Prince William’s visit to B.C. draws memories of frenzied 1998 trip

Fifteen-year-old prince inspired 'rock star' welcome

VANCOUVER — The screams were deafening.

It was March 24, 1998, and hundreds of teenage girls were crammed behind barriers outside a suburban Vancouver high school. The girls weren’t squealing for the Backstreet Boys or Leonardo DiCaprio — they were there to see a real-life prince.

“You thought it was a rock star coming,” said Monika Vriend, former business services co-ordinator for Burnaby South Secondary School, recalling the day that Prince William visited.

“Like back in the day when the Beatles came through, people were just going crazy and swooning and couldn’t believe their own eyes that the princes were there.”

The frenzied female reaction to William, then 15, during his 1998 vacation with his father and brother, Prince Harry, cemented his status as a teen heartthrob. Canadians’ warm welcome also undoubtedly comforted him on his first official trip abroad after his mother’s death, royal watchers say.

So when William returns to B.C. on Saturday for a week-long visit with his wife and two young children, observers say it will be a homecoming of sorts after his star power was proven in the province two decades ago.

‘Wills mania’ returns Saturday

“Prince William was the original One Direction,” said Keith Roy, Western Canadian spokesman for the Monarchist League of Canada, referring to the British-based boy band.

“He was always a nice kid. Then to watch him go through the tragedy of his mother dying and still hold himself together and be stately, be strong and be vulnerable — that’s quite the threat when girls are looking for characteristics in a guy.”

The “Wills mania,” as it was dubbed by the British press, appeared to surprise and embarrass the young prince. A particularly devoted pack of girls vowed to follow him to every tour stop, carrying signs that proclaimed, “William. It’s me you’ve been looking for.”

One 14-year-old jumped a barricade outside his hotel to try to deliver a teddy bear and bouquet, but she was caught by a police officer.

“Prince William should know his future wife,” she protested through tears, according to a Canadian Press report at the time.

The princes and their father only spent about 24 hours in Vancouver before taking a helicopter to Whistler for four days of skiing. Their time on the mountain was mostly private, as the boys were still grieving their mother’s death the previous August.

But their brief stay in Vancouver was memorable. A photograph of the brothers wearing red maple-leaf Olympics jackets from Roots became a symbol of the family’s embrace of the Great White North.

Then there was the visit to the high school, which administrators believe was chosen because it contains a school for the deaf. Princess Diana was passionate about deaf education, and it appeared Prince Charles wanted his sons to share that interest, said former vice-principal Steve Bailey.

The royal family was introduced at an assembly inside the school’s Michael J. Fox Theatre, where the former principal called Prince Harry by his real name, Henry. Bailey said Charles stood up and quipped, “We only call him Henry when he’s very, very naughty.”

Bailey recalled that Harry, then 13, was more outgoing than his shy, older brother and assured William at one point, “Don’t worry about this. It’ll all be fine. All you have to do is smile and wave at the people.”

The brothers also visited the city’s astronomy museum, now called the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre, where they revealed a competitive side to their relationship while playing with a computer simulator to land a space shuttle.

“They were kidding each other, if one was doing better than the other one,” said Gayle Seaman, an administrative assistant. “But staff noticed William was protective. He could kid Harry, but he wasn’t going to let anybody else say anything about him.”

A friendly competition also emerged on the ski hills, recalled Barrett Fisher, president and CEO of Tourism Whistler. All three princes were expert skiers, tackling all terrain, but there was an ongoing joke about who was best, she said.

“I think a journalist had asked, ‘Was Harry the best skier?’ And William said, ‘Oh, I don’t know about that.’ “

1998 visit also drew fans of Diana

Royal historian Carolyn Harris said the 1998 visit didn’t only attract fawning teenage girls. It also drew many Canadians who had admired Diana and wanted to make sure her sons were all right following her death, she said.

“William was very warmly received … though the attention may also have been fairly overwhelming at that difficult time,” she said.

There was speculation that the princes were being eased into a greater degree of public life, as Canada is thought to be a safe and welcoming destination for royal visits, Harris added.

Roy said the upcoming trip comes at a much happier time in William’s life.

“We’re going to see enormous crowds of people out to support William and Catherine on this tour. It’s going to be the same level of frenzy and excitement that we saw in ’98.”

Laura Kane, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

By-election set for Beaufort and Cherry Creek areas

Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District by-election will take place Apr. 6

ARTS AROUND: Port Alberni artists showcase a range of mediums

“Into the Forest” will feature everything from watercolours to quilting

Divers explore the deeps of Sproat Lake using vintage equipment

Heritage Hard Hat Divers will have a maritime heritage exhibit in Port Alberni

EDITORIAL: In face of tough week, Port Alberni first responders deserve our respect

Last week was a difficult week for first responders in the Alberni Valley…

Alberni group focuses on stigmatization as biggest barrier to opioid crisis

Community session planned to raise dialogue on opioid crisis response

Canada’s archive buys rare book that hints at Nazi plans for North America

The 1944 book may have served as a blueprint for a Nazi purge

Teravainen’s 3 points lift Hurricanes to 5-2 win over Canucks

Vancouver heads into all-star break on losing note

47 men arrested by Vancouver police for allegedly seeking sex with teenage girls

Seven of those arrested have been charged as part of a two-month operation

B.C. hospital apologizes for veteran’s five-day hallway stay

Clinical director of Victoria General Hospital says case of retired veteran ‘definitely excessive’

Speaker Darryl Plecas says ‘justice’ needed for legislature employees

Plecas spoke to media at the opening of a pedestrian and cycling bridge in Abbotsford Wednesday

Advocate hopes B.C. legislature scandal leads to more transparency

‘Depressing’ that it takes a scandal to inspire freedom of information reform, says Sara Neuert

‘Dr. Lipjob’ avoids jail, gets 30-day suspended sentence

She will have to serve the 30 days in prison if she commits a breach during her two-year’s probation

Ex-Mountie involved in Taser death at Vancouver airport sues government

Kwesi Millington claims he acted in accordance with RCMP training

LETTER: Seniors home care, day programs expanding, Adrian Dix says

B.C. health minister responds to latest Seniors Advocate report

Most Read