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High-Flying Facts About Prince William Of Gloucester, The Daredevil Royal

Brendan Da Costa

Most people today know all there is to know about Prince William, Duke of Cambridge. But they don’t know so much about Prince William of Gloucester, the British Royal Family’s very own “James Bond.” Whether he was flying planes, dating models, or trekking through the Sahara Desert, this Prince William lived every second of his 30 brief years to the fullest. Until it all went up in flames.


1. He Was Close To The Throne

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Prince William of Gloucester was born in December of 1941. His father was Prince Henry, the third son of King George V, which made him a paternal cousin of Queen Elizabeth II and fourth in line to the British throne. While most people would dream of a life of royalty, William’s proximity to the crown only brought him heartache. A lot of heartache.

2. He Was Nearly An Orphan

As uncomfortable as being fourth in line to the throne might have made him, William nearly came even closer. At the time of his birth, his father was away fighting in WWII and risking his life to stop The Third Reich. His uncle, the future King George VI, vowed that he would formally adopt his nephew if anything should happen to his brother.

3. He Was A Star Athlete

Fortunately, William’s father survived WWII—in fact, he would outlive even William. In the post-WWII years, William went on to become an A+ student at some of England’s most prestigious schools. But he wasn’t just a book nerd. William’s classmates described him as “incredibly athletic.” If only he’d chosen less dangerous sports…

4. He Was Reckless

William’s athleticism must have made him feel like he was invincible—read on, he was definitely not. Nevertheless, even from an early age, William displayed a high level of risk tolerance. His friends described him as “adventurous” to the point of recklessness. That recklessness would ultimately lead to his downfall. And we mean that literally.

5. He Was A Super Spy

Prince William’s devil-may-care lifestyle earned him a reputation in the tabloids. But, for once, the tabloid articles were actually flattering to a British royal. The public fell in love with the Queen’s handsome younger cousin and began referring to him as the monarchy’s very own Bond. James Bond. It was a reputation well-earned.

6. He Enjoyed Long Walks In The Desert

James Bond has done a lot of cool things, but Prince William could claim adventures that the superspy never could. Though the details are scarce, at some point in his life, William hiked through the Sahara Desert. We’re guessing that there weren’t any reporters too keen on trekking through the desert just to get a story. But long walks in the desert weren’t William’s only harrowing hobby.

7. He Was Full of Hot Air

When he wasn’t hiking through the desert or wrestling with sharks (ok fine, we don’t actually think he did that), William had a few other daredevil pastimes. He enjoyed “ballooning”—riding around in hot air balloons—and was particularly fond of flying airplanes. In fact, William owned several aircraft himself. He was a royal after all—why not spend all that money? Eventually, however, he would fly too close to the sun.

8. He Was A Big Softie

For a superspy Prince Charming, William did have a softer side. In fact, he was really just one big softie. A tall, handsome, royal romantic, those close to him described him as “warm, tender and extremely generous.” And he was fiercely loyal to his friends, especially those who were “ill, unpopular with others, or even downright embarrassing.”

9. He Was All About Himself

Of course, even dashing princes have their flaws. For example, his namesake, Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, is balding most ungracefully. His brother, Harry, is…AWOL. And the actual Prince Charming is kind of a jerk. William of Gloucester’s biggest flaw? His friends said that he was “tiresomely selfish.” He wouldn’t always be that way, however.

10. He Was A Momma’s Boy

Before he met the love of his life, William only had eyes for one woman. His mother. He was definitely a momma’s boy. William once said of his mother, “She is a human being and she must possess some faults. But so far as I am concerned she has no faults at all.” Tragically, she would also live to witness his horrifying demise.

11. He Had A Split Personality

In a television interview, William spoke about his conflicting personas as “prince” and “playboy”. He said, “I was perhaps two different people. In one respect, Prince William, a member of the [royal] family…and in the other respect, [a] private individual who had his own thoughts and ambitions.” If he seemed a little crazy, he might have been.

