Baywatch Posters, $178 Cocktails and Nights at the Club: A Look Back at Prince William's Bachelor Days

For most of his youth, England's likely future king was desperate to be like any other boy.

By Sarah Grossbart Jun 21, 2018 10:00 AMTags
Prince Harry, Prince William, Royal WeddingODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images

In the lead up to Prince Harry's vows, his older brother Prince William made the type of off-hand teasing comment that makes you wonder. 

Having been officially named the best man for the Windsor Castle nuptials, he told reporters he was "thrilled and delighted, obviously," before adding, "Look, revenge is sweet...revenge is sweet. I'll be looking forward to it."

His crack likely referred to Harry's supposedly naughty speech at William's 2011 wedding, where he mimicked a sticky sweet conversation between him and bride Kate Middleton and purportedly made fun of the royal's thinning hair. 

But he could have also been referencing the stag do (that's British for bachelor party) that saw William and his pals letting loose on the grounds of a country estate in Norfolk, England. 

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Because once upon a time the 36-year-old devoted father of three and committed humanitarian did have a bit of a wild streak and a penchant for partying. These days the sight of the perennially dependent royal out dancing is so rare that when he does bust out a few moves, it becomes huge news. But back in his younger days, that was just the sign of a good Tuesday. 

Before he accepted the title of Duke of Cambridge and his future as second in line to the British throne, William (whose nicknames reportedly ranged from Wills to Billy to Wombat) was just an in-demand bachelor who enjoyed imbibing in Stella Artois, Sambuca shots and trendy mixed cocktails at London's hottest nightclubs. He wasn't out of control by any means, and any headlines he created by simply existing in the presence of women were often overshadowed by his younger brother's antics. William was simply popular, well-off and desperate to enjoy his youth as much as any twentysomething whose entire future hasn't been planned out. As he said in a college-aged interview, "I like to take every day as it comes and have a good time and get on with it." 

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William's school days were perhaps his most unfettered, thanks to a deal palace officials shrewdly cut with the press: He would give the rare official interview or general update on his life in exchange for privacy in his day-to-day existence. 

At tony Eton College, founded by King Henry VI in 1440, Wales, as William was known, a nod to dad Prince Charles' title, was just like any other well-heeled student. He reportedly hung a poster of Baywatch-era Pamela Anderson in his room and was popular enough to gain entrée into the special Eton society known as "Pop", which allowed those voted in to choose their own waistcoats and wear special trousers. "William was very integrated," a 2004 graduated identified only as Jim told The Cut. "He was like a homecoming-king type." 

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The only thing that set him apart from the 1,300 other future generals, Prime Ministers, bankers and lawyers was a small designation in the student booklet ("If you were a lord, you'd have a Mister before your name," noted Jim. "The princes were HRH. It was funny though because no one gave a s--t") and his ever-present protection team. But according to fellow student Eddie Redmayne that only made him more beloved by his peers. 

With the rugby pitch situated so far from the dorms (William also played soccer, polo and was the captain of the swim team), "There would always be a race to see who could suck up to him and bodyguards the most so that they could get a lift to the rugby pitches and back," The Theory of Everything actor explained during an appearance on Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen

London Media

Though there was one large drawback to his notoriety, said Redmayne: "All the people from the other schools would want to tackle him because they could go home and tell their families they tackled Prince William; so we were sort of running around with no-one on us."

In fact, at 16 he was forced to undergo a minor operation on his left index finger due to a rugby-related injury. "I always felt slightly sorry for him because everyone wanted to tackle the future king of England," Redmayne told Glamour. "He took all of the hits." 

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If the extra attention bothered William, he never brought it up. As he'd stressed time and time again, "I don't like being different at all. I don't like special treatment at all."

Never was that more the case than during his pre-university gap year, spent visiting and Belize and Kenya and enduring a 10-week expedition to Chile with volunteer program Raleigh International. There, the presumed future monarch kayaked, danced the salsa with villagers, cleaned bathrooms and spent nearly a week in a three-man tent on an isolated beach. From the first day, he relayed to reporters, he stressed to the group of 101 other venturers and 44 staff to call him Will and treat him like a regular guy. They responded by bestowing him with the nickname "Little Princess". 

As William explained, "I'm with a group of people I wouldn't normally be with and getting along with them is great fun and educational. There are some real characters in the group who don't hold back any words at all."

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His deal with the press extended into his university days. So after allowing reporters to follow him around St. Andrews, Scotland, home to one of the UK's most prestigious university, ahead of his first day in September 2001, he was released into the student body. 

He missed freshers' week—"It would have been a media frenzy and that's not fair on the other new students," he told reporters—but that didn't stop him from being one of the most sought out men on campus. Just the mere mention that he'd be attending the historic institution in the fall of 2001 had sent numerous coeds scrambling to rethink their college plans. Admissions shot up by 44 percent, with reports that some crown seekers had even ordered wedding gowns just in case. Though William made it clear to reporters that at this point he was adept at spotting eager princesses: "People who try to take advantage of me and get a piece of me—I spot it quickly and soon go off them," he told BBC News.

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Instead, as he eased into his first semester, he kicked off a relationship with English-language and creative-writing student Carley Massy-Birch. While the native of Devon was voted as having the best bum in St. Salvator's residence hall, she believed it was her so-called "country bumpkin" upbringing that attracted William.

The pair, Katie Nicholl detailed in her book William and Harry—excerpted in Vanity Fair's December 2010 issue—would attend dinner parties, play board games or simply share pints of ciders and discuss their favorite plays. "We just happened to meet through the general St. Andrews mêlée," Massy-Birch explained to Nicholl. "It's such a small place that it was impossible not to bump into William, and after a while there was nothing weird about seeing him around. We got on well, but I think we would have got on well even if nothing had been going on romantically. It was very much a university thing, just a regular university romance."

