This Royal Prince Fell In Love With A Hungarian Model – But Their Romance Would End In Tragedy

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You may think that you’ve heard it all when it comes to the British royal family. The lives and loves of members of this British institution are well reported, after all. But are you familiar with the riveting tale of tragedy and romance that was the life of Prince William of Gloucester? The adventures of this first cousin to Queen Elizabeth II are the stuff that legends are made of.

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You may not have even heard the name Prince William of Gloucester before. Yet at the time of his birth, this son of the House of Windsor was no less than fourth in line to the British throne. William was a grandson of King George V, who was also the grandfather of Queen Elizabeth II. Sadly, William also became the first of George V’s grandchildren to die.

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The demise of William was in tragic circumstances, no less because the royal was only 30 at the time. Yet in the preceding years he packed in plenty of adventure and romance. But to modern audiences William remains an obscure figure. Indeed, the title of a U.K. documentary about his life – The Other Prince William – says much about his status in the minds of modern audiences.

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William was born in Hertfordshire, U.K., in December 1941, while World War II was raging. Indeed, William’s father – Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester – was unable to be present at his son’s birth due to his wartime duties. And as for William’s christening, the location was kept secret at the time due to the global conflict.

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William’s baptism was an occasion befitting a royal baby. His mom, after all, was Princess Alice, the Duchess of Gloucester, while his godfather that day was no less than King George VI. Queen Mary – who was the widow of King George V – was his godmother. The event brought together a who’s who of eminent British royals at that time, despite the war.

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Fortunately, Prince Henry lived to meet his son, and the pair went on to forge a close relationship. For William, the most notable event of his early life came in 1947, when the then-six-year-old held the position of page boy at the wedding of a famous relative. William took on the role at the nuptials of Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten, who would go on to become Queen Elizabeth II and Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

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Six years later, William was in attendance at another notable event. This was the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. As the new monarch’s first cousin, William was a bona fide royal. As such, he was brought up with the privilege you’d expect of someone in his position. The boy studied at Wellesley House College, a preparatory school in Kent, U.K. This was followed by Eton College, perhaps the best-known school in England due to its long relationship with royals.

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At school William proved himself to be a capable student and sportsman. Moreover, he would remain so for the rest of his life. On completing school, William then gained entry to Cambridge University, where he learned about history. Later, the prince attended the prestigious Stanford University in the United States.

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Upon finishing his education, William joined a merchant bank. Before long, however, he changed careers and joined the diplomatic service, becoming only the second royal to pursue that line of work. William’s first posting was to Lagos in Nigeria. Then, in 1968 the prince was sent to Tokyo. A keen flyer, William actually flew his own aircraft to arrive in Japan.

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Just before William travelled to Japan to take up his posting there as second secretary in the commercial department, the prince checked in with a doctor upon the request of his own mother. For some time, you see, William had been suffering from jaundice. This is a condition which results in the skin turning yellow.

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The prince was examined by a Royal Air Force doctor by the name of Dr. Bellringer. Based on William’s symptoms, Bellringer made a careful diagnosis – but his opinion was controversial. Apparently, the problem was something that had long been linked to the British royal family. In fact, it’s been suspected as the cause of apparent madness in King George III.

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Dr. Bellringer’s diagnosis was porphyria. The doctor knew of a theory that was, at that time, being proposed that the British royal family had been afflicted by this disorder throughout history. Yet Bellringer subsequently stated that he reached his conclusion independently of this line of thinking. Later examinations of William reached the same judgment. But by then he was in remission from the disease.

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That same year, William met an individual who would become one of the important influences in his life. Her name was Zsuzsi Starkloff, a former model and air stewardess who immediately caught the eye of the prince. Starkloff was glamorous and attractive. But there were other elements to Starkloff that ultimately made it impossible for the couple to forge a life together.

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Starkloff was born in the Hungarian capital of Budapest. However, aged 20, she left her homeland behind and went to the United States, where she soon became a citizen. First Starkloff became a model in New York, but soon changed tack and began working as a flight attendant for Overseas National Airways. The company no longer exists today.

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It was while working for the airline that Starkloff came across a pilot named Ed Starkloff, who she soon married. She took his name and the couple subsequently became parents. However, the marriage failed, and Starkloff made her way to Japan to become an English teacher. It was in Tokyo that her life took on an unexpected turn in the form of a prince.

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This prince, of course, was William. The couple met at a cocktail shindig, with William beginning to call her “Cinderella” straight away. The pair were quite taken with each other, and the next day Starkloff sent a note directly to the British embassy. “Dear Prince Charming. I have a slipper missing. Would you like to come to a party?” the letter read. Romance soon blossomed.

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Sending a note to a royal working in the British embassy was quite the thing for an American divorcée to do. But Starkloff had little inkling of what being a prince in the faraway land of Great Britain really meant. She also had no idea that she would be considered a controversial love interest for a close relative of Queen Elizabeth II.

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In the early days of the relationship between William and Starkloff, there seemed to have been little thought of future complications. The pair were smitten with each other. “He was quite a man,” Starkloff later told Christopher Wilson, a royal writer. “Very manly. Very passionate. And mature beyond his years.”

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William was not the first – nor or the last – British royal to fall under the spell of an American divorcée. In 1936 King Edward VIII abdicated the throne to wed a twice-divorced U.S. citizen by the name of Wallis Simpson. And Prince Harry, grandson of the current Queen, married American divorcée Meghan Markle in 2018.

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With things getting serious between the couple, William began sounding out his parents about the suitability of his belle. The prince was eager to know if Starkloff would be accepted as his wife. “They were against it,’ Starkloff told Wilson. “Totally against it. It came as no shock – I was older than William, divorced and of a different religion. I knew it was doomed.”

