Prince William turns 30

(CBS News) Britain has been busy celebrating the Queen Elizabeth II's Jubilee, a commemoration of her 60th year on the throne. But Thursday, another milestone: Prince William is 30 years old.

But don't expect a big celebration. Britain's future king is planning a low-key day. He'll be celebrating with a small group of friends, and, of course, his wife, Kate, Duchess of Cambridge.

Pictures: Prince William
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Pictures: Kate, Duchess of Cambridge

It should be a very happy birthday for Prince William. He's married to his college sweetheart, and unlike most 30 year old men, he doesn't have a mortgage to worry about. Also - whether he likes it or not - he's got a job for life - one unlikely to end in quiet retirement, but on the throne, as Britain's king.

But William's main challenge at the moment, though, is managing his growing public role, in effect, his apprenticeship.

Royal author Robert Hardman told CBS News, "Really in the last couple of years, we've seen Prince William really come into his own as a stand-alone royal ambassador. It started, he was sent by the queen to New Zealand to open parliament there, then after the earthquake in 2011, he was back there again as the queen's emissary."

The Jubilee celebrations earlier this month showed how close Prince William is to the monarch. After all, she is his grandmother. But he's still a long way from the top job. He'll only get it after his father Prince Charles does and that won't happen as long as the Queen is alive and well.

An affectionate speech - just over two weeks ago - in which Prince Charles used the word "mummy" in reference to the queen boosted his shaky popularity in Britain.

Until recently, many Britons thought the crown should skip him and go straight to William. But Charles is suddenly back in favor. In the latest poll, 44 percent want him as the next king - only 38 percent want William.

Prince William is anyway busy enjoying his current career as a Royal Air Force Search and Rescue helicopter pilot in Wales. It's real work - for a young man who, as much as possible, has tried to join in real life.

Hardman said, "From school age, he's always been keen to muck in. At every stage of his life, he's been in the thick of it, whether he's on his gap year scrubbing the toilets in Chile or he's on army maneuvers. He likes to get his hands dirty, he likes to live, he likes to get out of the royal cocoon."

But every king-in-waiting needs a royal base camp. And this coming year, William will establish his in London's Kensington Palace where he spent his childhood and where his mother - Princess Diana - was living in 1997 when she was killed in a car crash.

The grand rooms of the palace - full of memories - will be a home for Prince William, his wife Catherine - and the family they say they want. Married just over a year, the young couple are already high-profile public figures, looking comfortable and natural on the meet-and-greet circuit.

Hardman said, "There's always been this royal paradox, which is, on the one hand we want the royal family to be just like us, and on the other we want them to be completely different, to be royal. And it's always been a juggling act."

It's a tricky and a very public act. And 30 years young today, Prince William is making it look easy.

  • Elizabeth Palmer

    Elizabeth Palmer has been a CBS News correspondent since August 2000. She has been based in London since late 2003, after having been based in Moscow (2000-03). Palmer reports primarily for the "CBS Evening News."