I Think About This a Lot is a series dedicated to private memes: images, videos, and other random trivia we are doomed to play forever on loop in our minds.
The first time I saw a photo of Prince William with hair, I had no idea it was Prince William with hair. I was on Slack, talking with co-workers about nothing, when someone dropped a picture of a rakish young blonde man into the channel with no context. I considered the image for a moment, something bothering me. The man was good-looking, definitely. His cheeks were flushed a fresh pink, his jaw chiseled and square, and a thatch of thick, flaxen hair swept over his head, ending in a golden cowlick that curled above his brow. It was remarkable hair, shot through with pale lemon and ochre, the kind of hair that brings to mind fairy tales about tresses of hand-spun gold.
And then it hit me: This golden-haired man was Prince William, back in 2001, before he was just Kate Middleton’s husband and the less cool brother to Prince Harry. This revelation set in motion a kind of slow-burning astonishment that I suppose never really ended, given that it’s something, several years later, I still think about a lot.
Perhaps this is because I really thought I knew Prince William. You see, I grew up surrounded by royal paraphernalia. My parents are from Manchester, and when they moved to the U.S., they retained a dutiful interest in the royal family. Royal mugs, biscuit tins, and figurines filled our house, but there was one item in particular — a plate from Prince William’s 2011 wedding to Kate Middleton — that imprinted upon my psyche the most. It was a massive ceramic thing, bordered in fake gold-leaf, the center of which features a photo of Will and Kate. For some reason, this sat in a place of honor atop an upright piano in our dining room.
Plate Will, the one I saw on a nearly daily basis in my teenage years, is the Will I know best. Plate Will looks more like the Prince William of now, the way Alex Moffat parodies him on SNL: most of his hair gone, his jaw soft, and his complexion no longer ruddy. Plate Will was mundane, but familiar.
But this Will, with that shock of yellow hair, was a stone-cold fox and looked almost nothing like Plate Will. I needed to know that the photo wasn’t an anomaly, so I did further Googling, dredging up even more photos of him taken in the 2000s when he was in his early 20s. They all had the same strapping look of the first image: the coy gaze, the tousled hair, the toasty cheeks, like he’d just wrapped a morning of polo and pigeon-shooting.
Seeing Prince William with his Barbie-blonde thatch, I’d felt I’d been introduced to an entirely new person. Someone who wasn’t Plate Will but who wasn’t the person I’d imagine if I tried to envision “a young Prince William.” It was a bit like the time I’d seen a sepia photo of my grandmother — who, with her halo of white hair, had always seemed old to me — in a tiny tea dress smoking a cigarette.
Realizing that she’d lived a whole other life — decades of life! — before she was my grandma was jarring to me. And I felt this same shock when looking at young Prince William, who had once been a guy that tabloids described as “hunky” and whom Claudia Schiffer looked at like he was dinner.
I also couldn’t help but think of his wife, Kate, and sister-in-law, Meghan, who have spent much of their adult lives being maligned by the press. Both are in their late 30s, same as Will, and look as though no time has passed since they were in college. Even so, they’ve received vicious tabloid coverage that’s found fault with everything from their fingernails to their ankles. I wonder if they would ever be allowed to change as much as Will has?
Perhaps it’s these things — double standards, my own impermanence, and the relentless passage of time — that have made me so fascinated with this photo of young Prince William. Then again, maybe it’s just not that deep. Maybe, like a work of great and beloved art, seeing a young, hot Prince William with a head full of gorgeous blonde hair simply surprised and delighted me.