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

Langley program helps youth find their employment niche

The first session of Skills to Success youth employment program wrapped up and a second has started.

Charges laid in 2016 Mission crash that killed Langley teenager

Lidia Ramos died when the car she was riding in slipped off a logging road in heavy rain

Two Langley fire trucks collide on black ice

The fire trucks were being used to block vehicles from icy hill when they started sliding

March 3 ‘hoot-ennany’ at Campbell Valley Park free for all ages

Family friendly event features skull and feather displays, activities, crafts and games

VIDEO: George Preston Rec Centre ice sheet filled with pink during Rivermen’s anti-bullying event

Fans, players brought out their paint brushes to promote kindness Wednesday night

VIDEO: B.C. superfans soak in 2018 PyeongChang Olympics

Trio, including two from the Okanagan, have been cheering on Summerland Olympian Kripps among others in Korea

More snow expected on the Coquihalla, Highway 3

Environment Canada says five to 10 centimetres will come down between Friday and Saturday mornings

New charges against ex-Trump campaign associates

More charges were laid Thursday against President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman and his business associate

Man accused in death of Winnipeg teen Tina Fontaine not guilty

Raymond Cormier was accused of killing Indigenous 15-year-old and dumping her body in the Red River

Okanagan real estate agents brace for speculation tax impact

“There’s a real potential for a domino effect to hurt the market in Kelowna.”

Alberta drops B.C. wine boycott, Notley says Horgan ‘blinked’ on pipeline

B.C. government announces court reference on proposed diluted bitumen restriction

Aldergrove Kodiaks take 7-5 win over Flames: ACTION PHOTOS

Kodiaks stave off elimination in game four of PJHL playoffs series

Lane closures on Alex Fraser, Port Mann bridges considered to avoid ‘ice bombs’

Province spent $5 million clearing both bridges last years

UPDATE: Northern Health dealing with lack of 121 registered nurses

Auditor General says officials need to improve internal management, track effect of new policies

Most Read