After two years of speculation about his career plans, Prince William yesterday gave the strongest hint yet that he will join the armed forces after graduating from St Andrews University next year.
Wearing the green-jacketed uniform of the countryman on his father's Duchy Home Farm in Gloucestershire, the 21-year-old student did his best to scotch persistent rumours that he is to abandon the services - the traditional place for monarchs-in-waiting - in favour of an alternative career.
"There has been a lot of speculation," he said at a photo-shoot. "I've not made any serious plans yet, but the armed forces would be the best move at the moment. I really value all the efforts and professionalism of those guys. Soldiering is a risky business and there are a lot of guys out there risking their lives for us." If he becomes King, the Prince will be the head of the armed services.
Clarence House has maintained that the "expectation" is for the Prince to join the forces, but Prince William was still leaving open his status as the country's most eligible employee.
"I haven't decided anything yet. I just want to concentrate on graduating at the moment," said the Prince, who spent the morning demonstrating his tractor-driving skills in front of specially invited journalists and photographers.
It has been made clear in public and private that the final decision about his future is his own and, with his graduation from St Andrews University just one year away, speculation had been mounting as to which occupation he would choose.
At one point it was suggested he was heading for the obscure but glamorous world of the New York auction houses. Then, more recently, Prince William was reportedly interested in a job with rare breeds and large tractors on the family farm.
Fond of sport, travelling, art, conservation and the environment, his choice of possible trades is wide. Some even put him down as a fashion model after a brief appearance in trunks while playing water polo for the Scottish Universities.
It is still most likely that the student, who recently switched degree subject from history of art to geography, will head into the Army, quite possibly the Welsh Guards. His father is colonel of the regiment and William may well succeed him in the post.
He was a distinguished cadet at Eton, winning the Sword of Honour award, and is said to prefer the Army to the Royal Air Force, where his uncle Andrew was a pilot, or the Royal Navy, where his father trained.
But a position in the infantry or even the cavalry brings significant danger and it is doubtful the authorities would allow him to be deployed on the front-line. At the same time, it is understood that the Prince is concerned about not taking a full part in active duty.
The Royal Family is known to feel that the world of commerce is out of bounds. The Duke of Wessex and his wife were seriously embarrassed when it was suggested that her public relations company might be trading off its royal connections. Prince Charles's farm sells organic produce under the Duchy Originals label, but the proceeds go to charity.
Prince William is known to enjoy art history, and was able to do an A-level project on Da Vinci drawings utilising his family's collection.
Art history was the subject for the first two years of his four-year degree at St Andrews, prompting a New York auction house to offer him a job.
The Prince's recent switch to geography helped generate rumours that he would not be joining the Army but would instead do environmental work, possibly as a farmer.
He had greatly enjoyed a stint working on the land during his gap year between Eton and university - although it is understood that a career in Wellington boots would probably not be his first choice.
Penny Junor, royal biographer and a friend of Prince Charles, said that the armed services would be an ideal place for a future monarch, because they could protect him and introduce him to his future subjects from a range of social classes.
"It's a very, very safe environment for a prince," she said, although some people might see it as out of date.
Ingrid Seward, author of William and Harry, said: "I know his father thinks it's a great leveller and a great way of learning self-discipline. He couldn't go and get a job in some art dealership. He's not interested in that any more, anyway. He's interested in environmental issues. I don't think he likes the idea of having to commit himself - but it's his decision."
Additional reporting by Annabel Fallon
Jobs for a Prince
"I would warn him that it takes more than connections or charm to be a successful long-term art dealer. But I am sure that many in the field would be delighted to take him on as an apprentice - myself included, of course."
Richard Green, leading London art dealer
"We would love to take him and see his father's involvement with us and with the environment following through to the next generation. There are many ways he could help - he has all the right interests. He could be extremely effective."
Tony Juniper, director of Friends of the Earth
"Anyone can be a gentleman farmer, but to be a real farmer is a highly technical matter. You need to know about soil structures, yields, markets and new technology. Could he do it? Only if he really, really wanted to."
Sir Ben Gill, farmer and former president of the National Farmers' Union
"Looks-wise he might appeal to a certain category. He does have a certain English quirkiness, but it's not a look that transcends borders and just makes you go wow. He could model a really English brand."
Christopher Sanchez-Vahle, men's director, Premier Model Management
"He would need to demonstrate some leadership and moral courage as well as physical courage. He would also need enthusiasm, which I think he has. It would be easier to stay secure in the Royal Navy or the RAF than the Army."
Major Eric Joyce, Labour MP and former soldier with the Black WatchReuse content