Tragic Details About Prince William

It's easy to imagine that members of the British royal family — let's take Prince William, for example — have it made. Sure, there's the Disney-fied version of royalty that's pure fantasy, but even in the real world, royals exist and they live lives most of us mere commoners can only experience in our wildest dreams. They reside in lavish palaces, wear crowns, meet amazing people while traveling the world, and generally seem to share the most incredible experiences imaginable. But, believe it or not, the royal existence isn't always a real-life fairy tale.

Prince William may be second in line to the British throne, but the father of three's life hasn't always been perfect — in fact, it's been far from it. We're not talking about faux woe-is-me, humble brag rough patches, either. The Duke of Cambridge has suffered some very real, genuinely heartbreaking low points in his life. From losing his mother, Princess Diana, to the rumored fallout with his younger brother, Prince Harry, this British prince has definitely seen his share of personal tragedy.

Let's break down the most tragic details about Prince William's life.

Prince William was injured by a fellow student when he was a child

In 1991, Prince William suffered a depressed skull fracture when a friend at Ludgrove prep school accidentally hit him in the forehead with a golf club. The then-nine-year-old royal's injury required surgery and 24 stitches, and he reportedly stopped taking golf classes afterward. (Not that we blame him.)

The accident left William with more than a gap in his sports schedule. To this day, William lives with a reminder of the incident in the form of a small scar on his forehead. "I call it [my Harry Potter scar] because it glows sometimes," the prince quipped while meeting a young royal fan in 2009, referencing the famous lightning bolt-shaped scar the popular boy wizard sustained after surviving Lord Voldemort's attempt to kill him as a baby (via the Daily Mail). He added, "And some people notice it — other times they don't notice it at all."

For what it's worth, the accident didn't seem turn Prince William off of golf for good. According to a 2003 article about his time studying at St Andrews, the British royal continued to practice the sport at the school's Golf Practice Centre during his university days.

The Duke of Cambridge's parents went through a messy divorce

Prince William's parents, Prince Charles and Princess Diana, went through a very messy, very public divorce — which was also incredibly prolonged. Charles and Diana first announced their separation in 1992, when William was just ten years old. Given their popular union and the royal family's historically fraught relationship with divorce, however, it was several years before they made the split official.

Even after announcing their separation, the Prince of Wales and the People's Princess "continued to carry out their royal duties," per History, although their already-strained relationship continued to deteriorate, with much of the drama (which included allegations of infidelity against both parties) playing out in the public eye. Eventually, Charles' mother, Queen Elizabeth II, "urged" the two to formally divorce, which they did in August 1996. 

Divorce isn't easy for any child, but for William, the very public breakdown of his parents' marriage was reportedly extra traumatic. "I think that he was quite seriously affected by the bad relationship of his parents," royal expert Sarah Bradford claimed in the 2017 documentary, Kate: The Making of a Modern Queen, adding that he was perhaps "more sensitive" about the matter than little brother Prince Harry.

Prince William was reportedly 'mortified' by his mother's tell-all interview

The four years between Prince Charles and Princess Diana's separation and the finalization of their divorce in 1996 was chock full of drama — very public and, for a teenager, very traumatic drama. In November 1995, when a 13-year-old Prince William was attending boarding school at the ultra-exclusive Eton College, his mother gave an explosive, tell-all interview about her marriage. 

Airing on BBC One's Panorama, one of the most memorable moments came when Diana was asked if Camilla Parker Bowles, Charles' then-alleged mistress and now-wife, played a role in the breakdown of the union. "Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded," she infamously replied, in what amounted to a bombshell accusation of infidelity, especially for a member of the royal family.

According to royal biographer Katie Nicholl, William was reportedly "mortified" by this deeply personal interview. "To William's horror," Nicholl explained in her biography, Kate: The Future Queen, "she also spoke candidly about her affair with former Life Guards officer James Hewitt, a family friend who had taught William and Harry to horse ride." In addition to "many of his peers [watching] the program," William was hounded by paparazzi. Nicholl added, "It was a difficult start for the schoolboy prince."

Princess Diana passed away when Prince William was a teen

On Aug. 31, 1997, Prince William suffered the greatest tragedy of his young life when his beloved mother, Princess Diana, died tragically and unexpectedly in a car crash in Paris. After having dinner at the Ritz, Diana and her boyfriend, Egyptian film producer Dodi Al-Fayed, took every precaution to avoid photographers, leaving from the rear exit after sending a decoy car out from the front of the hotel (via BBC News). They were still followed by paparazzi, who chased them into the Pont de l'Alma tunnel, where their driver lost control of their car and crashed.

William, who was only 15 at the time of his mother's death, memorably marched along with his brother, Prince Harry, behind his mother's coffin during her funeral procession on Sept. 6. The moment was understandably difficult for the teenage royal. "It was one of the hardest things I've ever done, that walk," William revealed during the 2017 documentary, Diana, 7 Days (via Harper's Bazaar), adding that he felt Diana's presence at the time. "It felt like she was almost walking along beside us to get us through it."

