Inside Prince Harry And Prince William's Life At Prep School

Growing up, Prince William and Prince Harry were not your typical royal children. In fact, many aspects of their upbringing differentiated them from princes and princesses of previous generations. Back in the 1930s, the young Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Margaret were so sheltered from the real world that they were allowed to play only with girls of a certain standing. And while they did go to the British supermarket Woolworths on one or two occasions, it was only under the strict supervision of their nanny, Marion Crawford, that the girls were allowed to experience life outside of palace walls.

Harry and William, on the other hand, were allowed to get a better glimpse of the real world. As a more modern mom, Princess Diana exposed her boys to things like fast food restaurants and carnival rides. Speaking to ABC News, the princess' former press secretary, Patrick Jephson, explained, "She made sure that they experienced things like going to the cinema, queuing up to buy a McDonald's, going to amusement parks, those sorts of things that were experiences that they could share with their friends."

That said, though, William and Harry did get a privileged royal education. Both boys attended prep school, a sort of elite boarding school for middle school children, instead of pursuing a purely public education. Indeed, when William was 8 years old, he headed off to Ludgrove School to study. Years later, when Harry turned that same age, he joined William there.

William got an heir's education

As the future King of England, Prince William did not get a normal education. After all, the end goal of his upbringing was not to produce a doctor or a teacher, but rather a future monarch. Because of this, the British royal family wanted William to have a uniquely formal education, one which could prepare him for his singular role. As royal expert Tom Quinn explained in the documentary "William and Kate: Too Good to Be True?" "William's childhood would have been very much as an 18th-century aristocrat's childhood would have been. Governesses, nannies, the absolute best of everything. But also, added to that, he would have been cosseted."

While it is true that William was probably a pretty pampered child, his mother, Princess Diana, pushed him to have more normal experiences. In her view, William would be a better king if he was able to relate to normal people — and one of the ways for him to develop this skill would have been by attending prep school at the Ludgrove School. There, the young prince had to share a bedroom with four other boys. While the quarters at Ludgrove were cozy yet practical, they were a far cry from the luxurious bedroom with a view that he enjoyed at the palace. Ultimately, though, this arrangement forced William to learn how to deal with non-royal people on a day-to-day basis.

Harry grew up listening to Ludgrove peers gossip about his family

Although Prince William and Prince Harry's life at prep school was supposed to give them a taste of normalcy, things did not always work out that way. Unfortunately, on some occasions, the boys' royal status prevented them from having a typical boarding school experience, especially when it came to dealing with the press. This was particularly true for Prince Harry, who has gone on the record saying that his classmates at Ludgrove School would occasionally gossip about his family.

In a written statement that the prince submitted in a legal complaint against the Mirror Group Newspapers, Harry described this experience: "While I was sheltered from a lot of the press coverage by my family, I recall seeing the odd headline in newspapers at this time, as copies of the newspapers were placed in royal residences, and obviously other children at school talked about things they'd seen or read." According to the prince, this dynamic was particularly stressful because his classmates learned about his private life. To this point, Harry expressed, "Having every detail of your family life played out publicly is particularly difficult as a child."

Of course, we must remember that this dynamic was likely exacerbated by the fact that King Charles III and Princess Diana filed for divorce while William and Harry were studying at Ludgrove. As a result, the boys' classmates probably had unusual insight into their parents' marital issues. 

Prince Harry watched as stories about his days at school leaked to the press

Unfortunately, the British tabloid press ended up playing a major role in Prince William and Prince Harry's time at prep school, with several outlets even publishing articles about the children's intimate thoughts. In his role as the more vocal of the two brothers, Harry has spoken out about this dynamic, condemning the media's coverage of his time at Ludgrove School. As revealed by Harry's legal complaint against the Mirror Group Newspapers, a particularly stressful breach of privacy occurred sometime around his 12th birthday. 

Per the prince's complaint, his mother, Princess Diana, visited him at the boarding school to celebrate this special day. However, the details of the private conversations between mother and son made their way into the tabloids. Harry's written statement (which appeared in The New York Times), a piece published in the Daily Mail "reveals that I was 'distressed' at the ill health of Paddy Whiteland, a gardener that used to work with my father who we were all close to." The article also apparently discussed Harry's reaction to his parents' marital issues, "saying that I was taking the divorce of my parents 'badly.'"

In the same deposition, Harry accused the Mirror Group Newspapers of illegally obtaining this information through some combination of phone tapping and private detectives. This means that, in the prince's view, his time at Ludgrove was plagued by the media's aggressive attempts to expose his personal thoughts.

