Any biography of a living person, particularly one who has just turned thirty, is a work in progress. Longtime royal commentator and biographer Penny Junor frames her snapshot of Prince William at thirty, Prince William: The Man Who Will Be King as a study of the making of the future King. Junor argues that the Prince and Princess of Wales’s unhappy marriage and the relationship between the modern monarchy and the press shaped William’s personality, encouraging him to cautious and guarded in his dealings with others. She blames the uncertainty he experienced as a child for his long relationship with Catherine Middleton prior to their engagement. The Duke of Cambridge also emerged from his upbringing with a strong attention to duty and ability to relate to people of all backgrounds, qualities that Junor predicts will shape a successful reign as King.
Since William and Catherine announced their engagement in 2010, there have been numerous biographies written about them as individuals and as a couple. Many of these works repeat the same basic facts about the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s education, travels, families and charity work. Junor’s book stands out for its details of just what it meant to be educated at Eton or volunteer for the Raleigh International program in Chile. Junor also attended the St. Andrews, where William first met Catherine, and is able to describe how the Prince’s time at the university gave him greater confidence and a much needed respite from constant media attention. Although the author did not receive permission to interview William himself, she was allowed to speak to numerous members of his household and social circle while researching the biography. This wealth of source material provides a compelling portrait of the Prince’s childhood and youth.
A large number of Junor’s sources are palace press officers or members of the media who have followed the royal family’s activities for decades. (The inclusion of footnotes and a full bibliography of interview subjects would have been useful to keep track of the various sources quoted throughout the book.) The complicated relationship between Prince William and the media is therefore a central theme of this book. In contrast to most people who become celebrities, William was born a public figure. There were photographers at his first school Christmas pageant urging him to look in their direction. The breakdown of his parents’ marriage was chronicled in the media with both Charles and Diana breaking with tradition to tell their sides of story to journalists. William’s relationship with Catherine was eventually made public knowledge on the grounds that the identity of a possible future Queen is a matter of public interest.
Junor provides unique examples of how this life in the public eye both expanded and limited William’s experiences. While the publicity surrounding William’s wedding and subsequent tour of Canada have been credited with revitalizing the monarchy, the Prince had difficulty with a university art history assignment that required a visit to the National Gallery to compare two paintings. By the time he reached St. Andrews, William had traveled worldwide for both royal tours and his gap year abroad but had never visited the National Gallery in the heart of London, where he would have been instantly recognized and surrounded by journalists and other observers.
The strongest sections of Prince William: The Man Who Will Be King focus on William himself during his education, military training, relationship with Catherine and royal duties. Unfortunately, Junor devotes much of the first quarter of the book to the breakdown of Charles’s and Diana’s marriage. This material has been discussed extensively in the author’s previous works and she adds little new material here. Junor’s sympathies are clearly with Prince Charles, who she argues was unfairly maligned as an absentee father by the press.
Junor’s defence of the Prince is part of a broader trend in recent works on the monarchy, such as John Fraser’s The Secret Of The Crown: Canada’s Affair With Royalty, which highlight the heir’s accomplishments as a parent and charitable patron. While Fraser provides an eloquent rebuttal to the negative portrayals of Prince Charles in the media with little mention of Diana, Junor blames the Princess for the breakdown of her marriage. In the first quarter of Prince William: The Man Who Will Be King, Junor constantly criticizes Diana, an approach that seems out of place in a biography of Prince William, who clearly cherishes his mother’s memory.
Since the current line of succession indicates that William will be the 42nd monarch since the Norman Conquest, greater attention to historical context would have enhanced Junor’s analysis of William’s significance within the monarchy of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth realms. Her claim that charity work was not part of the daily life of the royal family until the current Queen’s reign ignores the extensive philanthrophic acitivities of Queen Victoria’s daughters and granddaughters, particularly in the fields of nursing and maternal health. The section on the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s tour of Canada contains few comparisons to previous visits beyond the erroneous claim that Queen never visited the province of Quebec again after she was booed by French-Canadian seperatists in 1964. (Her Majesty opened Expo 67 in Montreal, three years later). In a biography of a future King of a thousand year old monarchy, there should be greater attention to William’s place in history.
Prince William: The Man Who Will Be King is a fascinating snapshot of Prince William at thirty. Penny Junor provides rich detail about the influence of his family, relationships, education and celebrity on his character. She predicts William will be a successful King and his grandchildren will speak as highly of him as he did of Queen Elizabeth II on the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee.by