By Michael Holden
LONDON (Reuters) - For the last six years, Prince William and his wife Kate have been the darlings of the world's media, gracing the front pages of newspapers and magazines across the globe with their good looks, easy charm and two photogenic children to boot.
In the last month, however, their royal luster has dimmed in the British press as they face accusations of laziness and enjoying the high life while shirking official duties.
"In the blinking of an eye, Prince William has gone from goodie-two-shoes who can do no wrong, to lazy layabout, not pulling his weight, spending too much time with his children and choosing to live in his hideaway in Norfolk," royal biographer Penny Junor wrote in the Daily Telegraph.
Ever since the couple's engagement in 2010 and sumptuous wedding the year after, they have been global celebrities, with Kate considered a fashion icon and William feted for his military service, devotion to family and latterly his work as an air ambulance helicopter pilot.
But William and his younger brother Harry have made little secret of their disdain for newspapers, fueled by the death of their mother Princess Diana, who was killed in a 1997 crash as her car fled chasing paparazzi on motorbikes.
In the background there have been grumblings about the royal family's desire to control what appears in the media, and last month the usually gushing British press turned on 'Wills and Kate', as the couple are often called.
It began when the second-in-line to the throne delivered a speech to British diplomats talking about the importance of Britain working with other nations, comments taken by some as tacit support for Britain staying in the European Union ahead of a June referendum.
Under Britain's unwritten constitution, the royal family are supposed to stay out of political matters, and with some papers holding a fairly eurosceptic editorial line, William's comments led to criticism - and personal attacks.
"Meddling Wills is throne idle", wrote Rupert Murdoch's top-selling Sun tabloid which detailed how the queen, 89, and her 94-year-old husband Prince Philip had carried out hundreds more royal engagements than him in 2015.
The Sun is typically a strong supporter of the monarchy and other usually pro-royal papers also followed suit.
So when William's office Kensington Palace on Monday released pictures of the prince, Kate and children George and Charlotte playing in the snow on a four-day secret skiing holiday, instead of the usual happy headlines, the photos received an icier response.
"Busy? I'm snowed under," the Sun splashed on its front page, while the Daily Mail headlined its story "Part-time Wills slopes off with Kate and kids".
Junor said William was far from lazy, while fellow royal biographer Robert Lacey said he suspected the prince would have had the queen's approval for prioritizing his young family, as her own family had to take a back seat when she ascended the throne aged just 25.
Lacey said he doubted the criticism would last.
"Young royals are very popular and old royals are very popular, but when you're in the middle ,approaching middle age and losing your hair, you have to work and be seen to work," Lacey told Reuters.
"I have no doubt that this is a temporary situation. William will step up to the plate."
(Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Hugh Lawson)