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Monday, June 21, 1999 Published at 09:46 GMT 10:46 UK


People's car for people's prince

William, who can already drive, will soon be sitting his test

For a young man dubbed the "people's prince" it is perhaps the perfect way to get around - in the original "people's car".

Prince William has chosen the ideal present for his 17th birthday - a Volkswagen Golf.

[ image: William was last seen in public at Edward and Sophie's wedding]
William was last seen in public at Edward and Sophie's wedding
The prince is understood to have opted for the solid German car instead of inheriting his father's classic old MG British sportscar.

The move has surprised some Royal watchers, who expected the prince's tastes to veer more towards the thrill of a nippy two-seater, rather than the practicality of a "sensible" hatchback.

The Golf 1.4-litre is one of the most popular - and common - cars on the road.

William's Volkswagen - German for "people's car" - will soon be out on the road, with the prince having already applied for a provisional driving licence.

It was originally thought that William would be given Prince Charles's old aqua-marine MG.

[ image: William, seen here in 1991, has grown up in the public eye]
William, seen here in 1991, has grown up in the public eye
The vehicle, which Charles drove as a student, is 30 years old and has 75,000 miles on the clock. It has been undergoing restoration work for the last four months by students at Manchester College of Art and Technology.

The teenage prince, who rides a motorbike, has already learnt to drive on the grounds of royal estates.

Like other learners, the second in line to the throne will have to pass a written test on the Highway Code as well as a practical driving test before being legally allowed to drive.

No special plans have been announced for William's birthday, which will be an ordinary school day for him.

Celebrating with relatives

This birthday will be his second without his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, who was killed in a car crash in August 1997. However, it is likely he will visit Windsor Castle where many senior Royals are staying following Saturday's wedding of Prince Edward and Sophie Rhys-Jones, which William also attended.

[ image: The prince on his first day at Eton in 1995]
The prince on his first day at Eton in 1995
Currently boarding at nearby Eton College, William is in the lower sixth form and sitting mock exams for A-levels in geography, biology and history of art. He obtained 12 GCSEs last year.

He is a keen sportsman who will become captain of the school swimming team in September, and whose other favourite games are football, rugby, tennis and water polo. What he plans to do after his A-levels is not yet clear, although he was recently said to be interested in a career in the armed forces.

Earlier this month he was presented with Eton's Sword of Honour - the highest accolade for a first-year cadet in the school's Combined Cadet Corps.

[ image: Tara Palmer-Tomkinson: Friend of the prince]
Tara Palmer-Tomkinson: Friend of the prince
In many ways Prince William appears to be growing up as a typical teenager. He frequently invites friends to his family home at Highgrove, and has been pictured at nightclubs such as the Kabaret Bar in London's Soho.

However, some newspapers - which have nicknamed William and his friends The Throne Rangers - have expressed fears that the prince is moving with a "fast set".

In particular, the press has claimed he is being exposed to drugs, after two of his friends, Tara Palmer-Tomkinson and Tom Parker Bowles - son of Charles' partner Camilla - admitted using cocaine.

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