12. He Burned In The Sun

In 1968, a Royal Air Force doctor examined William and made a discovery that changed his life. For months, William had been suffering from jaundice and “blistering skin rashes” whenever he ventured out into the sun. The doctor made the only diagnosis any rational scientist could: William had vampirism. Alright, not actually. The real diagnosis was much worse.

13. He Might Have Been Mad

If the Royal Air Force doctor had diagnosed William with vampirism, he could have looked forward to a life of eternal youth. Instead, the doctor diagnosed the dashing prince with porphyria—a rare genetic condition. Royal historians believe that this hereditary condition is the same one that drove George III stark-raving mad. Fortunately, William was already a little unhinged.

14. He Craved Adventure

After spending a year studying at Stanford University, William returned to London and found work at a merchant bank. But the life of a student and banker wasn’t “007” enough for him. William craved more adventure. So, in 1968 he accepted a job at the Commonwealth Office in Tokyo, Japan. As if jetting halfway around the world wasn’t adventurous enough, William had to do it in style.

15. He Was An Ace

As an avid fan of aviation, William must have been excited to board the plane from London to Tokyo…as the pilot! The daredevil prince put on his captain hat and made the 16-day flight overseas. It was all very debonair, very James Bond. And he was about to meet his perfect Bond girl—though his family would grow to prefer a different casting choice.

16. He Met The Perfect Girl

In Tokyo, William was far away from the prying eyes of his royal relatives and obligations. He was a free man. And it was while working in Tokyo that William met the woman who would set his heart on fire, Zsuzsi Starkloff. She was a single Hungarian-born mother of one and model working in Tokyo as the face of Revlon. She would be the face of scandal in the years to come.

17. He Had A Royal Flush

William might have been the monarchy’s very own “James Bond” but was he a match for the real James Bond? Before William arrived in Tokyo, Starkloff had gone on a few dinner dates with Sean Connery, who was in town filming a movie. Too bad Connery never got to make Casino Royale—because then he’d know that nothing beats a royal flush. Starkloff wanted the prince.

18. He Was The Talk Of The Town

Once William touched down in Tokyo, he was all any woman could have dreamed of. And Starkloff was determined to meet the handsome daredevil prince who stepped off the plane, hair blowing in the wind. So, she devised a master plan befitting a real-life Bond villain to ensnare the unassuming prince with her wiles. It was actually quite romantic.

19. He Got Mail

Starkloff invited William to her friend’s masquerade ball with a cleverly worded letter. She wrote, “Dear Prince Charming, we hear a party isn’t a party without you. Besides that, I’m missing a slipper. Cinderella.” It’s absolutely impossible to say, “No, thanks,” to a flirtatious invitation like that. Even if it is a trap.

20. He Danced With A Wallflower

William did, indeed, attend that masquerade party—and he showed up in style. The prince wore a black mask and cape. When he found Starkloff, he waltzed up to her and her group of friends and said, “May I borrow Cinderella for a dance?” (Insert swoon here). Seriously, who cares about Romeo or Casanova when they can have William, the Dashing Daredevil Prince?

21. He Fell Madly In Love

There must have been magic in the air on the night of that masquerade ball—or someone spiked the punch. Based on that one dance alone, William and Starkloff fell madly in love. Just three months into their relationship, he said to her, “I never thought love could be this beautiful.” He may or may not have been looking in a mirror.

22. He Was Playing House

William and Starkloff were living like the world was ending. Of course, William’s world would end pretty soon, but more on that later. It wasn’t long before the British royal and the Hungarian model were shacking up together. They found a rental near the ocean and started playing house. William even cooked breakfast for Starkloff every morning.

23. He Fell For A Beauty

It’s not hard to see how William fell for Starkloff. One of her former business associates described her as “very beautiful, with large brown eyes and long auburn hair. She was a good dresser and carried herself gracefully. She conversed in flawless Japanese and was clearly a very clever woman.” Others, however, were immune to her charms.

24. His Romance Was Big News

All the way in Tokyo, William was a world away from his royal life. But, as they say, news travels far…and fast. Eventually, word of William’s love affair with Starkloff reached his family in England. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the higher-ranking members of the royal family were considerably less enthused about the romance.

