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As The Crown features THAT catwalk encounter at St Andrews, what almost caused a public relations DISASTER for Prince William (leaving ‘hot’ Kate Middleton to save the day for Wills and the Royal Family)?


It was the sort of a simple ‘wobble’ that many new students go through in their first weeks at University. A little homesickness, perhaps, mixed with fear of the new and a little buyer’s remorse.

But there’s no such thing as a simple wobble when you are second-in-line to the throne and your every move is scrutinised, as Prince William found in his first weeks at St Andrews.

Indeed his  suggestion that he drop out after his first term was viewed not merely as unhelpful but as a potential public relations disaster.

It wasn’t long into his first year at university before William realised how ‘boring’ – his word – life in a small Scottish seaside town could be.

Prince William enrolled at the University of St Andrews in Scotland in 2001. But he was ready to drop out after just a few months there

Prince William enrolled at the University of St Andrews in Scotland in 2001. But he was ready to drop out after just a few months there

University did not at first live up to his expectations, according to royal biographers

University did not at first live up to his expectations, according to royal biographers

It was suggested that William had only spent only two of his first 13 term-time weekends at  St Andrews, often leaving for London or Gloucestershire as soon as his work for the week was over

It was suggested that William had only spent only two of his first 13 term-time weekends at  St Andrews, often leaving for London or Gloucestershire as soon as his work for the week was over

He had grown up surrounded by the bright lights, of course, and St Andrews had not entirely lived up to expectations, according to royal biographer Robert Lacey.

At that stage, he suggests, the highlights for William had included ‘shopping in the local Tesco‘. And while there were nights out with friends, these were constrained and ‘clouded’ thanks to his status as a prince.

 ‘Academically, the prince did not find his history of art course all it was cracked up to be either,’ suggests Lacey in his book Battle of Brothers.

William would flee the university as often as he could, making his way all the way back to London or Highgrove as soon as his studies concluded for the week on

As royal author Tina Brown put it in her book, The Palace Papers, William ‘was bored by St Andrews for all the reasons his police protection liked it.’

There were some reports that the prince had spent only two of his first 13 term-time weekends in the town. 

True or not, when he returned home for Christmas in December 2001, the future king told his father, Prince Charles, that he was ready to leave – or at very least change university for somewhere in England or abroad.

Even ‘cosmopolitan’ Edinburgh seemed attractive in comparison with parochial Fife. 

But while his father agreed to the change, officials at Buckingham Palace were less understanding, reports Lacey.

Charles’ private secretory, Sir Stephen Lamport and his deputy and ‘spin doctor’, Mark Bolland, were equally horrified, and said that ‘it would have been a personal disaster for William’.

The officials believed that it would paint the prince as a quitter, fearing a repeat of the criticism that followed Prince Edward’s decision to pull out of the Royal Marine training course.

When he came home for Christmas in December 2001, the future king told his father, Prince Charles , that he was ready to leave St Andrews

When he came home for Christmas in December 2001, the future king told his father, Prince Charles , that he was ready to leave St Andrews

While his father agreed to the change, officials at Buckingham Palace were less understanding and urged the prince stick with it

While his father agreed to the change, officials at Buckingham Palace were less understanding and urged the prince stick with it

Then there was the prospect of an ‘even bigger’ disaster for the monarchy, what Lacey describes as, ‘The likely political and social fallout in Scotland, where much had been made of the heir to the throne coming to study north of the border.’

It was untimely given that in 1998, just three years earlier, Scotland had voted for devolution.

After the passing of the Scotland Act 1998, powers from Westminster were transferred to a newly established Scottish parliamentary body.

‘William needs to knuckle down and not wimp out,’ was Prince Philip’s reported response . 

St Andrews reportedly worked hard to keep the Prince and William was able to transfer to geography, a subject he would enjoy better.

In the Palace Papers Brown suggested that the future Princess of Wales also played a part in William’s happiness at St Andrews. She wrote:  ‘At this critical juncture, Kate Middleton showed a gentle mastery of soft power reminiscent of how the Queen Mother handled George VI. 

‘In a series of earnest conversations, she urged William to drop his art history, a subject in which he had little or no interest.’

Tina Brown suggested that Catherine, the future Princess of Wales, had also played a part in keeping William at university

Tina Brown suggested that Catherine, the future Princess of Wales, had also played a part in keeping William at university

Prince William pictured at his graduation ceremony in June 2005

Prince William pictured at his graduation ceremony in June 2005

Speaking about life at St Andrews later in 2003, the prince said he felt ‘daunted’ in completely alien terrority.

He said: ‘It’s new surroundings, new scenery, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. It’s the same as starting school really and I was a little uneasy.

‘But I went home and talked to my father during the holidays and throughout that time debated about whether to come back – not seriously, seriously debating it – but it did cross my mind.

‘My father was very understanding about it and realised I had the same problems as he probably had. He was very good about it and we chatted a lot and in the end, we both realised – I definitely realised – that I had to come back.



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