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In other words, somewhat short-lived. The pair ended their romance on good terms long before that fateful student fashion show. 

As the story goes, William paid some $275 to score a front row seat at the annual Don't Walk charity fashion show on Mar. 27, 2002. So he had a prime view as Kate Middleton, the girl he'd shared meals with in the cafeteria, bonding over a shared love of art and sports, came strutting past in a see-through dress and a black bra and underwear set that would change their relationship forever. 

As she made her way down the runway in St. Andrews Bay Hotel, William was stunned, reportedly turning to pal Fergus Boyd and whispering, "Wow, Fergus, Kate's hot!"

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College pal Ben Duncan told E! News in 2011 that he caught the moment firsthand. "She was in a very daring dress, in a sheer, stocking-like dress," he recalled, adding William "was sitting front row and his eyes were like stalks."

Though Kate was dating fourth-year Rupert Finch, William decided to make a move at the show's after-party, leaning in for a kiss as he toasted her performance. "It was clear to us that William was smitten with Kate," a fellow partygoer told Nicholl. "He actually told her she was a knockout that night, which caused her to blush. There was definitely chemistry between them."

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With no press present, the daughter of flight attendant Carole and business owner Michael and her charming prince were able to nurture that spark in private. 

Their sophomore year, the two rented a two-story, top-floor apartment with pals and William did what he could to whip up some romance. "When I was trying to impress Kate I was trying to cook these amazing fancy dinners and what would happen was I would burn something, something would overspill, something would catch on fire," he recalled in their 2010 engagement interview, "and she would be sitting in the background trying to help, and basically taking control of the whole situation."

Remembered Kate, "He would always come with a bit of angst and a bit of anger if something had gone wrong and I would have to wander in and save something that was going."


As their blissful university years continued, the couple moved into their own love nest, a four-bedroom cottage on two acres of land surrounded by a six-foot stone wall, and enjoyed quiet weekends away at Tam-na-Ghar, a cottage on the outskirts of Queen Elizabeth II's Scottish Balmoral estate. 

By the time they graduated together in June 2005, the words of vice-chancellor Dr. Brian Lang seemed particularly prescient. Noting they had likely built lifelong friendships, he added, "You may have met your husband and wife. Our title as the top matchmaking university in Britain signifies so much that is good about St. Andrews so we rely on you to go forth and multiply."

The Middleton Family

But as they left their Scottish enclave with degrees in art history (Kate) and geography (William), everything would change. With their romance already outed during a 2004 ski trip to Klosters, Switzerland and engagement rumors mounting, photographers began to set up camp outside Kate's London flat, at times following her to her job as an accessories buyer with British boutique Jigsaw. 

William's extracurricular activities became fair game as well. When he was caught with his arms wrapped precariously around 18-year-old Brazilian student Ana Ferreira during a night out in Bournemouth, it became front page news. And if a fellow clubgoer wanted to talk about her experience dancing with him at London's Boujis, there was a newspaper willing to listen. 

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That's why William—and his brother Harry—were very selective about the London establishments they'd frequent. When Mahiki in tony Mayfair, just a stone's throw from Kensington Palace, opened in 2006, it quickly became a favorite. Close pal Guy Pelly was a promoter there and they could be certain the club owners would never out them to the press. 

Of course once it became known that this was the princes' preferred spot (they were also regulars at Boujis), paparazzi began hanging around outside. (And the dance floor became filled with women dreaming of tiaras.) In an effort to evade cameras, William and Harry would often enter and exit via the staff entrance or arrive with an entire group dressed in face masks, reports British magazine, Tatler. There was also rumor of a secret tunnel that ran from Kensington Palace directly into the club. Once inside, the royals could be quickly ushered into a roped-off area or separate karaoke room free to enjoy the revelry somewhat shielded from the other patrons. 

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The other draw of the Polynesian-themed establishment: It was simply a lot of fun. "When it opened, clubbing in London used to take itself very serious—everyone was trying to look like they were in a music video," club promoter Henry Conway told Tatler. "Mahiki was camp and irreverent. It was trying to be the opposite of cool." 

Its name derived from the Polynesian word for "tunnel to the underground," the space was set at the bottom of a twisting staircase and outfitted with dark lighting, palm fronds and reeds. Bartenders clad in Hawaiian shirts prepared kitschy cocktails like the Treasure Chest, a lethal combo of rum, brandy, peach schnapps and fruit juice topped with champagne and served in, yes, an actual chest with a plethora of straws. Today the libation—meant to be shared amongst eight people—retails for the equivalent of roughly $620, but back when William and pals ordered it, the price tag was closer to $178. 

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It's a drink designed to get people dancing, as was the hot spot's set list. Though other clubs favored a mix heavy on house music, Mahiki, which once played host to James Corden's 2012 bachelor party, solely spun top 40-type hits. 

"We only play music that people genuinely want to dance to," cofounder Piers Adam told Tatler. "Whether that's Madonna or Sister Sledge or Wham!"

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Admittedly, it's been a minute since William walked through the club's bamboo doors. And if his last birthday—celebrated privately at home with his family—is any indication, he won't be marking his 36th year tonight with a rager. 

With three kids to tend after—Prince George, 4, Princess Charlotte, 3, and 2-month-old Prince Louis—the royal pair are more likely to enjoy themselves with takeaway curry and a Game of Thrones marathon. 

But should he change his mind, Mahiki is just down the street. 

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