25. He Met With An “00” Agent

Shortly after learning about William’s hot and heavy love for Starkloff, Princess Margaret, Queen Elizabeth II’s sister, arrived in Tokyo. Officially, she was there for “British Week” but she also had a hidden agenda: to end the scandalous romance between her first cousin and the Hungarian model. Sounds like a job for a “00.”

26. He Could Keep A Secret

William had a private conversation with Princess Margaret in a theatre once she arrived in Tokyo. True to his “international man of mystery” reputation, William never shared the exact details of that meeting with anyone. The only thing that he said afterward about the clandestine conversation was that Margaret understood why he had fallen in love with Starkloff. But this love wouldn’t get a happy ending.

27. His Love Was True

Despite the royal family’s misgivings about Zsuzsi Starkloff, she had honest intentions and her love for William was true. Years later, Starkloff reminisced, “My relationship with William had nothing to do with his title or me wanting to be a princess, that wasn’t what it was about and William knew that.”

Fortunately, the couple had a strong ally inside the royal family.

28. He Sought The Queen’s Approval

When Princess Margaret returned to London, she wrote to William with much more explicit advice. Because William was technically in the line of succession, he needed the Queen’s approval to marry. Margaret made it clear that the Queen wouldn’t grant the approval for him to marry Starkloff. But there was a hidden message written in between the lines.

29. He Had An “Inside Man”

Princess Margaret was no stranger to scandalous romances. The crown had previously denied her permission to marry Peter Townsend—a divorced father of two 17 years her senior. In secret, Princess Margaret supported William’s relationship. She implored him to give it time so that the situation could change. Unbeknownst to all, William’s time was running short.

30. He Almost Had It All

Despite his family’s overt disapproval—and Princess Margaret’s covert support—William couldn’t wait. His love for Starkloff was just too strong and his heart knew what it wanted. Allegedly, not long after receiving Princess Margaret’s letter, William decided to marry Starkloff. But fate intervened before the prince could have his bride.

31. He Answered The Call of Duty

In 1970, William’s father fell ill and had to relinquish some of his royal duties. Whether he liked it or not, it was time for the globe-trotting, James Bond-esque prince to return home. He made his way back to his family estate, Barnwell Manor, to “take on the full-time job of a royal prince.” No word on whether he flew himself back.

32. He Attended To His Princely Duties

Once he was back in England, William had to attend to his royal duties—you know, galas and charity balls and coronations and such. Very tiring work for an international daredevil. But though he was an ocean—and a few continents—away, William hadn’t given up on his love for Starkloff. And he was determined to make his family accept her.

33. He Tried To Mend Fences

In an effort to warm his family to Starkloff, William invited his Tokyo lover to his home at Barnwell Manor. While the couple were certainly glad to be together again, others were less enthusiastic. According to Starkloff, William’s family was very welcoming and friendly to her…when they weren’t voicing their disapproval of her relationship with their prince.

34. His Family Would Never Approve

Few members of the royal family disapproved of William and Starkloff’s relationship more than Queen Elizabeth II’s husband, Prince Philip. He was concerned about the damage to the royal family’s reputation from yet another scandalous love affair. He wouldn’t have to worry for much longer, however. Tragedy was around the corner.

35. He Had To Move On

Between 1970 and 1972, William and Starkloff were beginning to spend more time apart than they were together. At least officially. If the man could fly a plane, he could probably dodge the paparazzi. Nevertheless, separated from Starkloff, William began giving in to pressure from his family to find a more suitable match.

36. He Picked A More Suitable Match

Sometime between 1971 and 1972, William began dating a woman that his family was more likely to approve of. Tabloids photographed William and his new flame, Nicole Sieff, at public events together looking very close and intimate. But Nicole wasn’t as suitable a match as William’s royal pain of a family would have hoped for.

