POSTED: 3:04 a.m. HST, May 3, 2011
ANGLESEY, Wales >> Britain’s most glamorous royal couple is spending this week on an island — just not the kind of island everyone expected.
It’s not a private honeymoon retreat in the Caribbean or the Seychelles, but Anglesey, a windswept speck of land just off the coast of northwest Wales where William works as a helicopter rescue pilot at the Royal Air Force Valley base.
And, despite all the conspiracy theories, it’s not because of Osama bin Laden’s death early Monday in Pakistan. Although there has been heated speculation that the U.S. military operation to find the al-Qaida leader was behind Prince William and Kate Middleton’s decision to remain in the U.K. after their wedding Friday, a palace spokesman said the couple had made the decision to stay “weeks ago.”
So instead of suntan lotion and lazy dips in an azure-blue sea, it’s back to work just days after the couple’s picture-perfect wedding captivated much of the world. Middleton, now the Duchess of Cambridge, does the couple’s shopping while William trains and works on the base.
The choice may offer the emotionally exhausted couple something even more valuable than a hectic, security-protected jaunt: Privacy.
“They don’t get bothered at all here,” said Daisy Gibson, a 19-year-old university student. “There’s rumors about where they are, but nobody knows where they live really. They don’t get recognized that much when they go out because they look quite low-key when they walk around.”
People in Anglesey may act like it’s no big deal to have the likely future king and queen in residence, but most were glued to the tube for all of Friday’s festivities, including the royal marriage at Westminster Abbey.
“I watched all day,” said Gibson. “I loved the dress, I want it for my wedding. It’s exciting to have them here.”
And word does spread fast when Middleton, sometimes accompanied by William, goes grocery shopping at Tesco or Morrisons, two budget-oriented supermarket chains.
“Everyone knows,” said Gibson. “It gets around. But the people at RAF Valley say it’s just like having another person on the team, they don’t treat him like he’s any different. You can’t when you’re in that position.”
While William is developing his military career — a longstanding tradition for men in the royal family — Kate is serving as a “forces wife” — a role many Britons can sympathize with.
It is a far cry from the glitz of London, where they often spent late nights clubbing before retreating to one of the royal palaces. Instead of boutiques in upscale Chelsea, where Middleton is a favored customer, there is Poundland, a discount emporium where every item costs 1 pound ($1.65).
The couple’s decision to delay their honeymoon, which will take place later at an undisclosed overseas location, surprised many. But it seems that after spending months planning an enormous royal wedding and then tying the knot before a global TV and Internet audience, they just want to get back to their own routine.
“They’re waiting for the hoopla to die down,” said a spokesman who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with the palace’s policies.
Palace officials are trying to protect the couple from the unprecedented interest in their lives, hoping to avoid the hounding that followed Princess Diana, William’s late mother. They hope to keep the location of their home in Anglesey out of the press because of security and privacy concerns.
The couple are able to move around freely in Anglesey, but there is normally at least one “protection officer” discreetly nearby.
Their haunts are well known. William sometimes eats at the Seacroft restaurant in Trearddur — although he and his friends were recently turned away one night because the place was full — and also likes the White Eagle pub, with its floor-to-ceiling windows offering a dramatic view of Caernarfon Bay and the Snowdonia mountains beyond.
Their routine is not expected to change with marriage. Prince Charles, William’s sometimes acerbic father, said earlier he was glad they had decided to wed because “they’ve been practicing long enough.”
Charles had no such opportunity to gauge his compatibility with Diana. They married in 1981 after a brief courtship, produced sons William and Harry, and then sunk into a bitter, drawn-out divorce with mutual accusations of infidelity that deeply embarrassed the royal family.
Locals expect worldwide fascination with William and Middleton to boost the number of visitors to Anglesey, a remote part of Wales that boasts lovely beaches, fresh sea air and picturesque coves.
“I think this will improve it,” said W.H. Robert, 51. “We hope to get more people in, we hope to get more cruise ships in.”
The island is partly rural, with cattle and horses in many fields, partly a tourist draw, with cliff-top hotels and seaside promenades, and partly a military base. Much of its social life is built around the base, a combat pilot training center founded in 1941.
Anglesey is also a transit point for people bound for Ireland by car and passenger ferries, but the main port of Holyhead is slightly down-at-the-heels, with a number of vacant storefronts.
Robert said residents are fond of William because of his “just-one-of-the-lads” approach.
“People like that,” Robert said.