The Duchess of Cambridge’s decision to fire the starting gun on the royal careers of her children is a risky move that might backfire.
Of all the years of meticulous planning that went into the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Lovely Jubbly Knees-Up Extraordinaire, of all the preparation that went into the horses, fireworks, puppets, fighter jets, the CGI bear and getting Kate Moss out of bed before midday , there was one crucial factor brokers overlooked.
The awesome power of small children hopped up on sugar.
During Trooping the Colour, the Party at the Palace and the People’s Pageant the scene-stealing stahhhhhs of the show were the children of the royal family, most notably William and Kate, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s kids, Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis.
Throughout the various events these three, aided and abetted by their Tindall and Phillips cousins, put on a high-spirited demonstration of monkey business of a caliber not seen since the evenings when Princess Margaret hit her second bottle of gin and third Al Jolson record.
During a podcast appearance this week Mike Tindall, who is married to Princess Anne’s daughter Zara, revealed that one of the reasons for the royal kids’ hyperactive turn was the volume of sweets on offer.
“Louis, he was just wanting to have fun. And my two are always mischievous so it’s trying to keep a lid on,” Tindal said.
“There were a lot of sweets out back though, so there was a real sugar high.”
(Clearly. No four-year-old was going to get that excited during an event starring Sir Cliff Richard without some form of stimulating.)
Still, the Jubilee was an unmitigated PR slam dunk for Buckingham Palace, thanks in large part to the adorably cheeky antics of the Cambridge Three. Hurrah! It should be time to bust out the Pimms and put one’s Church’s brogues up for a bit!
Except, I think there was something much darker also going on last weekend.
Because, while the monarchy unequivocally won the battle for hearts (if not minds) during the Jubilee, that success came at the expense of George, Charlotte and Louis.
See, up until now William and Kate have met out glimpses of their children to the public and the press with incredible precision and care. The three young HRHs were like white rhinos on the Serengeti, rare and exotic creatures that we would get fleeting, tantalizing glimpses of when Kensington Palace would put out photos, taken by Kate, to mark their birthdays.
It was all calculated, weighed and measured, not a skerrick more access afforded to outsiders than was necessary to fulfill the informal bargain struck between the Palace and the press nearly a decade ago when George was a baby.
That all went out the window on the weekend.
That the Palace rolled out the kids was not a huge surprise – William made his debut in the Trooping carriage procession at age four – but what was a real shock was the degree to which George, Charlotte and Louis seemed everywhere, all of a sudden.
What we were witnessing, one delightful impudent picture of Louis after another, was the Cambridge kids being unleashed as working members of the royal family and of the starting gun being fired on their Palace careers.
Every time they giggled, clapped, waved, and sang along in full view of the world and global media, these kids were being transformed into public property to a degree they never have been before.
Whether consciously or not, what we were watching was a rebranding exercise.
On Saturday, it was not just William and Kate who rolled up in Cardiff for an official engagement but George and Charlotte too.
Up until now William and Kate have been ‘sold’ as a dynamic duo; during that Welsh jaunt and over the Jubilee more generally, what we were witnessing was the repackin of that double-act into an eminently even more marketable family unit.
The entire world has lapped it all up. And why not?
Even Prince Charles got in the act and capitalized on all that Cambridge cuteness, with his Clarence House social media team positing a photo of him with Louis on his knee, writing “We hope you’re enjoying watching the #PlatinumJubileePageant as much as we are ! 🤩”
There was clearly a strategic element to all of this, the Palace playing it’s three Cambridge ace cards to sensational effect, the entire Jubilee underpinned by a certain desperation to wash away the bitter taste of Megxit and Prince Andrew in the public’s mouths.
What is not up for debate is what win this all was right – what is most certainly is whether longer term this will all backfire and so very badly.
For one thing, now that Cambridge kidlet genie is out of the bottle, it is impossible to put it back in.
Having made their formal debut as public figures, to what extent could this change the careful equilibrium Kensington Palace enjoys with the British press? Can William and Kate still occupy the moral high ground and insist on privacy for their children if they are selectively willing to expose their children when it suits them?
There is also the fact that the global spotlight on these kids has been dialed up to a huge degree and it’s only going to get hotter and more intense. (Fleet Street might not usually publish photos of George, Charlotte and Louis taken unawares but magazines and newspapers outside of the UK, German and Italian tabloids especially, have no such compunction and often do.)
Beyond all of this, what of the price that George, Charlotte and Louis might pay as people?
The emotional and psychological demands put on frontline royal children in the name of the monarchy makes me deeply uncomfortable.
Of all the oddities and anachronisms of royalty, one is that there is no other industry where children can be put to work at age four and the whole world cheers on.
We have the ultimate in reliable sources on this front. Prince Harry has twice now spoken about the acute personal toll of being forced to occupy a public role as a child when he was made to walk behind his mother’s coffin at the age of only 12-years-old. (That’s only three years older than George is now.)
He said in a 2017 Newsweek interview: “My mother had just died, and I had to walk a long way behind her coffin, surrounded by thousands of people watching me while millions more did on television.
“I don’t think any child should be made to do that under any circumstances. I don’t think it would happen today.”
The sad thing is, I’m not so sure it wouldn’t happen after the events of the Jubilee.
The thing I can’t quite wrap my head around here is why William and Kate have okayed this dramatic shift in their party line when it comes to their kids. As adults, they have both made the conscious decision to devote themselves to the monarchy however they have routinely talked about how much they want their children to have as normal of a childhood as possible.
So why this volte face of spells?
After all those years of doing the school run and going to parents’ evenings down the pub and teaching their children the dark art of using the self-checkout at Waitrose?
Even if we leave aside the question of motivation, there are other possible damaging consequences in this strategy for the royal family.
In following this tried and tested blueprint of trotting out tiny HRHs dressed like haunted Victorian dolls to whet the public appetite for the monarchy they run the risk of coming across as looking mercenary, essentially willing to use their children to achieve better public approval ratings.
Possibly sacrificing emotional wellbeing for Queen and country? Interestingly, that’s exactly what Harry warned the world about
I’m not suggesting here that any of this would have been easy for William and Kate, mind you. I have no doubt, the pressure on them must be huge to deploy their kids for the greater royal good and as loving parents who only want the best for them, they must be having to make exquisitely hard decisions.
However, therein lies the horrible rub for the duke and duchess. The primary responsibility of their day job- to safeguard the future of the monarchy – runs totally counter to their primary responsibility as parents – to do everything to protect their children.
Next month, the Commonwealth Games will begin in Birmingham with William and Kate all too likely to show up to their Union Jack waving bit for Team GB. Will we see George, Charlotte and Louis there too?
Mike Tindall said during that podcast of the royal young ‘uns: “It’s tough for them. They’re all young. It’s a long time. But as any parents know, you just do whatever needs to be done.”
Same would seem to go for Kings and Queens-in-waiting too.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and a writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.