Prince William's new career for the air ambulance

For a second time in his life, the man who will be king will take on a role on merit and not because he has inherited it.

It will, according to one of those close to him, give Prince William a renewed sense of purpose.

The pilot prince will work for the East Anglian Air Ambulance for at least two years. He is, apparently, fully committed to remaining in the job for as long as he can.

This career choice - away from the tried-and-tested royal path of unveiling plaques and planting trees - is a reminder that William is, in the words of one official, "two heartbeats away from the throne".

Being heir-but-one gives him the freedom that Prince Charles never enjoyed.

William is exploiting this flexibility to the full and will continue to do so until destiny calls.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Prince William, who is also a pilot, is 32 years old

Today's announcement brings to an end a lengthy period of searching for a meaningful role for the second-in-line to the throne, since he completed his last shift as an RAF search-and-rescue pilot based in Anglesey.

Private sector positions were considered and quickly abandoned. Public sector options, including a spell at the Foreign Office, were also explored.

All this while, William was enjoying what his office called a "period of transition" and what a tabloid labelled his "second gap year".

From next spring, William will spend his working time, doing day and night shifts, based at Cambridge airport.

His downtime will be spent at either Kensington Palace or at Anmer Hall on the Queen's Sandringham Estate. The former was done up with more than £4m of public money; the latter with cash from his father.

The job's a departure for the prince and for those charged with protecting him. His bodyguards already receive paramedic training. The training will be upgraded for those officers who will fly with William to ensure that in a small helicopter everyone can offer assistance.

Royal straightjacket

There are obvious benefits having Prince William on board for the East Anglian Air Ambulance. They are called out more than thirty times a week, and they receive no direct government funding and rely on fundraising.

Prince William's presence inside one of their cockpits will generate more awareness.

At the 7 July inquests three years ago the Coroner, Lady Justice Hallett, expressed her concern that the air ambulance service in London, a major global capital and what she called "a prime terrorist target", was dependent on corporate funding, charitable donations and professional volunteers giving up their limited free time in order "to provide life-saving emergency medical care".

Very soon, Prince William will be one of those pilots ensuring this emergency care is provided.

A healthy monarch and a father, who has spent his life waiting, have enabled William to once again loosen the ties of his royal straightjacket.

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