What Prince William needs to do to fix the Firm

prince william - REUTERS
prince william - REUTERS
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After the unqualified success of the Coronation weekend, an awkward truth has now started to occupy the minds of the image-makers in the Royal household.

Assuming the King and Queen enjoy the sort of robust health of their predecessors, there may not be another major royal occasion for 20 years or more.

In the past, the monarchy has been able to rely on births, marriages, jubilees and coronations to top up their popularity every decade or so, but we are now entering potentially the longest period in our history without any of them.

The King will not have his first major jubilee until 2047, unless the Royal family break with tradition by making a fuss of his 10th anniversary on the throne. The Prince and Princess of Wales are not expected to have any more children. Prince George is only nine, meaning it might be two decades or more before he is ready to marry.

Courtiers are already talking about “the long haul” of a reign uninterrupted by set piece events. Trooping the Colour might be a welcome opportunity to polish the armour once a year, but it certainly does not attract a TV audience measured in the billions, nor does it merit a street party.

Britain's King Charles III and Queen Camilla are pictured with members of the working royal family - Hugo Burnand/Royal Household 2023
Britain's King Charles III and Queen Camilla are pictured with members of the working royal family - Hugo Burnand/Royal Household 2023

And as they ponder the question of how to keep the country, and the rest of the world, interested and engaged in the Royal family, one name looms large in their conversations: Prince William.

The Prince of Wales and his family will be crucial to the success or otherwise of the next chapter in the history of the monarchy. The King and Queen will be 75 and 76 this year, meaning they will increasingly rely on the Waleses to do the heavy lifting, particularly when it comes to long-haul foreign tours.

It will mean a significant step up in their workload. William and Kate have not carried out a major foreign tour since March 2022 and are not expected to do the next one until next spring – a gap of two years.

If they are to follow the example of the King when he was Prince of Wales, they will be expected to complete at least two big tours a year. Last year the Prince of Wales carried out 126 official engagements in total, compared with the Princess Royal’s 214 and the King’s 181, meaning there is plenty of scope for increasing his workload.

The good news is that William and Kate have a good springboard from which to launch the next phase of their royal life. Crowds have mobbed them wherever they have popped up over the Coronation weekend. The Prince made a pitch-perfect speech in praise of his father at the Coronation Concert on Sunday night. They have three children who have rapidly become the nation’s darlings.

“All of the focus had been on the Coronation, but there is an opportunity now to really think about the longer term,” said one royal source. “On the domestic front, the Prince and Princess want to make sure they leave a legacy wherever they visit, and internationally there has been a real evolution of the Prince as an international statesman.”

Aides of the Prince point to his visit to Poland in March, when he came within a few miles of the Ukrainian border and thanked British soldiers for “defending our freedoms”, as evidence of his willingness to engage with geopolitical events, and say we will see more of this in the future. The Prince clearly realises that his job is to make the monarchy relevant to younger people, who are unlikely to engage with an institution if it sits on its hands over issues that are important to them, like the war in Ukraine.

To that end he has beefed up his social media operation, posting slick videos on Instagram that rack up millions of views. Within hours of the end of the Coronation Concert the Prince and Princess of Wales’s Instagram account had posted a snappily edited highlights package with slow-motion shots of the Wales family arriving, together with clips of the Prince making his speech, interspersed with flag-waving crowd shots. It is well on the way to passing 10 million views, while a behind-the-scenes video shot on Coronation day has already racked up more than 20 million views. They kept it up with another glossy package on Monday after their outing for The Big Help Out.

The Waleses can feel rightly pleased with their thoroughly modern approach to appealing to the masses, but there could yet be tension between them and the King over some of the more traditional ways of representing the Royal family.

The Prince and Princess are fiercely protective of their family time, driving their children to school every day and minimising the amount of time they spend apart from them. Kensington Palace talks of “quality not quantity” in royal engagements, suggesting the couple will not be upping their workload significantly.

Nor are they willing to commit at this stage to doing the same number of foreign tours that the King has been used to carrying out. One royal source said there was no “tick box” method of determining overseas visits and that the couple will not necessarily follow the “template” set down by the King but are “very keen to do things their own way”.

That could cause problems if the Foreign Office is unable to fill the number of overseas tour slots it wants to cover off. An ally of the King also suggested that he would want William and Kate to be “the international arm of his deployment” and would “expect them to get out and cover the ground abroad”.

the waleses - Getty
the waleses - Getty

However, recent events have sparked some debate over the purpose of foreign tours and what they should look like. While the Royal family still get a fanatical welcome in many countries – such as Germany, where the King made his first visit as monarch – they may need to alter the focus of visits to some former colonies.

One source who has worked with the King in the past said: “The notion of the travelling royals has changed.

“In some places they have become a cypher for every bad thing the country has done in the past, and they are getting caught up in protests about slavery, or about the way indigenous populations have been treated.

“If tours end up drawing more negative attention than positive, why are they doing them? At the moment the palaces don’t know the answer.”

prince william princess of wales caribbean 2022 - Getty
prince william princess of wales caribbean 2022 - Getty

This is less of a problem for the King, because there is a certain excitement, as well as deference, that comes with State visits. But Prince William is not a Head of State, and so prime ministers and republicans in Commonwealth realms feel more free to use his presence to vent their grievances.

When the Prince and Princess visited the Caribbean in 2022, they faced demands in the Bahamas to issue “a full and formal apology for [the Royal family’s] crimes against humanity”, while the Jamaican prime minister told them the country would be “moving on” to become a republic and in Belize they were confronted with protests about a land dispute involving a charity of which the Prince is patron. They have not carried out an overseas tour since.

The Foreign Office and the Royal household are still puzzling over what they can do to avoid a repeat. “It’s certainly not going to be just going down a street and waving,” said one source.

Keeping the Royal family relevant in the modern world, then, is a long game that will require careful planning.

Prince William will no doubt have his own thoughts on how things should be done – but having sworn in front of the watching world to be his father’s “liege man of life and limb”, he might just have to do as he is told.

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