In 2015, Prince William gamely posed for some truly historic photos: A future King of Great Britain and Northern Ireland working. In a paid job. You know, the sort of thing that comes with annoying colleagues and quibbles about entitlements and chipped mugs of Nescafe.
Unlike his monarchical forebears, who spent their pre-throne years carousing through the best brothels of Paris (King Edward VII) or indulging in a blitzkrieg of a romance with a married woman (King Edward VIII) or even buggering off to Malta to play hausfrau (the Queen), William, once he hit his 20s went out and actually found gainful employment.
First he worked as a search and rescue pilot in northern Wales and then later, he took a job as an air ambulance pilot for the East Anglian Air Ambulance in Norfolk.
All seemed fine and dandy and looked largely like PR manna from heaven for Buckingham Palace's mandarins: Here was an heir to the throne dashing about saving lives, every day.
However, that was far – FAR – from the whole truth and a new book has claimed that William in fact suffered from "deep" depression during this time, with things getting to such an acute stage that Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge held an "intervention" and had even discussed with Prince Harry whether her husband could ever contemplate taking his own life.
I know. Heavy stuff.
This week Christopher Anderson, a 50-year royal reporting veteran, released Brothers and Wives: Inside the Private Lives of William, Kate, Harry, and Meghan and among the headline-grabbing assertions he makes is that behind the image of action-man William choppering in to come to the rescue was a husband and father suffering deeply.
While the royal himself has, over the years spoken about the emotional impact his work for the air ambulance service wrought on him, what sets this new account apart is that it is the first time that anyone has uttered the 'd' word – depression – in conjunction with the royal.
From day one in March 2015, his air ambulance position was emotionally and psychologically taxing, Anderson posits, reporting that "On his first assignment as an air ambulance pilot, William was called to the home of a young man who had taken his own life."
From then until January 2017, he would balance his air ambulance role with part-time royal work, however, "What no one had fully appreciated was the toll" that facing death and trauma on a regular basis was taking on the prince, Brothers argues.
"For two years, William had secretly been sinking into a deep well of depression as he spent 12-hour days airlifting the victims of heart attacks, strokes, falls, workplace accidents, suicides, and horrific car crashes to hospital emergency rooms.
"There were times, Kate confided to a trusted friend since childhood, that William came home to Anmer Hall and wept when he told the stories of what he'd seen that day. Or worse, he remained silent, burying his feelings so that he could function both as a pilot and a senior member of the royal family. Then there was the occasional angry outburst.
"The shouting rows he had with Prince Charles over what he would and would not do for the Crown sent maids, staffers, and at times family members scurrying for cover. William had always checked his temper at the door when he came home, but Kate became emotional when she spoke of the anger and despair her husband kept 'bottled up inside.'"
While the father-of-two (at that stage) struggled privately, allegedly, outwardly he pushed on including with his regal responsibilities including undertaking tours to India, Bhutan, France, Germany, Canada, Vietnam and the Netherlands. In 2015 he notched up 122 official engagements, beyond his air ambulance duties, and in 2016, that figure hit 188 engagements.
However, behind-the-scenes, the pressure was building. Something had to give.
Per Brothers: "At one point, William had descended into such a pit of despair there were deep concerns about where it all might lead.
"[William] was also self-aware enough to recognise the dark feelings 'brewing up' inside him, and to share his feelings with Kate. She, in turn, shared her fears for William's wellbeing with Harry. They both decided that out of love for his children and his overarching sense of duty to the Queen, William would never act on thoughts of suicide that might creep into his mind.
"That said, Kate and Harry staged an informal intervention, urging William to seek professional help — something both he and Harry had done before."
While no details are offered about what sort of treatment and support the Duke of Cambridge might have sought out, in April 2016 he, Harry and Kate all donned blue headbands to launch their mental health charity Heads Together. What no one knew on that day as the trio laughed for the cameras in the garden of Kensington Palace was that one of the "likely" contributing "triggers" for the launch of the pioneering royal enterprise, Anderson writes, was "William's mental health concerns."
In January this year, he said: "When you see so much death and so much bereavement it does impact how you see the world.
"What I think a lot of the public don't understand, that when you're surrounded by that level of intense trauma and sadness and bereavement. It really does, it stays with you, at home it stays with you for weeks on end, doesn't it, and you see the world in a much more, slightly depressed, darker, blacker place."
In late November, William appeared in a short video discussing the impact that the Covid pandemic has had on the mental health of paramedics, saying: "When I was in the air ambulance, any job I went to with children, that really affected me … I found that very difficult. There were a number of times when I had to take myself away because I was just getting too involved in it, and feeling it."
Sadly, if this depression claim is indeed the truth, it puts him in the company of not only his brother Harry but also his sister-in-law Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex who have spoken out publicly about their own mental health battles.
In 2017, the younger prince opened up to journalist Bryony Gordon, admitting he had experienced two years of "total chaos" in his late 20s and that he had "shut down all his emotions" after the death of his mother, leading to him seeking counselling.
More recently, in May this year, he was the linchpin of the Apple+ docu-series about mental health The Me You Can't See, saying that, during his "nightmare years" he would binge drink to try and deal with his grief.
"I was willing to drink, I was willing to do drugs, I was willing to do the things that made me feel less like I was feeling," he said.
In March, Meghan revealed during the couple's sensational Oprah Winfrey TV interview that her mental health had suffered terribly after her marriage and that attempts to seek treatment were rebuffed by a cold-blooded royal house. At one stage, things got so bad the former Suits star said, "I just didn't want to be alive anymore."
On this front, William, Harry and Meghan are unfortunately achingly average: Two out of three Brits have experienced mental health problems.
However what sets the titled trio apart is that they are not any Lavina, Derrick or Hugh: They are three of the most famous people in the world with an immense global platform to reshape public thinking and government policy. Which is to say, they are in a position to actually do something and to have some sort of tangible impact on one of the most pressing societal challenges of our time.
The royal family is often accused of being out of touch and existing in a universe impossibly removed from the everyday experiences of the hoi polloi. But, if there is one thing we have learnt about the house of Windsor this year is that they might own hundreds of Leonardo da Vinci works, the most valuable stamp collection in the world and vast swathes of Scotland but even they are not immune from suffering from mental illness.
SUICIDE AND DEPRESSION
Where to get help:
• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• Youthline: 0800 376 633 or text 234 (available 24/7)
• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (12pm to 11pm)
• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 or text 4202 (available 24/7)
• Anxiety helpline: 0800 269 4389 (0800 ANXIETY) (available 24/7)
• Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.