Royals, Part 5: Coming of age
LONDON, England (CNN) -- "I will go on."
With those words from Queen Elizabeth II ringing in the British ears this spring, no one was left in any doubt: Fifty years on, and this Elizabethan era is not over yet.
The queen intends to stay on the throne; it is a job for life.
"I think the queen -- I worked for her for seven years -- enjoys her work. But even if she didn't enjoy it, she would gauze it as her duty to do what she vowed to do," says former Buckingham Palace aide Charles Anson.
Adds royal watcher Robert Jobson: "I think as she gets older ... she will hand more and more responsibility towards Prince Charles and her other children. But she will continue to reign as monarch until she dies."
Buckingham Palace has been the London headquarters for the British monarchy for more than a century, since Queen Victoria established it as her home.
As Queen Elizabeth II now looks forward to her final years on the throne -- however many they may be -- so the British public looks forward to the next monarch: Prince Charles.
And they consider what will come after him. What will Prince William bring to the British royal family?
Take away the name, and fiddle with the facts, and the very description of Prince William's life could be a sign of modern times.
Feuding parents, a broken home, and then being brought up by a single parent -- Prince William probably has more in common with his subjects than most would first see.
But there, of course, the similarity ends. He is being trained to lead.
"Since Diana's death, I think William has really become the media's focus, certainly the people's focus," says People magazine senior editor Anne-Marie O'Neill. "But in the Royal Family he must be considered with some import because he is an heir to the throne."
The princes' protector
Access to the prince has been carefully controlled. Since the death of his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, "photo ops" are few and far between. The children are no longer an accessory to the war between the parents.
Now limited access is allowed only when there are major changes in his life, such as going abroad for a year between school and university. Even then, carefully staged answers are released to the world.
More recently, when he started university in Scotland, precious time with William was doled out to the media. The questions were banal, the answers good-humoured.
Afterwards, most cameras were turned off. But Charles' younger brother, Prince Edward, felt royal wrath when his production company, Ardent, didn't obey the rules and continued to film William in the following days.
"Prince Edward's role has just changed quite significantly," says O'Neill. "For years he was battling to be the 'working royal.' He wanted to be an actor, then he wanted to be a TV producer. And he did so with some success.
"And then he made the fatal mistake of allowing one of his crews to follow Prince William at college. And that was pretty much the death knell for his career."
Prince Charles has become the protector, often seen as the dotty father being run ragged by his sons -- who give him more than his fair share of grief.
"I think the two princes probably are quite different in temperament," says Anson. "But they're close to each other. They're very close to their father."
If Prince William has a role, it is Prince Harry where there's more work to be done. As sibling to the future monarch with no formal role, all he has to look forward to is a grand title and secondary royal duties.
As Prince Edward has recently discovered, you can't get involved in everyday business -- but you have no hope of ever getting the top job. It's a life at the side.
"Harry's like the spare," says O'Neill. "He's more rambunctious. He looks like he's got a little bit more mischief in him. He's having a good time. He's getting in a spot of trouble, and you know, he can get away with that."
Prince Harry's recent marijuana use sent a shudder through the royal ranks. There are many examples of royal siblings who have gone off the rails.
But Prince Charles took charge, dispatching Harry to a drug abuse centre to learn about how those less fortunate handle the scourge.
"I think it's just one of those things," says Anson. "One child always takes a slightly different route from the other. If they get into trouble from time to time, I think people are quite sympathetic.
"I think there's a feeling that there but for the grace of God, these sort of problems could easily happen to your own children."
For the children, nothing can have been more daunting than that dreadful day in 1997 when their mother died. The nation howled when they saw the boys being taken to church within hours of the death, then wept when days later the princes stoically had to walk behind their mother's coffin.
Billions of eyes watched as, composed, they made their way to Westminster Abbey. It was a walk they were to make again only a few weeks ago -- this time following the coffin of their great-grandmother, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother.
Getting the balance right -- between the strictness and discipline needed to be a royal, and allowing the teenagers to have the life enjoyed by everyone else -- has been the goal.
Still, the public is fascinated with the royal sons. Of particular interest has been the princes' reaction to their father's continued relationship with his old flame, Camilla Parker Bowles.
"While not exactly embracing Camilla as their second mother, it's quite clear that they recognize that she is someone who makes their father happy," says O'Neill.
"She did meet the boys several years ago and has spent time with them. So, baby steps. You know, there have been baby steps towards her acceptance into the royal family."
'Sense of continuity'
It is easy to see the Windsors as nothing more than a soap opera played out for the world to see. But that ignores the very fact that this isn't about royalty, but about monarchy -- the constitutional head of a nation and government.
The queen has acted her part with perfection for more than 50 years, putting duty before family, country before person. It will be an extraordinary person who can do better.
"What has become clear from the huge crowds on the street for the queen ... is that they do appreciate the sense of continuity, of steadiness that the queen gives by having been in that role for a very long time," says Anson.
"And I think in the sort of modern society in Western Europe where everything's changing all the time, to have something that doesn't change quite so quickly is actually a useful glue in our society."
Through the centuries, Britain's royal family has survived by adapting -- by gauging the national mood and changing the way members of the family behave.
As the United Kingdom celebrates 50 years of Queen Elizabeth's rule, the Windsors again have to decide: What do the British people want? How will the monarchy deliver?
The answers to those questions will channel time-honored traditions and shape the future of the world's most famous royal family.
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