are actually about security. Also: tiaras.

They are also safe fantasies, ego-wise, because the chances of meeting a prince are so very infinitesimal. Through Hollywood, we have learned -- a la "The Prince and Me," "Cinderella," Grace Kelly's life -- that foreign princes fall in love with American girls as soon as they meet them; a simple if/then construct: if encounter, then proposal. The width of the Atlantic Ocean is not your fault.

I tested this theory in college while studying abroad at St. Andrews, living in the same residence hall as William, same floor, approximately four doors down.

Our personal interactions can be described as thus:

(1) He held the door as I came in the dorm behind him. He said, "There you go." I said, "Thaahnks." I said it with a British accent. My central nervous system translated proximity to the royal talisman of all Britishness as a momentary, involuntary cue to use a British accent.

(2) Filing out of the building during a midnight fire drill, he stepped on the hem of my pajamas. He said, "Sorry." I said, "Thanks." He said, "Sorry?" I said, "Thaahnks."

(3) While a roommate and I were visiting our neighbor Helen, he knocked on the door and asked to borrow a stapler. Helen gave it to him. He said, "Thaahnks," she said, "Sure," Jenny and I said, "Gheeeeee." When he left, we asked Helen a series of thoughtful questions: "Does he often borrow things? Which things? Show us."

Part 2: The Denouement

Perhaps he should have stayed at St. Andrews.

He was relatively isolated there, studying geography, meeting Kate. (So fashionable! So pretty! We hate her!)

But after he graduated in 2005, things seemed to go downhill. He entered the military. Was that wise, for a man only two breaths from the throne, to enter a profession defined by combat?

He piloted a Royal Air Force helicopter directly into the yard of the Middleton family home. Was that wise, for a man who had used time and national resources to acquire a pilot's license to then use that license to visit his girlfriend?

His hair began to thin. It began to thin right in front of all of us, in a way that was disappointing and downright embarrassing, resembling a poof of blond steel wool perched on the uncrowned crown of his head. He began to look -- God help us, but it must be said -- he began to look like Charles.

"Prince William was so hot back in 2000-2004," writes a user on Twitter, as if his beauty had passed away. RIP, His Royal Hotness.

Meanwhile, William's relationship with Middleton dragged on. Three years. Five. Seven. After they dated for nearly a decade, the British press has dubbed her "Waity Katie." (Kate: Tub of Ben and Jerry's right here, with your name on it.)

"People are very disillusioned by him," says Marilyn Braun, who runs several blogs dedicated to observing the ongoings and incomings of the royal family. They worry that William is "indecisive in the most important thing, which is a happy ending. Stick with the program. Get with it. We don't want to have a Charles and Diana thing again."

Could not handle the Charles and Diana thing again.

Let us turn our attention to Prince Harry. Prince Harry, while no one was looking and in a surprising turn of events, has become very, very gorgeous. It's almost like a fairy tale.

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