John Linklater looks at what lies ahead for William Windsor during his

schooldays at Eton

PRINCE WILLIAM is a first. No previous heir to the throne, or second

heir as in his case, has attended Eton College in its 555-year history.

There might be two reasons. Future monarchs have not generally received

educations, having governesses and private tutors drop round to the

palace instead. Once the progressive idea of schooling royals caught on,

when Prince Charles got packed off to get taunted about his big ears, it

was a case of the more remote the better.

Gordonstoun, in its own Morayshire estate, with ample cliff faces on

which to conceal boarders on the end of ropes, was less of a security

risk, but it scared the life out of Charles. It had a reputation for

building character, if you wanted a character like Prince Philip, but we

have learned from Jonathan Dimbleby's biography that Charles was not his

father's boy. He grew up emotionally scarred, unable to form close

friendships, and with an alleged ambition to ''come back as a tampon''.

No obstacles to kingship in the next century, perhaps, but a ''could do

better'' as the final report on Gordonstoun, in the view of both of

Prince William's parents at least.

The education of their two sons is said to be one of the few subjects

they are both prepared still to discuss with each other. Two other

boarding schools, Bradfield and Bedales, were considered at one stage,

but Eton College finally won the vote as the handier option. It is in

the Berkshire catchment area of Windsor Palace.

The school has come a long way since its foundation in 1440 by Henry

VI to educate the sons of the poor and prepare them for the service of

church and State. The fees have gone up to #12,384. At the last count

there were 20 British Prime Ministers who received their educations

there, though not all at the same time. The most recent was Harold

Macmillan, and the present Cabinet has a couple of Old Etonians in

Douglas Hurd and William Waldegrave, counterweighted by their

contemporaries, Labour MPs Tam Dalyell and Mark Fisher.

Prince William's parents were probably more impressed by the fact that

several of his own chums are going to Eton this September; boys like

Thomas van Straubenzee and Simon Heathcoat-Amory from the same feeder

prep school.

Alongside them plain William Windsor, as he will be addressed, should

not feel overexposed. ''Eton boys set little store by the odd duke,''

said Tim Card, vice-provost, and author of the recent book, Eton

Renewed, which emphasised the move towards a more meritocratic set-up at

the school under its previous headmasters, Michael McCrum and a Scot, Dr

Eric Anderson.

Bursary boys and scholarship winners have contributed to a steady

raising of academic standards at Eton. It scored second to Westminster

in last year's Top Schools indexes based on A-level results, with 84% of

boys gaining university entrance A and B passes. They have to be good.

Oxbridge colleges have a reputation for being tough on applications from

the school. There are jobs and walks of life where it pays to underplay

the Eton connection.

While Eton seeks to shed its ''toff'' image of schooling upper-class

twits -- it has abolished birchings and the iniquitous system of fagging

-- it still cannot dissuade the aristocracy entirely. There are three

young lords (Irwin, Hervey and William's cousin Lord Frederick Windsor,

son of Prince Michael of Kent) in the present roll of 1270. The school

is by no means averse to princes, until now restricted to foreign ones,

and it usually finds raffish nicknames for them. King Birendra of Nepal

used to be known as Nipples, for no reason that anyone is prepared to


Like most institutions, it is going through a transitional phase.

Prince William will emerge computer literate, and he will have a

curricular choice that extends in languages to Chinese, Arabic, and

Japanese, but he will spend the rest of his life with an arcane

vocabulary comprehensible only to other OEs.

It will revolve around ''beaks'' teaching the ''tits'' their ''divs'',

and whether a chap is a ''dry-bob'' or a ''wet-bob'' (which relates to

the momentous decision in the life of a young man as to whether he will

play cricket or row). He will be introduced to a time-locked battery of

bizarre rituals from the annual June 4 celebration of his distant

ancestor George III's birthday by sailing down the Thames and tossing

flowers out of boaters to the mud-wrestling attempt to score the first

goal in the Eton Wall Game since 1907. He could make a name for himself.

Will the experience prepare him for whatever employment the monarchy

may still command in the twenty-first century? In his pre-pubescent

years Prince William is reported as having displayed an interest in

photographs of Playboy models and a penchant for flushing his mother's

shoes down the toilet. He has inherited his mother's tendency to sink

his jaw into his chest and affect camera-shyness.

Eton can cure this as surely as even its detractors have never denied

that a breeding of confidence is one of the school's most conspicuous

products. He will never be stuck for a network of contacts. And he will

enjoy that luxury known to every Etonian, that of ''halves'', as the

term is called, there are always three.