Page last updated at 06:16 GMT, Wednesday, 23 September 2009 07:16 UK

Princes extend charitable links

By Peter Hunt
Royal correspondent, BBC News


Prince William talks about the Princes' Charities Forum

Princes William and Harry have been inspired by their parents to extend their charitable links.

The second-in-line to the throne has explained that he intends to find "his own way" and wants to be more than just a royal "ornament".

Quietly and without fuss, they have been meeting for three years. At first, it was an intimate affair - a handful of charity workers around a table with Prince William and Prince Harry.

Now, in the words of one of the participants, "it's rather grown up".

'Down to earth'

At the latest gathering, the palace table had lengthened to accommodate the 20 organisations the royal brothers have close links to.

Harry was absent because, William joked, "his flying is not very good so he has to do more than me".

Prince William in Cumbria
There's a time and a place for being an ornament as such or, you know, shaking hands and being at an engagement... but I think there's an awful lot more from actually doing stuff
Prince William

The pair are pursuing military careers and trying to plough their own royal furrows. This is particularly important for the second-in-line to the throne as he waits to fulfil his destiny.

Part of William's solution is The Princes' Charities Forum. It meets twice a year and brings together such diverse groups as WellChild, which helps sick children and their families, and the Welsh Rugby Union. The link is the patronage of either William or Harry.

The aim is to encourage the charities to "think out of the box" and exchange ideas and resources.

The project has borne fruit. In the summer, for example, William joined a walk up Helvellyn, England's third highest mountain.

It was organised by Mountain Rescue, and the other participants were young homeless people from Centrepoint. The two bodies are unlikely bedfellows, but they share a future king as their patron.

On the ascent, William joked with 18-year-old Jonny Glendinning about whether the 19 piercings on his face and body ever froze in the cold weather.

Projects abroad

Jonny, who was thrown out of his home by his mother, was expecting William to be a bit posh and stuck up, but said: "He was canny. He was like dead down to earth. He talks like one of me mates."

The Cumbrian fell walk was a new experience for Jonny. It was designed to improve his self-confidence and self-esteem.

Prince William hugging five-year-old Lily Slater at a Wellchild charity event in July 2009
Prince William helps charities such as Wellchild, which helps sick children

He says it has opened his mind "about different things".

"I'd love to do climbing again. I was actually joking to one of the staff members I'd like to climb Everest, but I doubt that will happen," he said.

The Princes' Charities Forum has also extended its reach beyond these shores.

Following brainstorming in a palace, teenager Damian Janson, who has been helped by Centrepoint, took part in Cycle of Life - a charity bike ride across rural Africa visiting conservation projects connected to Prince William.

Afterwards 19-year-old Damian called it "a challenging and eye-opening expedition".

'More than gimmick'

For the second-in-line to the throne, all of this is about trying to make a difference to such people's lives.

Prince William told me: "There's a time and a place for being an ornament as such. Or you know, shaking hands and being at an engagement and showing support in that way.

"But I think there's an awful lot more from actually doing stuff. And this is an example of what I just want to be actually more involved in."

Damian Janson at a conservation project in Namibia
Damian Janson spots a cheetah during a conservation project in Africa

In times of financial difficulties, charities need all the cards they have got, and a "royal ace" does not harm.

Julia Samuel, founder patron of the Child Bereavement Charity, says working with William's other charities is "much more than a gimmick".

"It gives us a feeling of being united as a group, which is strengthening. You know particularly in a recession you can feel quite isolated," she said.

A friend of Diana, Princess of Wales, Ms Samuel believes William and Harry have inherited some of their mother's characteristics.

"She had that extraordinary ability to communicate just with the way she looked at someone," Ms Samuel said.

"But also with the way that she listened, and she listened with all her being. I think they have that gift too. She'd be really proud, I think."

These are early days for Prince William, a life of royal duty stretches ahead. He is trying, tentatively, to find "his own way", as he puts it.

As well as the forum, a new charitable foundation is in the offing. The aim is for the royal brothers to put money where their mouths are, and give grants to organisations they support.

William says he has been inspired by his parents and the dedication of his grandmother. He insists he is "not in their league" and still "warming up".

He believes his charities forum is something different and worthwhile.

"Even if it just changes one person's view on something for the positive, as far as I'm concerned, then it's been a success," he said.

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