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Starkloff was seven years her royal boyfriend’s senior. She was also Jewish. Those truths combined with the fact that she was a divorced single mother made her an unsuitable choice as a royal bride. By modern standards, these were pretty flimsy reasons not to be able to marry someone. But these were different times.

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Even more so in the 1960s than now, the British royal family were ruled by history and protocol. As such, William was obliged to fulfill his duties as a member of the House of Windsor. Marrying someone that the family deemed unsuitable would have been a very complicated and difficult decision to make. Yet William was smitten.

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Shigeo Kitano was a friend of the prince from that era. According to You magazine, this person once said, “Prince William was obviously deeply in love with her [Starkloff]. She was very beautiful with large brown eyes and long auburn hair. When she smiled, she had a big dimple. She conversed in flawless Japanese and was clearly a very clever woman.”

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William’s love for Starkloff – and the knowledge that he would never be able to marry her – weighed heavily on his shoulders. As the prince’s school friend Giles St Aubyn remembered, “The relationship overshadowed everything else. It resulted in a period of great anguish for him, involving disagreements with his friends and family.”

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Before long, the royal family began to conspire against the relationship. One of the chief instigators was the Queen herself. First the Queen’s sister – Princess Margaret – was apparently sent to Japan on state business. Although she had other responsibilities penciled in, Margaret’s trip was partly planned to assess the situation developing between William and Starkloff.

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It’s been said that Margaret appeared to like Starkloff. As William’s love interest herself later recalled of Margaret, “On the surface she was friendly. She told William, ‘I’m not surprised you’re in love with her,’ and we all had dinner together.” Yet behind the scenes, things were moving quite differently.

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A few days into Margaret’s visit to Japan, she sent her cousin William a letter in which she expressed caution. “I was pleased to have the opportunity of a quick word with you,” Margaret wrote in that particular note. “I do think you would be wise to wait for a bit, then come home and see how everything looks.”

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William’s boss – a man named Sir John Pilcher – was enlisted by the royals to spy on his charge. With the net tightening, the prince fled with Starkloff to her home country of the United States. “We were in love, passionately in love,” Starkloff later said. “William wasn’t going to be pushed around by some officious diplomat. He wanted to escape, to get away from the straitjacket his job had become.”

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In the United States, William and Starkloff embarked on a trip. On that adventure the couple adorned rings that William had presented to his lover. “We did a lot of wonderful things together during those weeks,” Starkloff remembered of that time. “And for the most part he wasn’t recognized. He relished the anonymity – it was wonderful for him not to be bothered by people.”

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Alarmed that they may be losing their relative to an unsuitable match, the royals acted. William was contacted by the Queen herself to represent Her Majesty at an official event in Tonga. Reluctantly, the prince went, and was then obliged to head home to look after the estate of his now ailing father. Just like that, William and Starkloff had been separated.

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Now back in Britain, William took on the royal responsibilities expected of a man in his position. Yet he still had time to pursue one of his main passions. Ironically, flying had been a pursuit that he’d shared with his former lover Starkloff, who, by now, had returned to the United States.

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William had long been interested in planes and piloting. Indeed, he’d become an enthusiastic member of the flying club at Cambridge University when he was a student. The prince was also a keen competitor, befitting of his energetic lifestyle that also saw him develop interests in skiing, ballooning and scuba diving.

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Towards the end of August 1972 William signed up for a light aircraft competition. It was the Goodyear International Air Trophy Race, and the prince was all set to compete in his Piper Cherokee Arrow, a single-engine aircraft. Crowds gathered to watch the event at Halfpenny Green Airfield in England.

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William – in the company of a fellow pilot and friend named Vyrell Mitchell – took to the skies to wow the 30,000 or so spectators. Yet tragedy struck almost immediately on take-off. The prince – who had more than 700 hours of flying experience – lost control of the plane. The aircraft banked, clipped some trees and crashed, immediately bursting into flames.

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William and Mitchell were both killed in the crash. The prince was just 30 years-old at the time of the tragic accident. He was also ninth in line to the throne, and his demise marked a devastating loss to the royal family. The nation mourned the loss of a vibrant and adventurous soul.

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But what about Starkloff? During the final months of his life, had William paid any attention to the woman he’d once loved? Indeed he had. Starkloff later recalled, “He wrote me a letter. In it he said he wanted to come to New York and talk to me, to see if there was something we could do. He wanted us to be together.”

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William, it seems, hadn’t given up hope that he could one day be with the love of his life. Alas, we will never know if the first cousin of the Queen would have acted on his impulses. The crash that robbed the royal of his life also took away any possibility of a marriage between William and Starkloff. It was a union that would have rocked the British Royal Family to the core, of that there can be little doubt.

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Starkloff never married again after the death of her beloved William. She wore the ring that the prince had presented to her until the day she died. A director who met her later in life recalled her demeanor. “There was a sadness about her, a regret,” stated Brian Henry Martin. “Her sadness was about the loss of William – and that he never had his own life. That he never had his own children.”

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Prince William of Gloucester’s legacy is a strong one. According to Christopher Wilson, it is a name that endures to this day. As the royal expert put it, “Prince William of Gloucester was arguably the most glamorous royal of the 20th century. Tall, sporty and handsome, he was a role model and all-round hero for a young Prince Charles, who named his first son after him.”

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Prince William, the heir to the British throne, needs little introduction to audiences. Yet there was once another Prince William whose story was no less intriguing. Indeed, perhaps the life of this obscure British prince is a movie waiting to be made. Certainly, it’s a life that deserves to be remembered. His is a tale of romance and tragedy that will surely endure.

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