Daniela Elser: William and Kate being greeted by wild crowds highlights royal issue
I’d like to think that somewhere on one of the upper floors of Buckingham Palace, there is a small office (as they tend to be there) belonging to some courtier, paper-strewn and with half drunk cups of Earl Grey about the place and which has one of those peppy signs so beloved of US TV that reads: “Three days since last PR disaster.”
After the past three years, I doubt that sign would ever have reached double digits.
Happily, this week, the royal family had a certifiable Very Good Day for the first time in yonks.
Harry and Meghan, Duke and Duchess of Sussex did not decide to pop their heads above the Carrara marble parapet. There was no lower lip-jutting interview in which the Duke lambasted his family for emotionally stunting him by never playing hide-and-seek with him as a child. Or Meghan deciding to issue some grammatically challenged press release announcing her support for free reiki for underprivileged children.
Prince Andrew, too, has managed to stay unusually and blessedly quiet, not having once in the past few weeks staged ham-fisted attempt number 78 at rehabilitating his image. (The Duke of York improving his public standing is about as likely as Chernobyl being turned into an organic vegetable garden.)
And the actual working members of the royal family? Those HRHs left on the palace roster? They were out in cheery force and being greeted by shockingly large crowds on Thursday.
There was Prince Charles in south London being met by chaotic scenes of hundreds of locals, some yelling “God bless you, Prince Charles!” and “How’s your mum?” The frenzy seemed to have taken insiders aback. One plainclothes police officer on duty later quipped to the Times: “I don’t know why I polished my shoes this morning. I’ve never had so many people stand on them.”
William and Kate, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, were in Scotland at the University of Glasgow where their presence managed to tear hundreds of university students away from the siren song of TikTok.
Meanwhile, at Buckingham Palace, the first garden party was held since 2019 with 8000 guests braving the drizzle (how very appropriately British) for the event which saw Charles, his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, Princess Anne, the Duke of Kent and Prince and Princess Michael of Kent rounded up to shake hands and gamely make small talk.
Everyone, at all times, hit their cues, remembered their lines and looked thoroughly chuffed about the whole business. G&Ts all round Woodthorpe!
But the biggest thing that really jumps out at me here is not what a lovely respite this was from the court cases, TV tell-alls and having to type the word “alleged” ad nauseum, but that for the monarchy to get the job done, it takes an army. Or at least a very well-dressed, well-oiled platoon.
And that fact poses an increasingly pressing dilemma for the House of Windsor and its ageing workforce.
Can you imagine any other organisation or company in the world where the CEO is 96 and still expected to work 363 days a year and where the majority of employees are over the age of 70?
While things might be chugging along right now, thanks in part to the willingness of those spare Kents, that picture changes sharply when you look to the next generation.
Along with her mother, sister, husband, children and grandchildren, throughout her reign, the Queen has four cousins and their various spouses who have, over the years, officially undertaken thousands of engagements, plaque-openings and ribbon-cuttings, which are the bread and butter of royalty. For this they may, at best, get a very cheap minor stately home. They don’t get protection officers, any significant Sovereign Grant funding and little or no press attention.
Charles has had his three to help him, and the eternally indefatigable Anne proves more than happy to visit every lighthouse, recycling centre and new roundabout the length and breadth of Britain.
By the time we hit William’s generation, things start to look seriously shaky. The Sussexes have obviously long ago absconded to sunnier, paying climes and their cousins Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie have never been allowed off the royal benches. The Duke of Cambridge at least has Kate.
Taking this to the obvious conclusion and we get to Prince George.
What the dickens are the poor boy – and the palace – going to do?
The only possible candidates to step in and help him carry the burden here are his siblings Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis, meaning that like it or not, all three of the Cambridge children could very well be dragooned into working royal life whether they fancy the gig or not.
One thing that has never been speculated about or reported on in any of the approximately 8,774,573,498 stories about Megxit are any concerns they might have had leaving the royal family short-staffed.
There is no way that I can see that, at this stage, Charlotte and Louis will have anywhere near the latitude and freedom to ever make a similar choice.
While their grandfather Prince Charles might be hard at work on getting the slimmed-down royal family of his dreams, what a decade ago looked like a lean, cost-efficient and appealingly modern approach is now looking increasingly like a misguided move.
I often wonder what that must feel like for Kate as a mother.
Last month Harry told the audience during the opening ceremony of the Invictus Games: “When I talk to my son Archie about what he wants to be when he grows up, some days it’s an astronaut, other days it’s a pilot – a helicopter pilot obviously – or Kwazii from Octonauts.”
That simple joy of imagining what you might be when you grow up is a privilege George, and very possibly Charlotte and Louis, will never really get.
The pressure on them is going to be intense to help ensure the survival of the British monarchy, an institution which can be easily traced back to the ninth century. Imagine having the weight of more than 1200 hundred years of history constantly on your shoulders.
The Cambridges have gone to extreme lengths to ensure their children have as normal a childhood as possible. They both do the school runs, Kate takes them to the supermarket and in late 2019 pulled out of a black tie event because the couple reportedly couldn’t find a babysitter.
But no amount of teaching those kids how to use the self-service checkout at Waitrose can really make up for the oppressive, claustrophobic reality that awaits them.
It must be painful for Kate to know that while other kids look at the future with goggle-eyed wonder, her children’s paths look set in Portland stone.
There are also broader and more practical implications to this situation.
Take a look at the most recent polling and any diehard monarchists’ heart will sink a little. In 2019, 65 per cent of Britons supported the monarchy; as of this month that figure was 60 per cent. In 2019, 19 per cent of respondents said they wanted to have an elected head of state; as of this month, 27 per cent of Brits want to abolish the monarchy.
The only way for the royal family to really try to stop this slide is to get out there, meet people, shake hands and pose for selfies (something that yes, the Cambridges now do on occasion). And that takes manpower, or should I say, HRHpower.
Any business lives or dies by its workforce and the royal family is no different. The only thing is they can’t just pop a “Staff wanted” sign in the window or go on a recruiting spree.
Aside from William reversing his father’s Beatrice and Eugenie ruling, I can’t see any waythe royal family can add to their number, thus meaning the burden (both literally and figuratively) is going to fall on the remaining few left.
This predicament is not one that can be simply or quickly solved, if at all.
In the meantime, here’s hoping that the number of good days the royal family can notch up keeps ticking upwards because they need to bank as much goodwill and support while they can. There are going to be some very lean days ahead.
• Daniela Elser is a royal expert and a writer with more than 15 years of experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.
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