Ludgrove staff tried to protect William and Harry from the press

Perhaps as a result of the young princes' negative experiences with the tabloids, the staff at Ludgrove School took extra measures to shield them from the media in general. Indeed, at least one inside source has indicated that the school's then-principal, Gerald Barber, worried about the way the press was interfering with Prince William and Prince Harry's time at prep school. As a result, Barber is believed to have prohibited tabloid newspapers from the school library and controlled which television channels the students were allowed to watch. He also reportedly asked teachers to hide their own personal papers from the kids. 

Due to these tremendous efforts, both William and Harry were eventually able to feel more sheltered at prep school. William is believed to have felt particularly grateful for these anti-tabloid school rules. Years later, his then-spokesperson, Dickie Arbiter, publicly applauded the institution's efforts: "Ludgrove was extremely good at protecting him and later Harry. It took them out of troubled waters."

Ultimately, though, it is unlikely that the British royal family would send their beloved young princes to a prep school that was unable to handle this kind of issue. Thus, in a way, it is unsurprising that Ludgrove came through for the boys. As one former student told Woman&Home, "The Barbers were more than equipped to deal with the princes. ... [T]hey certainly weren't the only children to come from dysfunctional homes."

Prince William liked to go to school to escape from his volatile family life

While Prince William and Prince Harry's time at prep school was hardly drama-free, some suggest that the boys enjoyed going to boarding school as a way to gain space from their unstable family situation. This seems to have been especially true for William, who would often get caught in the middle of his parents' divorce. According to the book "William at 40: The Making of a Modern Monarch," by royal expert Robert Jobson, the young prince relished spending time away from his family at Ludgrove School. 

Jobson wrote, "For William, school was not only fun but a respite from his mother's increasing tendency to lean on him as an emotional crutch." Apparently, as the elder of Princess Diana's two sons, William was forced to take on the role of his mother's support system in light of her divorce. According to Jobson, "She had taken to calling William 'the man in my life,' and he did his best to be supportive — once telling her that he wanted to be a policeman so he could protect her. But he was only 10 when his parents officially separated in 1992."

Despite these tensions, William enjoyed his time at Ludgrove — and was even a successful student. As Jobson put it, "William was thriving there: his schoolwork was good, he excelled at sport and took part in several school plays."

Prince Harry remembers being cared for by Ludgrove's matrons

While many elements of Prince William and Prince Harry's childhoods were stressful, others were extraordinary — if not, at times, a little bit unusual. For example, during William and Harry's time at prep school, the boys were not always responsible for washing themselves. Instead, they were cared for by Ludgrove's matrons, who would regularly preside over a school-wide bath ritual that had one single purpose: to ensure that all of the young boarders were actually clean. 

Describing this practice in his memoir, "Spare," Prince Harry explained how these matrons would line the kids up and wash them one by one: "Three times a week after dinner, the matrons would assist the youngest boys with a nightly wash. I can still see the long row of white baths, each with a boy reclining like a little pharaoh, awaiting his personalized hair wash. ... The matrons came down the row of tubs with stiff brushes, bars of floral soap."

Of course, it is important to note that the boys only participated in this ritual depending on their age and comfort level. As Prince Harry wrote, "For older boys who'd reached puberty, there were two tubs in a separate room, behind a yellow door." That said, regardless of how old each boy was, they were all expected to dry themselves off in special towels that were marked with a number to avoid confusion. Harry shared, "Mine was 116."

Princess Diana worried about the boys at prep school

Although Prince William and Prince Harry enjoyed a good quality of care at the Ludgrove School, Princess Diana could not help but worry about her two boys. She was particularly concerned about Harry, who was said to have some disciplinary issues during his time at prep school. We can see this dynamic in one of Diana's private letters, which the Daily Mail later obtained. On October 17, 1992, Diana wrote, "The boys are well and enjoying boarding school a lot, although Harry is constantly in trouble!"

Interestingly, it seems that Diana may have been right to worry. Some sources indicate that Harry did not always take his education at Ludgrove seriously. Some even said that at times, he cracked jokes during class. In the book "William at 40: The Making of a Modern Monarch," royal expert Robert Jobson explained how Harry's lack of academic success might have led to these issues: "Harry, meanwhile, was struggling to focus. His own schoolwork was below average and he compensated by being the class joker."

According to Diana's former bodyguard, Ken Wharfe, Harry's behavior likely had more to do with a lack of focus than a lack of potential. As the royal insider told Jobson, "[H]e certainly wasn't stupid. There were too many distractions for him. He was always getting told off. If there was fun to be had, he would do that rather than work."