37. His New Girlfriend Was Bad News

Nicole Sieff (née Moschietto) was a divorcee who had two sons from a previous marriage to Jonathan Sieff—heir to a portion of the vast Marks & Spencer fortune. If the royal family had misgivings about Nicole, it wasn’t that she was a divorcee with two kids from a previous marriage. It was that she was a bad luck charm.

38. He Was In For A Crash

Jonathan Sieff, Nicole Sieff’s first husband, was also a daredevil like Prince William. But instead of planes, he enjoyed race cars. That is, until they nearly ended his life. Jonathan suffered life-threatening injuries from a car crash at Le Mans when he was married to Nicole. And she brought her bad luck brand of romance to her relationship with William.

39. He Proposed…In A Way

Even if William had, officially, started dating Nicole Sieff, he never forgot his first, true love. In his heart, he was still holding out hope that he could one day marry Starkloff. You know, if the Queen suddenly had a stroke and changed her mind. In an interview years later, Starkloff claimed that William had given her a commitment ring as a sign of his undying love.

A love that would never be fulfilled.

40. He Loved To Fly

Even as he accepted more and his princely responsibilities, William could never shake his desire for danger. In August of 1972, however, he took it too far when he participated in the International Air Trophy event in England. He was piloting a Piper Cherokee with his friend, Vyrell Mitchell, sitting in the passenger’s seat.

41. He Didn’t Have His Good Luck Charm

If Nicole Sieff would turn out to be William’s back luck charm, then Zsuzsi Starkloff was his good luck charm. William had invited Starkloff to attend the air race, but she had prior engagements and had to decline. In the stands, however, was William’s mother and tens of thousands of adoring spectators, a massive audience for the nightmare that followed.

42. He Lost Control

Shortly after William’s plane took off, spectators noticed that something was seriously wrong. William’s plane began to behave strangely. At a very low altitude, the prince’s Piper Cherokee banked suddenly to the left. Its port-side wing hit a tree and sheared off like scrap metal. Then the plane hit the ground in a ball of angry flame.

43. His People Tried To Save Him

A group of small boys who happened to be near the crash site rushed to the raging inferno to render aid. But their efforts were in vain. One of the boys later told BBC News, “We tried to break into the plane’s doors and then tried to break it in half by pulling at the tail. But it was no good, we had to go back because of the heat.”

44. He Went Down In A Ball Of Flame

By the time the rescue crews reached the plane and subdued the flames, it was too late. There wouldn’t be any cinematic, James Bond-like escape for Prince William. The Prince of Gloucester passed from this life at the age of 30, doing what he loved most—though still tragically apart from Starkloff. The tragedy proved to be more than his family could bear.

45. He Kept The Ring

Right until the end, William never gave up on his love for Starkloff, no matter what his family said or did. After the horrifying crash, on his badly burned finger, was a replica of the commitment ring that he had given to Starkloff. Maybe if she had been there that day, things would have turned out a little differently.

46. He Was Burned To The Bone

The following day, relatives had to identify William’s remains—as if anyone else could have been piloting that plane? The flames from the crash had so badly burned his body, however, that there wasn’t much for them to identify. They had to use William’s dental records to make a positive identification. The grief was overwhelming.

47. His Parents Couldn’t Bear The News

William’s mother, Lady Alice Montagu Douglas Scott, was so distraught at her son’s passing that she didn’t have the heart to tell her husband what had happened. She feared that, in his poor health, he wouldn’t be able to bear the news. In her biography, she confessed that he must have learned about the tragedy from the television.

48. He Was The Original Prince William

William’s parents weren’t the only ones who couldn’t let go of their beloved son. Prince Charles looked up to his older cousin and worshipped the ground that he walked on—or flew over. In 1982, he named his first-born son with the Lady Diana Spencer after his daredevil cousin. See? He really was the original Prince William.

49. He Was A Pleasure And A Treasure

Prince William was a tough guy to get to know. Part James Bond, part daredevil, part charming prince. But, if anyone understood the original Prince William, it would have been the love of his life, Zsuzsi Starkloff. In the years since his passing she described him as “very unspoiled” and a “pleasure to everyone who knew him.”

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

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