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

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

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

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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A fire destroyed a commercial building on Idlemore Road early Tuesday. The fire is under investigation. (Kenn Mount photo)
UPDATED: Early morning fire destroys new Sooke distillery

Firefighters still investigating cause of Island Shiners Distillery blaze early Tuesday

Oak Bay Police Department briefs for May 3 to 9. (Black Press Media file photo)
Copper wire stolen after Oak Bay construction site targeted twice by thieves

Cop briefs include pair of impounded cars, swiped back medication

Langford Fire Rescue (Black Press Media file photo)
Langford looks to strike out on its own for emergency fire dispatch services

Mayor Stew Young says the city is large enough to negotiate solo

Sidney Lions Club is currently selling 50/50 raffle tickets for a virtual fundraiser to send kids and adults with disabilities to Easter Seals Camps like the one at Camp Shawnigan. (Easter Seals/Submitted)
Sidney service club raises funds people with disabilities to have some summer fun

Raffle helps fund in-person and online summer camps for adults and children

Sean Hart, 34, unexpectedly left the Seven Oaks Tertiary Mental Health Facility in Saanich on Nov. 6, 2020 and has now been missing for six months. (Photo courtesy Penny Hart)
Search continues for Saanich man Sean Hart six months after his disappearance

Support from community, police keeps his mother hopeful

A bullet hole is seen in the windshield of an RCMP vehicle approximately 4 km from Vancouver International Airport after a one person was killed during a shooting outside the international departures terminal at the airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Homicide team IDs man in fatal YVR shooting as police grapple with spate of gang violence

Man, 20, charged in separate fatal shooting Burnaby over the weekend

David and Julie Kaplan with their children Estelle and Justin. (Special to The News)
COVID-19 border closure stops B.C. family’s cross-country move

Maple Ridge couple, two kids, turned away at New Brunswick border

Kelowna RCMP precinct. (Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)
Kelowna RCMP reviewing rough arrest after video shared on social media

The video shows an officer punching a man while arresting him for allegedly driving a stolen car

B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains in the B.C. legislature, May 13, 2019. (Hansard TV)
B.C. to provide three days of sick pay for COVID-19 absences

Province will support employers on cost, labour minister says

(Pixabay)
B.C. doctors could face consequences for spreading COVID misinformation: college

College says doctors have a higher level of responsibility to not spread incorrect information

The seasonal Search and Rescue program will run between May to September. ( File photo/Canadian Coast Guard)
North Vancouver Island Coast Guard Inshore Rescue Program ready to relaunch

Teams have protocols in place to ensure COVID-19 safety while providing marine safety net

Kelowna resident Sally Wallick helped rescue a kayaker in distress a week and a half ago. (Sally Wallick/Contributed)
VIDEO: Kelowna woman rescues capsized kayaker in Okanagan Lake

Sally Wallick is asking people to be prepared for the cold water and unpredictable winds

Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about phase two in B.C.’s COVID-19 immunization plan. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
All of B.C. will eventually ease out of COVID-19 restrictions at same time: Henry

People who have received two doses of a vaccine can’t yet return to post-pandemic activities with each other, she says

Winnipeg Jets’ Andrew Copp (9) and Edmonton Oilers goaltender Mike Smith (41) watch an incoming shot during second period NHL action in Winnipeg, Monday, April 26, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Greenslade
‘Very jealous’: Canadian teams can’t take advantage of NHL’s relaxed COVID-19 rules

League eased some tight COVID-19 health and safety protocols over the weekend for fully vaccinated clubs

Most Read