TURNING 10 is a big deal for any young boy — double digits, potentially a new school around the corner and those teenage years on the horizon.
But for Prince George, when he celebrates his 10th birthday on Saturday, it will mark the end of his most momentous year yet — and perhaps the end of childhood as he knew it.
Prince George celebrates his 10th birthday on SaturdayCredit: The Duchess of Cambridge
A family friend said: ‘George did not really know he was royal’Credit: Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images
Queen Elizabeth II with her heirs to the throne, Charles, William and George at Buckingham PalaceCredit: Ranald Mackechnie
In the past 12 months he has had to grow up fast, with the weight of destiny pressing ever firmer on those young shoulders.
George was front and centre of Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations last June, and the Buckingham Palace balcony photograph of a secure succession with all three heirs — Charles, William and George — was crucial to stabilising the monarchy’s reputation after a rather rocky period.
Then, in September, came the death of Britain’s longest-serving monarch, when George had to step up, both at the Queen’s funeral and now as second-in-line to the throne.
All this in the same week he and his two siblings, Princess Charlotte, now eight, and Prince Louis, five, started a new school after the family moved home to Windsor from Kensington Palace.
But Fabulous can reveal that, in fact, George has been so protected by parents William and Kate, until relatively recently, he didn’t even realise he was heir to the throne.
In keeping with their determination to give their eldest son the most normal childhood possible, the Prince and Princess of Wales chose not to tell him that he would become King of England.
Special pictures, such as those of the Queen with Charles, William and George taken in the Buckingham Palace ballroom to mark the new decade in 2020, were explained to him as enabling “Gan-Gan” [the prince’s name for his great-grandmother] to have a nice family picture on her side table.
According to one friend of the family: “William and Kate wanted to protect the children as much as possible, particularly from the concept of them being royal and everything that entails.
“In effect, George did not really know he was royal. The Queen and then-Prince Charles were seen through the prism of family – as great-grandmother ‘Gan-Gan’, and grandfather ‘Pa’ – rather than their royal roles.
“At events like Trooping the Colour, George was told that Gan-Gan is a very special lady, very popular and well-loved, and that’s why all the family were with her to clap for her on the balcony.
“[They told him] anything ‘royal’, like the picture of the then-monarch and her three heirs in Buckingham Palace, was done for her.
“They did not tell him until relatively recently that he will, one day, be King. It was a delicate balance to protect his childhood and innocence.
“But also it meant explaining to him that his grandfather and father will die one day, which is a very tough concept for any child to grasp. It’s also very tricky for what it means for his siblings, Charlotte and Louis.”
Serving as a warning for the pressures the role can heap not just on the heir, but also the siblings, is the story of a young Harry and William where, according to their former protection officer, Harry taunted his older brother, saying: “You’ll be King, I won’t, so I can do what I want!”
William and Kate navigated this difficult tightrope for all three of their children by introducing things very, very slowly.
After those balcony appearances for Gan-Gan and Christmas walks to church at Sandringham, the first real official duty for George and Charlotte was on a walkabout at Cardiff Castle last June as part of the Platinum Jubilee celebrations.
George, then eight, looked visibly nervous as the family entered the castle, with William placing a reassuring hand on his son’s shoulder, while seven-year-old Charlotte, the more confident of the pair, quickly started accepting flowers and chatting to the crowds, just like her mum.
But it served as a useful introduction to royal life.
School has always provided a protective buffer for the young prince, too.
Aged four, he was enrolled at Thomas’s Battersea day school in south London, where he attended classes with the offspring of lawyers, doctors and bankers, rather than the scions of the aristocratic elite.
George did not really know he was royal. The Queen and then-Prince Charles were seen through the prism of family – as great-grandmother ‘Gan-Gan’, and grandfather ‘Pa’ – rather than their royal roles.
There, he was treated the same as every other pupil (albeit with two Metropolitan police protection officers stationed discreetly in a room down the corridor), and his teachers went to great lengths to ensure he had little idea of his status.
There was no fuss – he was just “George” and enjoyed nothing more than a kickabout with his friends in the playground.
Mum Kate threw herself into school life with gusto, attending cake sales, sports days and parents’ social events, and in turn the pupils and teachers protected young George and his privacy.
Both Kate and William were at pains to shield their son — a shy little boy, who followed in his father’s footsteps with a love of football — from strict formality and public glare as much as possible, so decided not to send him to boarding school at the age eight, unlike his father and grandfather.
Prince Charles was brought up by nannies and governesses, and famously didn’t see his parents for six months when they went on a tour of the Commonwealth when he was four years old.
He was sent to board at Cheam School, and was utterly miserable and homesick.
The late-Queen recalled how he “shuddered” with apprehension as he journeyed there on his first day, while his sister Princess Anne said: “He was heartbroken. He used to cry [writing] in his letters and say: ‘I miss you’.”
But it is also a reaction against William’s own childhood which, thanks to Princess Diana’s insistence that her boys remained “grounded”, was played out largely in the public gaze, with cameras following every family outing, from theme parks to travelling on the London Underground.
The latest generation of royals seem to be brought up much like Kate was herself – in idealised, middle-class privilege.
Kate and William have created for their children an enviable world of campfires, exploring forests and running wild on beaches, while being on-hand to help keep them safe and protected.
