The Other Prince William: Remembering The Queen's Cousin Who Tragically Died in 1972

Prince William of Gloucester

Had he lived, he would have been the Duke of Gloucester today. But the first Prince William of the House of Windsor died tragically when he piloted a plane during the air show competition on August 28, 1972. He was 30.

Prince William of Gloucester was a working member of the British royal family at the time of his death and sometimes served as one of the Counselors of State of his cousin, Queen Elizabeth II. He was also 9th in the line of succession to the British throne, making his death a high-profile royal tragedy. 

Prince William of Gloucester
Prince William of Gloucester 1941-1972. Getty Images

He was the second member of the House of Windsor to die in a plane crash, the other was his paternal uncle, Prince George, Duke of Kent, in August 1942

Today, August 28, is Prince William's 50th death anniversary, most royal fans of today had not heard of him. So let's go back in time and discover the forgotten story of Britain's first modern prince. 

The Other Prince William in the British Royal Family

Once upon a time, in a period far different from today, there lived a gorgeous British prince whose passion in life was flying an aircraft. He was the first Prince William of the British royal family, and the first cousin of the reigning British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II.  

Prince William of Gloucester
Prince William (right) and his younger brother, Prince Richard (left), the current Duke of Gloucester

Known for his devotion to royal duty and loyalty to his family, his fading legacy, however, was marred by two controversial things: His tragic life and a forbidden romance that almost scandalized the British royal family. 

It was 1970's after all.

Birth of a modern prince

His Royal Highness, Prince William Henry Andrew Frederick of Gloucester, was born on December 18, 1941, to the third son of King George V, HRH Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, and Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester who was born Lady Alice Montagu-Douglas-Scott.

Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, his wife, Alice, Duchess of Gloucester, and their two young sons, Prince William and Prince Richard

Prince William's birth was a great celebration in the royal family because the prince was born six years after the wedding of his parents and after the miscarriages suffered by his mother. 

He was born during the reign of his paternal uncle, King George VI, the father of Queen Elizabeth II. At the time of his birth, he was fourth in the line of succession to the British throne.

The Queen in 1944 with Prince William, attending the christening of his younger brother, Prince Richard, the current Duke of Gloucester

After the birth of his younger brother, Prince Richard, in 1944, they relocated to Australia when his father was posted as Governor-General.

They moved back to Britain in 1947 in time for the wedding of his first cousin, then Princess Elizabeth, the future Queen, to Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten (born Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark). Prince William and his first cousin, Prince Michael of Kent served as wedding page boys
The royal wedding of Prince Philip and the future British Queen
The wedding page boys, Prince Michael of Kent and Prince William of Gloucester

Unlike other European royals in his days, Prince William received the best education of his time. After attending the prestigious Eton College, where most children of European aristocrats attended, he went to Cambridge University and obtained a BA degree. 

He took up post studies in Political Science and American History at Stanford University in the United States of America.

Determined to serve in the civil service rather than in the military, he joined the British Foreign Office as a diplomat and was posted to Nigeria.

Around this time, he was diagnosed of Porphyria, a disease that affected the mental health of his ancestors, King George III and Queen Mary of Scotland.

Nonetheless, he remained enthusiastic about life and developed a passion for adventurous sports like skiing, fast cars, and aviation. He became a licensed pilot and owned several light aircraft. 

Prince William of Gloucester
Prince William was passionate about aircraft

The work that changed his life

In 1968, the Commonwealth government sent him to Japan to work in the British embassy. And it was his passion for aircraft that made him fly there by himself on a Piper plane, arriving in Tokyo 16 days later under grueling weather.

It was a much-publicized arrival and he became an instant celebrity. During his days, he was often depicted in papers as a playboy prince and a prized catch - athletic, adventurous, intelligent, sporty, spectacularly handsome, and privileged. Well, after all he was a royal prince.

Hot, young, irresistible, and athletic, Prince William was a depiction of a real prince charming. He drew a crowd of admirers and was most in demand at social parties.

Socialites were thrilled and enthralled, eager to know the dashing young British prince who had a pair of charming blue eyes and an athletic physique. One of the smitten women was Szuszi Starkloff, a Hungarian-born model.

Szuszi Starkloff in her younger days

In the 2015 documentary, "The Other Prince William", Starkloff shared a piece of history about her passionate romance with the dashing British prince.

She recalled being introduced to him at a dinner party. And days later, she made the first move by inviting the prince to a masquerade ball.

He gladly accepted. And as with most fairytale stories, the prince charming went to her table, whirled her to the dance floor, and swept off her feet.

It was the start of their sizzling romance.

