Balls are good training for princes

Prince William's attendance at a couple of teenage balls in the past few days has aroused much consternation. But why? There is nothing new about this particular breed of organised party. Since the early Eighties privately educated teenagers have been buying tickets through friends to go to dances, which to all intents and purposes provide innocent fun. They are held in London, supervised by adults, and there is no alcohol.

So of course Prince William should have gone to the Mistletoe and Feathers balls. If he is denied this sort of experience, in later life he may not know how to react to the inevitable sexual confrontations that he will face.

A recent Tatler survey of his peers concluded: "This time next year, as Prince William enters his second year at Eton, there is at least a 70 per cent chance that he will be drinking and smoking. He will probably have tried drugs and he might even have had sex. These assumptions are made not as a result of what we know of William's character, nor taking into consideration the habits of other Etonians. These are reasonable assumptions based on the results of our survey of teenagers, the children of affluent high achievers, the majority of whom have been privately educated."

Anyone who is shocked that the Prince and Princess of Wales have allowed their son to go on this harmless outing has no comprehension of how quickly young people grow up today. Admittedly, at 131/2, Prince William was among the younger guests - but in two and a half years he may legally marry. Anyway, for the most part, all that the young revellers do is dance with each other, and there are battalions of patrolling adults to deter the more virulent perpetrators of wandering-hand disease. There is no opportunity for anything more grown-up - certainly not for William, who was accompanied by a gun-toting bodyguard.

I am the mother of a 10-year-old girl, and don't know if I will want her to go to dances in just three years' time. But Prince William's big advantage (or disadvantage) is that he has an extremely loyal group of schoolfriends who help to fend off any Lolita in hotpants who may be eager to corrupt him or merely want to kiss the future heir for a dare.

Coming from Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, William probably enjoys having to queue up for a Coke or to collect his coat; it is the sort of treat he won't have for ever. Anyway, Sunday's ball was hardly the most egalitarian gathering - every teenager had been vetted beforehand.

Sadly for the boys, who were so elegantly dressed, the girls looked more like Christmas decorations than the sartorial sophisticates they no doubt imagine themselves to be. But we shouldn't worry about any of these nymphets whisking him out of the singles' scene. As Tatler's survey revealed, 12 per cent of teenagers defined a long-term relationship as one that lasts between one and two weeks.

The writer is editor of 'Tatler'.