The Duke of Cambridge quietly carried the pain of his mother's death for years

Twenty years after his mother's death, Prince William began opening up about the impact of experiencing this loss for the first time — particularly in relation to the royal initiative to break down the stigma surrounding mental health.

"I think when you are bereaved at a very young age, anytime really, but particularly at a young age — I can resonate closely to that — you feel pain like no other pain," William explained in the 2019 BBC One special, A Royal Team Talk: Tackling Mental Health. "And you know that in your life it's going to be very difficult to come across something that's going to be an even worse pain than that. But it also brings you so close to all those other people out there who have been bereaved."

The following year, the Duke of Cambridge admitted that starting a family of his own brought his grief about Princess Diana's passing back to the surface. "Having children is the biggest life-changing moment," William revealed in the Football, Prince William, and Our Mental Health documentary (via Today). " ... When you've been through something traumatic in life, that is, your dad not being around, my mother dying when I was younger, your emotions come back in leaps and bounds because it's a very different phase of life, and there's no one there to kind of help you."

The media hounded Prince William's girlfriends

With the constant media frenzy surrounding the royal family, dating wasn't as easy as you might imagine for Prince William, who began fearing for now-wife Kate Middleton's safety when they were dating. "Prince William is very unhappy at the paparazzi harassment of his girlfriend," a royal spokesperson released in a rare statement on the subject in 2007 (via the Daily Mail), after Middleton was reportedly left in tears after being hounded by paparazzi on her 25th birthday. "He wants more than anything for it to stop. Miss Middleton should, like any other private individual, be able to go about her everyday business without this kind of intrusion. The situation is proving unbearable for all those concerned."

Considering what Princess Diana famously went through with invasive photographers, it's understandable that William would take issue with this treatment. "I believe she cried more to do with the press intrusion than anything else in her life," the prince said of his late mother during Diana, 7 Days (via People). "The impact it was having on her that we would then see and feel was very difficult to understand. She was subjected to treatment that frankly nowadays people would find utterly appalling ... Every single time she went out there'd be a pack of people waiting for her. I mean a pack of dogs, followed her, chased her, harassed her."

His wife's privacy was violated by a French magazine

Unfortunately, the paparazzi continued to invade the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's privacy. In 2012, the couple vacationed at the Château d'Autet in France, where Kate Middleton was photographed while sunbathing topless on the private, 640-acre estate by a paparazzo using a long-range lens camera, per The Guardian. French magazine Closer published the photos without her consent, leading Prince William and his wife to file a criminal complaint about the invasion of privacy. 

A Parisian judge subsequently granted the royals' request for an injunction and ordered the magazine to either turn the original photos over within 24 hours of the ruling or be hit with a fine of 10,000 euros per day, according to BBC News. The court explained, "These snapshots which showed the intimacy of a couple, partially naked on the terrace of a private home, surrounded by a park several hundred metres from a public road, and being able to legitimately assume that they are protected from passers-by, are by nature particularly intrusive." 

Five years later, a French court ordered the maximum possible fines from two officials from the publishing company. "This incident was a serious breach of privacy, and their Royal Highnesses felt it essential to pursue all legal remedies," a royal spokeswoman said after the ruling (via Reuters). "They wished to make the point strongly that this kind of unjustified intrusion should not happen."

Prince William has had to worry about his children's safety

For Prince William, fatherhood has brought on new anxieties and worries having to do with — you guessed it — the paparazzi. In 2015, Kensington Palace issued a statement on behalf of the Cambridges to the British press, asking photographers to stop harassing their oldest children, Prince George and Princess Charlotte, whose safety was being threatened.

"Paparazzi photographers are going to increasingly extreme lengths to observe and monitor Prince George's movements and covertly capture images of him to sell to the handful of international media titles still willing to pay for them," the palace's statement read in part. Explaining that photographers had begun using invasive tactics, like using long-range lenses to capture pictures of Kate Middleton and her eldest son playing in private parks and monitoring the movements of George and his nanny around London, the palace went on to recall a particular "disturbing, but not at all uncommon" incident. 

"A photographer rented a car and parked in a discreet location outside a children's play area. Already concealed by darkened windows, he took the added step of hanging sheets inside the vehicle and created a hide stocked with food and drinks to get him through a full day of surveillance, waiting in hope to capture images of Prince George," the palace noted. "Police discovered him lying down in the boot of the vehicle attempting to shoot photos with a long lens through a small gap in his hide." Yikes.

The Duke of Cambridge has been accused of infidelity

Even a fairy tale romance like Prince William and wife Kate Middleton's isn't immune from the rumor mill. In 2019, reports flew that William had stepped out on the duchess with the couple's close friend, Rose Hanbury. What started as a hearsay about Middleton and Hanbury having an alleged falling out, quickly snowballed into speculation of an affair between William and his wife's former bestie.

