LONDON -- What about the boys?
Shielded by their father and grandparents in an imposing Scottish castle, Britain's young Princes, William and Harry, have been silent witnesses to the most tragic moment of their lives.
Their mother, Princess Diana, is dead.
Soon, they must leave Balmoral Castle, the royal summer retreat in Northern Scotland, and emerge into the international spotlight once focused on Diana, as chief mourners at her funeral Saturday at Westminster Abbey.
The whole nation, grieving for their mother, seems to be worried about the future of these children: What happens next to William, the shy 15-year-old who was born to succeed his father Charles as king? And what of the impish Harry, the 12-year-old who Diana once jokingly called "the spare?"
The boys appeared to be closer to their mother than their father, the often remote and troubled heir to the throne of Queen Elizabeth II. They were supposed to see Diana on Monday.
Instead, less than 10 hours after her death early Sunday morning, they were in a small church near Balmoral with their father and grandparents, a brief public appearance that left the country with conflicting emotions.
The minister who conducted the service, the Rev. Robert Sloan, praised the boys, saying "they were remarkable. They were very good indeed, despite what must have been going through their minds and their hearts. They were very somber and very upset."
Others were upset with the Windsors for making the boys go to the service.
The mood was perhaps best captured yesterday by the country's most famous advice columnist, Deidre Saunders, of The Sun of London, who wrote in an open letter to Charles: "Why did your sons have to show the world a stiff upper lip? It's unnatural and damaging for them in the long run."
Her advice to Charles: give his sons "a cuddle" and "clear your calendar."
Still, these are difficult days for any family, especially one that has endured years of public scrutiny turning their lives into grist for an international farce, a farce now turned to tragedy.
"The Prince of Wales is doing his best to comfort the children," said Lady Colin Campbell, an author and royal biographer who wrote a best seller on Princess Diana.
"For them, it will be a long and arduous process coming to terms with what has happened," she said. "There is no easy way of grieving when you are the children, or the ex-husband of someone who has died so tragically. Being royal doesn't spare you."
The British media have already made broad hints about the dramatic changes that lie ahead for the boys.
They will likely leave apartments at Kensington Palace, the London home they shared with their mother, and move into their other principal base, Charles' estate at Highgrove in Gloucestershire.
A long-time royal nanny, Tiggy Legge-Bourke, is also said to be back in the princes' lives, providing comfort as they grieve. Legge-Bourke and Diana were said to have a frosty relationship.
Harry will inherit the bulk of Diana's fortune, which grew substantially after her $27 million divorce settlement with Charles. William will gain much of his wealth from the Duchy of Cornwall, which is overseen by his father, the Prince of Wales.
Even though she had a jet-set lifestyle, and only lived with the boys during part of their school holidays, Diana professed her love and devotion to her children. She claimed in her final interview that she would have left Britain long ago, had it not been for William and Harry.
She often talked of instituting "fun days" and "work days" for the boys, alternating trips to the cinema with treks to food kitchens and hospices, apparently to prepare them for a royal life.
"I am making sure of this," she said in one interview. "I don't want them suffering in the way I did."
Diana apparently yearned to shape a modern monarchy, producing royals who could be in touch with the common people of Britain.
"The Princess hoped for a renewal of the monarchy and she did not want to wait for her son's time," columnist William Rees-Mogg wrote in the Times of London. "She wanted it to be a strong institution, compassionate and contemporary."
Whatever the public knows of the boys comes through the prism of Britain's media, with brief photo calls involving the boys and stories culled from so-called courtiers.
Their births were the subject of international headlines and military salutes. Milestones in their lives, from christening days to school days, were recorded and marked for all the public to see.
William, blue-eyed, blond and lanky, is the spitting image of his mother, with many of her qualities. He is said to be shy, sensitive and emotional. He hates being photographed. He may even be unsure about his role as a future monarch.
Campbell, for one, fears for William's future, especially given the way in which his mother died.
"I think it will be interesting to see how her death reverberates in years to come because of the trauma it has been for him," she said. "I'm sure this has created a great sense of injustice in him and the unnecessary waste of it all. When he is king, how will he apply these feelings?
"Of course, the press is going to try and make him Diana's replacement," she added.
Harry, by contrast, loves attention. He's a flirt. He enjoys royal ceremonies, observing soldiers on parade and clambering up the steps of castles. He'll even mug for the photographers.
With their parents, the boys appeared to assume different roles -- and clothes.
With Diana, they dressed in baseball caps, jeans and running shoes, enjoying rafting trips and vacations at Disneyland. With Charles, they put on their tweeds for hunting and fishing at Balmoral.
In stark contrast to their father, William and Harry have received unusual schooling. It was Charles who endured taunts and a harsh personal life at Gordonstoun in the wilds of northeast Scotland, the alma mater of his father, Prince Philip.
The boys, on the other hand, remain in the London area.
William attends Eton, the most famous prep school in the land, where Diana's father and brother were educated. Founded by Henry VI in 1440 in the shadow of Windsor Castle, Eton has schooled 19 British prime ministers.
Harry is at the Ludgrove School, where he was forced to repeat a year so that he could mature academically. He is expected to join his brother at Eton next year.
But their school days now have been interrupted by tragedy.
The world lost a princess. Two sons lost a mother.
Pub Date: 9/03/97