Diana tried to ease William's anxiety about going to Ludgrove

Of course, Prince Harry was not the only one who motivated his mother to worry. During Prince William's time at prep school, the young royal occasionally experienced a bit of anxiety. This was especially common when he was getting ready to return to Ludgrove School after spending time with his parents at home. Years later, William opened up about this feeling as a part of Apple's Time to Walk series, even divulging that Princess Diana would play music in the car to help him cope with those feelings. "You'd be singing and listening to music right the way up to the gates of school when they dropped you off and that's when reality kind of sunk in — you really were going back to school," William shared.

At the time, William says that he regarded those moments singing in the car with his mom and brother as a wonderful experience. As he shared on Time to Walk, "Because sitting in the backseat singing away, it felt like a real family moment. My mother, she'd be driving along singing at the top of her voice, and we'd even get the policeman in the car, he'd be occasionally singing along as well." These days, William no longer has to feel anxious about going back to boarding school. However, all that family bonding has stuck with him, admitting that some Tina Turner songs still remind him of Diana.

Prince Harry made a best friend

Despite these worries, Prince William and Prince Harry's time at prep school had a positive side. While studying at Ludgrove School, both princes made plenty of friends —  and Harry even found a best friend. This was Henry van Straubenzee, a fellow boarding school student, whom Harry would affectionately refer to "Henners." Writing in his memoir, "Spare," Harry recalled how special the boys' friendship really was: "If I wasn't roaming the corridors, I was roaming the school grounds, usually with my best mate, Henners. Like me, Henners was officially a Henry, but I always called him Henners, and he called me Haz." 

According to Harry, one of the reasons that he enjoyed spending time with Henners was that the other boy was laid-back. Whereas Harry was often stressed about his royal future, Henners lived in the moment. In "Spare," Harry wrote, "The future. We wondered aloud what it held. I worried about it, but not Henners. He didn't take the future seriously, didn't take anything seriously." In that sense, Henners probably provided a sense of peace to Harry's otherwise chaotic childhood. At one point, though, the prince admitted, "I envied his tranquillity."

Unfortunately, however, Henners passed away just a few years after Harry left Ludgrove. In 2002, the boy died in a car crash. To remember his good friend, Harry and Prince William became patrons of the Henry van Straubenzee Memorial Fund, which raises money for Ugandan schools.

During their time at Ludgrove, William and Harry got along

Henners was not Prince Harry's only friend throughout his years at Ludgrove. During Prince William and Harry's time at prep school, the two brothers were understood to be close, with William often looking out for his younger brother. This was especially evident after Princess Diana's tragic fatal car accident in 1997. At the time, Harry continued to study at Ludgrove, while William had already moved on to Eton College. In hopes of supporting his younger sibling during this emotional time, William begged his father to allow Harry to join him at Eton. 

Royal expert Christopher Andersen related this story in his book, "Brothers and Wives: Inside the Private Lives of William, Kate, Harry, and Meghan." The journalist wrote, "William believed this was not the time for the two brothers to be separated, and he told [his nanny] Tiggy and his father that he doubted Harry was emotionally resilient enough to return to Ludgrove alone." Apparently, the older prince wanted to protect his more vulnerable little brother. "I don't want to go away from him now," William said. "He needs me." 

Sadly, though, King Charles III did not allow Harry to accompany William to school, and the brothers lost this sense of closeness. Years later, when Harry joined his brother at Eton, William did not want him tagging along. In "Spare," Harry wrote that William ignored him. 

Harry spent an extra year at prep school following Diana's death

Prince William was unable to go to school with Prince Harry directly following Princess Diana's passing. However, special accommodations were made to give Harry a bit of extra academic support in light of everything he was going through. According to Christopher Andersen's book, "Brothers and Wives: Inside the Private Lives of William, Kate, Harry, and Meghan," the redheaded prince spent an extra year at Ludgrove School after his mother's death. Andersen explained, "Charles had decided that his younger son, who was struggling with his studies at Ludgrove, should be held back an additional year before joining his brother at Eton." 

Apparently, the future King Charles III felt that it wouldn't be particularly helpful to remove Harry from an environment where he felt happy and throw him into a new school environment. Per Andersen's report, Charles said that "The return to routine will be good for [the princes]. They need to see that life goes on."

Unfortunately, for Prince Harry, things were not that simple. Although he did ultimately return to Ludgrove for that final year of prep school, the young prince was said to struggle immensely. As Andersen wrote, "[T]here were times when Harry suddenly became quiet — 'lost in thought and sad-looking,' a fellow student remembered." Indeed, Harry spent much of his last year of prep school grieving the incredibly public loss of his mother.