Kate herself described how she wanted her children to look back on their early years in a rare interview on the Happy Mum Happy Baby podcast three years ago.
“Is it that I’m sitting down trying to do their maths and spelling homework over the weekend?” she told host Giovanna Fletcher.
“Or is it the fact that we’ve gone out and lit a bonfire and sat around trying to cook sausages that hasn’t worked because it’s too wet?
“That’s what I would want them to remember – those moments with me as a mother, but also the family going to the beach, getting soaking wet, filling our boots full of water…”
Their determination for George to have as normal a life as possible was evident from the beginning.
The then-Duchess of Cambridge’s pregnancy was not an easy one – she suffered from severe morning sickness (hyperemesis gravidarum). The couple also didn’t find out the sex of their baby in advance.
After George’s birth on July 22, 2013 (who could forget William looking nervous outside St Mary’s Hospital, London, as he fitted the baby seat into the car for the first time?), the couple decamped to Michael and Carole Middleton’s home in Bucklebury, Berkshire.
There was no standing on ceremony. I remember Kate telling me that George was a hungry baby and she’d struggled with the feeds and the sleepless nights, like any new mother.
In 2013, Queen Elizabeth gave them 10-bedroom Anmer Hall in Norfolk as a belated wedding gift, and after a complete refurb, the new family moved in.
William’s job at the time as a helicopter pilot for East Anglian Air Ambulance meant that George spent much of his early life in Norfolk and attended a local Montessori nursery.
By taking pictures herself, Kate ensured her children were protected from reams of photographers, but she gave enough away to enable us all to delight in their growing family.
The family moved to Kensington Palace in London in time for George’s first day at Thomas’s Battersea day school, where he was seen nervously clutching his father’s hand.
But despite the relocation, home was always Anmer, where they decamped most weekends and during lockdown.
It’s where George learned to swim, play tennis, ride his bike and play football with “Pops” or “Papa”, as he calls William.
At events like Trooping the Colour, George was told that Gan-Gan is a very special lady, very popular and well-loved, and that’s why all the family were with her to clap for her on the balcony.
While living at Anmer, George would regularly help delivery drivers unload the weekly supermarket shop, collect eggs from the family’s chicken coop and pick tomatoes and strawberries from the kitchen garden.
As a small child, he loved tractors and dinosaurs, and has seemingly inherited his mother’s, grandfather’s and great-grandfather Philip’s passion for art, drawing a vase of flowers as a gift for Mother’s Day in 2020 and an impressive reindeer Christmas card last December.
Growing up, George seems to be following both parents with his prowess at sport and a healthy competitive spirit, particularly in swimming and football, to the delight of Aston Villa fan and keen player William.
In late 2019, George enjoyed going to his first major football match, roaring with delight as Aston Villa scored and then won 5-1 against home-side Norwich City – a “normal” experience and one that FA president William was determined his family would get to enjoy.
George’s love of both football and tennis was seen when he attended Euro 2020 matches and made his debut in the Royal Box at Wimbledon last summer.
The family’s move to four-bedroom Adelaide Cottage in Windsor last year kept home life very normal, with a trampoline in the back garden and bike rides in the park.
They also still spend much of the school holidays in Norfolk, where they have a beach hut on one of the county’s best beaches, as well as a much-loved sailing boat and a stationary barge on one of the many creeks.
George started at his new private school, Lambrook in Bracknell, in September and, by all accounts, has settled in well.
When it came to King Charles’ coronation in May, his parents thought long and hard about whether George should be subjected to public scrutiny on such a big day for his grandfather.
But despite being told what to do and when to wave by sassy little sister Charlotte on previous royal occasions, George very much held his own.
In fact, he wasn’t keen on wearing the traditional Coronation tights and long shorts and is reported to have asked if he could swap the “outdated” white breeches for trousers.
The King agreed and all four page boys looked resplendent in their scarlet gold-braided tunic and black wool trousers.
That’s what I would want them to remember – those moments with me as a mother, but also the family going to the beach, getting soaking wet, filling our boots full of water…
Although George has had to come to terms with his destiny over the past year, it has been a slow transition.
Admittedly, not many 10 year olds can boast of having tennis lessons from Wimbledon champ Roger Federer, hunting deer and pheasants at Balmoral and starring as a page boy in the King’s Coronation, but his parents are still determined to keep home life as “normal” as possible.
As George’s birthday falls during the summer holidays, the family usually celebrates on the idyllic island of Tresco, part of the Isles of Scilly that make up William’s Duchy of Cornwall.
Like his mother, George loves to sail, and on Tresco they pass unnoticed as just another happy holidaying family.
In three years’ time, when George is 13, it’s expected that he will board at Eton, where his father, uncle and great-grandfather all studied. It’s all part of his journey to become King but until then, there’s all the more reason to let him enjoy his childhood while he still can.
The Queen is joined by members of the Royal Family for a fly-past for her Platinum JubileeCredit: Daniel Leal/AFP via Getty Images
George, with Wills and Kate, made his debut in the Royal Box at Wimbledon last summerCredit: Karwai Tang/WireImage
Prince George is pictured on his first day of schoolCredit: Richard Pohle/Pool/AFP via Getty Images
George with sister Charlotte at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in LondonCredit: Matt Porteous