The British are coming. Or, more specifically, the Waleses are going: to America for the first overseas trip of a new era in which their royal star-power will be tested like never before.
Their destination, Boston, where tens of thousands lined the streets in 1976 to welcome Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, could hardly be more appropriate.
Chosen as the home of this year’s Earthshot Prize, the city will host the Prince and Princess of Wales for a three-day trip in which they plan to focus on William’s mission to protect the planet.
It could not be further from the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s home of California in every sense.
The cradle of American liberty rather than celebrity, Boston’s revolutionary roots will escape no one who has a passing knowledge of constitutional history or the “special relationship” between the UK and the US which has recently played out through the medium of glamorous young royals.
For if the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are set on winning over American audiences with their podcasts, a Netflix series, bombshell interviews and the most anticipated memoir in the history of publishing, Prince William and Catherine are treading a rather different path.
The trip, designed around the Earthshot Prize, will be a US version of their day-to-day work, albeit with all eyes of the international media on them.
They will not be distracted by the drama surrounding the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, it is said; they are not planning to ‘take back America’, to launch themselves into the chat show scene, or to stray into the realms of a major tour too soon after the death of Queen Elizabeth II.
Instead, they have a carefully-planned itinerary emphasising substance over style.
There will be engagements to showcase the city of Boston and what it is doing right in the battle against climate change.
On Friday night, at the MGM Music Hall, they will marshal the combined star power of Billie Eilish, Annie Lennox, Ellie Goulding and Beyoncé protégées Chloe x Halle, the voiceover of Sir David Attenborough, and five not-to-be-sniffed-at £1million prize funds for the most inspiring projects to save the planet.
With President Biden rumoured to be in town at the same time, royal sources have not ruled out surprise additions to the schedule.
The destination was chosen long ago; the details of the trip laid out before the Queen’s death and discussed with the new King.
Within the confines of their royal roles, they will walk the tightrope of diplomatic protocol and a complex US political diary, avoiding clashing with midterm elections or pre-empting the “first tours” of the King’s new reign which ought really to go to the Commonwealth and realms.
Under the social media microscope, where an army of critics is waiting to find fault, they will meet indigenous leaders based in Boston, fly commercial and offset their carbon footprints.
The city was chosen for its link to President Kennedy’s “moon shot” speech, the ambitious mission to put a man on the moon that inspired Prince William’s “Earthshot” equivalent to find positive solutions to save the planet.
Of the destination, one source said simply: “Going to the US draws a huge amount of attention around the world.”
The last time Prince William and Catherine were there, it was 2014 and they were finding their feet as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, with one toddler son and a daughter on the way.
With a rapturous reception, the US media proclaimed “Princess Kate” their “Queen of Hearts”, headlining their encounter with Beyoncé and Jay Z at a basketball game: “Hip hop royalty hobnob with real thing”.
This time round, they face a tougher challenge. The reputation of the Royal family has been under attack like never before in this generation. Accusations of anonymous racism, mental health ignorance and the callous treatment of the self-defined “spare” have dominated discussions ever since that Oprah Winfrey interview with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
The prospect of a Sussex documentary forensically laying out their ‘truth’ looms within days.
Little wonder media coverage has focused on whether William and Harry will meet for an emotional American reunion (they won’t), and which couple will emerge victorious in the battle for hearts and minds.
Royalty is royalty, and William – always the son of Diana and grandson of the much-loved late Queen – and his wife retain widespread affection and fascination.
Yesterday, the all-important breakfast shows ramped up the excitement about the visiting Prince and Princess, using their new titles for the first time and hailing the choice of returning to the US so soon into the new reign.
But The Washington Post has predicted that “William is likely to face questions about Harry and Meghan”, in a trip “clouded by tensions with William’s brother, Prince Harry, and his wife, Meghan, who have criticised Britain’s royal family in the American media”.
The New York Times declared the visit “weighted with extra significance” after a “swell of change for the royal family as it tries to rebrand itself as a modern monarchy”.
Ominously, the newspaper described the visit as the “first time they are greeted by an American public that has a deeper understanding of royal life, thanks in part to Netflix’s The Crown”.
But the Waleses and their team are optimistic that attention can be focused in the right place.
“They are both super excited to be there this week,” said a royal source. “This is a ‘Super Bowl moment’ for the Earthshot Prize. The fact that there is so much attention for the finalists already… there is a sense of real excitement that this will inspire change.”
As Emily Nash, royal editor of Hello!, puts it: “William and Kate had a rapturous welcome in New York in 2014 and I think the welcome in Boston will be just as warm – there is already a huge buzz around the visit.
“This time they are coming as Prince and Princess of Wales and meeting members of America’s own ‘royal family’ – the Kennedys.
“From their point of view, this trip is all about Earthshot, but as members of the royal family, America is still just as fascinated by them as personalities.”
If the coming months pose the threat of more bombshells to rock the monarchy, culminating in Prince Harry’s first-hand account of his upbringing, there is no better time to show what its star players can do best.
Royal rivals: Team Wales vs Team Sussex
Team Wales: The Princess of Wales is the founder of The Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood and a champion of Early Years education. Both are avid supporters of conservation and the natural world, with the Royal Foundation and the Prince of Wales launching The Earthshot Prize.
Team Sussex: The couple are passionate about female empowerment and mental health and support the Invictus Games. They will be given a “Ripple of Hope” award by the Robert F Kennedy Human Rights foundation on Dec 6 for taking a “heroic” stand against structural racism in the Royal Family.
Team Wales: As the heir apparent, the Prince of Wales will now receive income from the Duchy of Cornwall, which paid King Charles an income of £21 million in 2021-2022, and has by default become one of the country’s largest landowners. The Duchy was established by Edward III in 1337, and by 2016 it was worth more than £1 billion.
Team Sussex: They struck an £88 million deal with Netflix, with a docuseries about their story due to be broadcast next month. Harry’s deal for his memoir is said to be worth £16 million. Meghan has just finished the first podcast series of Archetypes about the “limiting beliefs” that hold women back, as part of a deal with Spotify worth an estimated £18 million.
Team Wales: Adelaide Cottage, near Windsor Castle, is now the family’s primary residence. George, nine, Charlotte, seven, and Louis, four, attend Lambrook school in Berkshire. They have retained apartment 1A in Kensington Palace as a London residence and Anmer Hall, their Norfolk home on the Sandringham Estate.
Team Sussex: The Sussexes live in a $14.65 million mansion in Montecito – the “Cotswolds of California” – with Archie, three, and Lilibet, one, plus Pula, a black labrador, and rescue beagles Guy and Mia. Doria Ragland, Meghan’s mother, lives in the area and regularly comes by for “grandma duty”.
Team Wales: Jean-Christophe Gray is the Prince of Wales’s private secretary. Before his appointment in 2021, he was the former official spokesperson for David Cameron. He oversees the private office, liaising closely with the King’s private secretary. The communications team is led by Lee Thompson, formerly of NBC Universal.
Team Sussex: There have been several reshuffles since the couple left the UK in early 2020. Their head of communications is Ashley Momtaheni; Mandana Dayani is the president of their non-profit organisation, Archewell, and Ben Browning, producer of the Oscar-winning film Promising Young Woman, is head of content.