Prince William became extremely besotted with this hot model, who was five years his senior. They shared a passion for outdoor adventures and aircraft. Starkloff was a former flight attendant. Soon, they lived together.

A dangerous Affair

They began a passionate love affair that would cause panic in Buckingham Palace. Not only Starkloff a non-aristocratic commoner, which was unheard then for a wife of a British prince, but she was also twice divorced, had a daughter, and a Jewish. 

This unconventional background made Starkloff unsuitable to become a member of the British royal family. And ever since their romance became public, the press began calling her "the next Wallis Simpson".

William and Szuszi during happier days

Prince William was aware of the consequences should he proceed in marriage with Starkloff. The abdication crisis of his uncle, King Edward VIII, who gave up his throne to marry a twice divorced American commoner, Wallis Simpson, still haunted the royal family.

The love affair alarmed the courtiers of the Queen as the British royal court could no longer afford to have another scandalous relationship in the family. So, something must be done.

Prince William of Gloucester
HRH Prince William of Gloucester

In 1969, the Queen sent her sister, Princess Margaret, to Tokyo for a trade engagement. But Starkloff knew it was more than business. 

When Princess Margaret, who herself gave up in marrying Peter Townsend in the 1950s due to his background as a divorced commoner, returned to the UK she sent Prince William a letter, advising him to just wait for how things would work when he comes back home.

Prince William eventually plunged into a dilemma, torn between love and a sense of duty, unable to decide if he would take a risk like his uncle Edward VIII, or abide by the royal protocol and ditch his girlfriend, just like his cousin, Princess Margaret.

Prince William with his mother, Lady Alice, and brother, Prince Richard

Subjected to The Royal Marriages Act of 1772 (an act requiring all descendants of King George II to ask approval from the reigning British sovereign before marrying), he wrote to the Queen, seeking her permission to marry.

The Queen was soft in her words and told her cousin to follow his heart, but warned him it was not easy. The request would surely meet disapproval from her husband, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, and other Counselors of State, due to Starkloff's background.

Prince Philip, who had been through a series of heated family discussions over inappropriate relationships, especially the one with Princess Margaret when she fell in love with a divorced commoner in 1953, was fiercely protective of the reign of his wife.

In the end, Prince William's request was not granted. 

From left: Prince Richard, Alice, Duchess of Gloucester, Prince William, and Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester in Barnwell estate

Fate Drew Them Apart

Prince William began to contemplate his future with Szuszi Starkloff, ripped through the conflicting interests of love and royal duty. 

As a senior member of the British royal family who sometimes acted as one of the Queen's Counselors of State, Prince William was expected to obey royal tradition. Then fate intervened. 

In 1970, his father, Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, suffered a severe stroke that affected his mobility. Prince William as heir to the dukedom of Gloucester was summoned to come home to take over his father's duties in running Barnwell, their sprawling country estate in northern England.

Prince William of Gloucester
Prince Williams and his father, Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester

It was the turning point of their love story. Without a clear decision on what to do with their relationship, Prince William went back to England, leaving behind his job in the British Foreign Office in Tokyo.

Starkloff, on the other hand, relocated to New York City with her daughter but reportedly continued corresponding with Prince William in England.

In the UK, Prince William threw himself to royal duties and managing their family estate. He also became involved with patronages and NGO and nurtured his favorite sports, flying aircraft, and participating in air race shows. He became the president of British Light Aviation Centre.

A Second Chance

But he had not forgotten his Szuszi. In July 1970, he invited her to come to England. Starkloff was introduced to his family and lived with them in Barnwell. But the situation caused a stir in the royal family.

Prince William had to decide. 

On the following month, despite his avowal of love to Szuszi, the prince decided to put their romance on hold to sort things out.

Prince William of Gloucester
The passionate romance of Prince William and Szuszi Starkloff as told in the documentary, The Other Prince William

Brokenhearted, Starkloff went back to the United States, carrying with her a baggage of sadness and despair. She settled in Colorado and would never see her prince again.

She maintained, however, that Prince William gave her a word that he would come to the United States to talk about their relationship. In the interview, she admitted with a pinch of gloom that "I had so much faith for our future".  

That future, sadly, did not come.

The Tragic Twist of Event

On August 28, 1972, Prince William went to Halfpenny Green Airport, England to compete for The Goodyear International Air Trophy Air Race attended by 50,000 spectators.

Tragic death of Prince William of Gloucester
The Piper aircraft that Prince William and Vyrell Mitchell boarded on the fateful day of August 28, 1972. Screenshot from The Other Prince William documentary

Sitting beside him in the cockpit of his Piper Cherokee Arrow was his co-pilot, Vyrell Mitchell, who had been his companion in many air race competitions. In the documentary footage, the Piper plane was seen crunching on the runway and slowly ascended. 