In Touch Weekly was the first tabloid to publish claims of infidelity, with a source alleging (via The Daily Beast) that the prince "just laughed it off saying there was nothing to it" when the duchess "immediately confronted" her husband about the rumors. The insider added, "Kate sees their friendship in an entirely different light now. They come across as a perfect couple who can do no wrong, but the reality is, most couples have their issues and William and Kate are no different."

While there hasn't been any actual evidence to support these cheating rumors, William took the hurtful gossip seriously enough to involve his legal team. According to The Daily Beast, the royal family's go-to lawyers sent letters warning publications that, "in addition to being false and highly damaging, the publication of false speculation in respect of our clients' private life also constitutes a breach of his privacy pursuant to Article 8 of the European Convention to Human Rights."

Prince William didn't have the military career he wanted

If he hadn't been born a royal, Prince William may have pursued a serious career in the military. During his seven years in the armed forces, the Duke of Cambridge made it clear that he wanted to serve on the frontlines in Afghanistan — not unlike younger brother Prince Harry, who served in the country for 10 weeks before being removed in 2008. Per BBC Newsbeat, reports about the ginger prince's deployment led to safety concerns for him and his fellow soldiers, who could have been potentially targeted by the Taliban over his mere presence.

For his part, William was an officer in the Household Cavalry regiment, before serving as an RAF Search and Rescue helicopter co-pilot. In the 2010 TV documentary, Prince William's Africa, the prince revealed that some members from his first unit were eventually sent off to the Middle East — and he wished he could have joined them: "It's just a pity I didn't get to Afghanistan ... I still have hope and faith and a real determination to go out there."

Ultimately, William retired from military service in 2013 to focus on charity work and his royal duties alongside his wife, Kate Middleton.

Military service took a toll on Prince William's mental health

While appearing at a launch event for the United Kingdom's Mental Health at Work portal in 2018, Prince William spoke candidly about the long-term impact his military service had on his mental health. 

"I took a lot home without realizing it," William said (via People). "You see [so] many sad things every day that you think life is like that ... You're always dealing with despair and sadness and injury. The attrition builds up and you never really have the opportunity to offload anything if you're not careful." He added, "You're human and a lot of people forget the battles, you have shut it off to do the job — but ultimately something pierces the armor."

The following year, the prince used his mental health initiative platform to take aim at the British Armed Forces during a royal visit to Blackpool, revealing that he "never really understood" why it had only just started to offer mental health training to match the physical training soldiers endure (via The Telegraph). "They talk about being the best the whole time," William said. "You're physically trained to do all the stuff you do, but never once in the process was the mental aspect of what you were going to see at war time ... never was that actually processed through, 'How do we actually train people physically and mentally be the best soldier?'"

The Duke of Cambridge's relationship with his brother reportedly became strained

As the 2010s came to a close, Prince William and Prince Harry began facing rumors of a feud — which royal experts traced to the ginger prince's decision to propose to his now-wife, Meghan Markle.

"William was quite concerned that the relationship had moved so quickly," Katie Nicholl claimed during TLC's 2019 special, Kate v. Meghan: Princesses at War? (via Cosmopolitan). "And being close to Harry, probably the only person close enough to say to Harry, 'This seems to be moving quickly, are you sure?' I think what was meant as well-intended brotherly advice just riled Harry."

Harry seemed to confirm the brotherly tension during ITV's Harry & Meghan: An African Journey documentary. Revealing that he and William were "certainly on different paths at the moment," Harry admitted, "We don't see each other as much as we used to ... but I love him dearly ... [and] as brothers, you have good days, you have bad days." By January 2020, Harry and Markle decided to step back from royal duties, which further heightened rumors surrounding the royal brothers' alleged feud. This led them to release a rare joint statement through their spokesperson addressing the ongoing speculation, which read in part (via The Guardian), "For brothers who care so deeply about the issues surrounding mental health, the use of inflammatory language in this way is offensive and potentially harmful."

Prince William struggles with anxiety over public speaking

Prince William has become increasingly open about his own mental health. During an interview in BBC One's Football, Prince William, and Our Mental Health documentary, which premiered in May 2020, the Duke of Cambridge got candid about a number of personal issues, including his coping strategies for dealing with anxiety during public speaking engagements. 

"Certain days, especially certain speeches as well when I was growing up, you definitely get a bit of anxiety," William explained (via Town & Country). "My eyesight started to tail off a little bit as I got older, and I didn't used to wear contacts when I was working, so actually when I gave speeches I couldn't see anyone's face. And it helps, because it's just a blur of faces and because you can't see anyone looking at you — I can see enough to read the paper and stuff like that — but I couldn't actually see the whole room." It may have become a coping mechanism by default, but as the prince added, "And actually that really helps with my anxiety."