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22 June 2020 00:33

Baftas 2019 Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge Prince William, Duke of Cambridge

prince harry

They are pictures of sunny normality, a captivating expression of a couple's desire to give their children the kind of happy, secure and carefree childhood that will, hopefully, set them up with a solid foundation in a life that comes with enormous privilege – and great challenge. Released by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to mark both Father's Day and the duke's 38th birthday, they also send a powerful message about how William has embraced fatherhood. Rarely has it been clearer that he remains determined not to let his role as a public figure eclipse that other, equally important, role of father. A charming picture showing the new closeness between Prince William and Prince Charles was released by Kate yesterday to mark her husband's 38th birthday and Father's Day Taken in the garden of the family home in Norfolk, Anmer Hall, a beaming William larks around with George, six, Charlotte, five, and two-year-old Louis. Charlotte – who is the spit of grandmother Carole – leans on William's shoulder, striking a sassy pose in her denim dungarees while George – often a little more shy – has a look of utter delight.

SARAH VINE: The photo album that shows how Prince William is healing the wounds of his own childhood

Louis, looking for all the world like a mini Michael Middleton, sits confidently on his father's knee. But there is a certain bittersweet quality to these images. Because William's own childhood was, of course, very different from the one his own children are experiencing, fraught as it was with insecurity, conflict and deep sadness. Kate also released three images of her husband taken at their Norfolk home last week, showing him playing with George, Charlotte and Louis In another of the images which were taken by Kate, the family is posed on a swing – a wedding gift from Prince Charles to the couple. The Duchess also released a picture of herself as a young girl with her own father, Michael Middleton, pictured right We can't possibly know what scarring the death of his mother has left upon William's psyche; but what we can see is how, through his own role as a husband and father, he has sought to heal those wounds by giving his own children what he never had: The strength and security of a stable family life. Unlike his brother Harry, who seems increasingly consumed by anger and resentment, William has somehow grown into a man who, while no doubt just as traumatised by his parents' acrimonious divorce and his mother's premature death as his sibling, has nevertheless succeeded in building his own life without rejecting who he is and what he represents. He is someone who understands the concept of royal duty but does not, as it did with Harry and Meghan, allow it to suffocate him. Both he and Kate seem to have found a way of sharing their life with the nation while at the same time safeguarding their privacy and, perhaps more importantly, their sanity. That, I think, is why he looks so unambiguously happy in these pictures. Unlike his father – who once famously took himself off to the opera on a 'quasi-official royal engagement' while William was undergoing surgery for a fractured skull in June 1991 – William is actively present in his children's lives. The hands-on dad: William grapples with a laughing George, Charlotte and Louis He schedules his royal duties around their term timetable – and does so in a way that leaves neither his family nor the public short-changed. The fact that he manages this is in no small part thanks to Kate. William thought long and hard about who he married, but he could hardly have made a better choice. The solid middle-class family values Kate learned growing up are the polar opposite to the laissez-faire approach of the aristocracy – but they have served her very well in her journey as royal consort. One of her great strengths is her bond with her own family – and as if to underline that she released a charming photograph of herself with father Michael yesterday. For all the snobbery aimed at the Middletons over the years, Kate has never lost sight of who she is. She is authentic and it is that quiet self-confidence and contentment that defines her – and contrasts so sharply with Meghan's restlessness. The Duchess of Cambridge has no desire to be anything other than a dutiful and dignified royal consort, and a loving and diligent mother. Those who deride her for what they may perceive as her lack of ambition and self-effacing manner miss the point: In reality her power is immense, for she is the lynchpin of that family and a large part of the reason William is so centred. Without Kate, William might well have found himself as lost and as rudderless as his younger brother. Instead, she has helped him break the patterns of his childhood and build a world where he can be a father to his own children in a way Charles could never be to him. That is why all talk of the succession skipping a generation and passing straight to William is so dangerous. He is pictured above with the Queen, Charles and Anne in 1951 Not only would it deprive Charles of his birthright, it would also deprive George, Charlotte and Louis of their beloved dad. They are still so very young. If he becomes king before his time, their idyll will be snatched away – and William will risk losing the very thing that sustains him. Yesterday the duke released another shot – also taken by his wife: A sweet picture of Prince Charles, his head resting on his son's shoulder, huge smiles on both their faces. It shows a father and son comfortable in each other's presence, relaxed in their affection towards each other. Taken together with the snaps put up on social media by Clarence House of Charles with William and Harry at Cirencester Polo Park in 2004, and a 1951 image of Charles and sister Anne with the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, it has been a royal Father's Day like no other. Even Prince Philip got in on the act, releasing pictures of all four of his children. But there is someone missing: Harry, himself a new father to baby Archie. Might he look at these pictures of William with his children and remind himself that it's never too late for families to forgive and forget? We can only hope so. Wouldn't it be nice if, next Father's Day, William and Harry are photographed together with proud grandfather Charles and their adorable offspring. Perhaps by then, having been away from 'the Firm' for more than a year, Harry will better understand the precious and unbreakable bonds of family and – like William – make his peace with the past.