Prince William of Gloucester
The Piper aircraft that Prince William and Vyrell Mitchell boarded on the fateful day of August 28, 1972. Screenshot from The Other Prince William documentary

But minutes after takeoff, in a low altitude, the plane was seen veering side ward. Then swayed and flipped over, hitting a tree. It plummeted to the ground and exploded.

The shocked spectators rushed to the scene to pull the prince and his co-pilot from the wreckage but the flame quickly swirled. The ambulance whirled into the scene but took two hours to put off the fire.

Prince William of Gloucester
Prince William's plane was seen veering sideward minutes after takeoff. Image: screenshot from the documentary, The Other Prince William.

Consumed by flames, Prince William and his co-pilot were identified only through dental records. However, just like what happened to the plane crash of Prince George, Duke of Kent, 30 years before, there was also no official statement given related to the incident.

Whether it was a human error, mechanical failure, or simply unforeseen accident, the world will never know. Due to secrecy over royal documents, the detailed accounts of the prince's plane crash were kept in the royal vault in Windsor Castle, and would not be available to the public and researchers until year 2073.

Prince William of Gloucester
At the crash site, where Prince William and his co-pilot sustained severe burns

According to accounts, Prince William's mother, the Duchess of Gloucester, who many believed had witnessed the horrifying accident, did not tell her husband on the tragic accident that killed their son.

Prince Henry's health was already unstable when the accident happened. According to Lady Alice's biographer, her husband might have learned the tragedy on television footage but something that was not discussed in the family.

Prince William was the first among the grandchildren of King George V and Queen Mary to die. He was also 9th in the line of succession to the British throne at the time of his death, making the accident a high profile royal tragedy. He was buried at Frogmore burial ground in Windsor.
Prince William of Gloucester
Prince William of Gloucester inspected his plane, a photo believed to have been taken on the day of the tragedy

In 1974, Prince Henry died, leaving the estate and the title to his younger son, Prince Richard, the current Duke of  Gloucester.

Prince William's brief but vibrant life and flamboyant personality was very much admired by the young Prince Charles that 10 years later, he would name his firstborn son in honor of the ill-fated prince.

Memory of a Lost Love

Szuszi Starkloff's frail voice in the documentary, The Other Prince William, began to shake, and she was visibly convulsed with grief. 

The footage on the screen where the plane crash was shown was staggeringly shocking and painful to the woman who had so much faith for their future together.

Szuszi Starkloff in 2015

Her voice faltered, filled with regrets. She was 79 at the time of the interview in 2015, already tired and fragile, and still visibly engulfed with the torment of grief she kept for 43 years. Denied by fate, she had not gotten over the pain of losing her great love.

Szuszi showed off the ring of Prince William he had given to her in 1970

In the documentary, Szuszi slowly walked to the large window of her Colorado home, facing the snow-capped mountain of Colorado, and pulled her necklace. In it, was the signet ring of Prince William of Gloucester, which he had given to her during their last meeting in 1970.

"Then one day, very unexpectedly, William looked at me and took off his ring, a gold signet ring that bears his initial W", she breathed. "Hold it, keep it forever", she recalled Prince William saying.

She sighed and continued, "It means a commitment to me, like the last word of a beautiful relationship", She said, parting with a thin smile.

Szuszi showed off the ring of Prince William he had given to her in 1970

She did not attend the prince's funeral in England in 1972 and chose to just grieve privately in Colorado. But whether the relationship wound end in marriage had the prince lived, it was not clear.

In 1972 shortly before his death, Prince William was quoted in an interview that if ever he would marry, he would do it with the woman right for him and right to the eyes of the royal family, which explained the remote possibility of them marrying one day.

Szuszi showed no sign of remorse hearing the statement. She resigned to the fact that she could never be accepted by the royal family just like Wallis Simpson. A sad story of love viewed through differences in religion, background, social class, and status.

Prince William was involved in another forbidden romance with a divorced mother of two, Nicole Shieff. The relationship, however, ended quickly.

Prince William of Gloucester
Remembering Prince William of Gloucester

Now, slowly fading in the memory of those who knew him, Prince William's brief legacy, though marred by forbidden love and tragedy, is one mesmerizing royal story of passion, warmth, glamor, and pulsating charm.

He lived in an era where protocol in royal marriages was very tight and custom-bound. Trapped in the conflicting pull of duty and love, in the end, it was fate that ultimately decided the course of his life in a tragic twist. 

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