William and Kate's Greatest Legacy
After the star-struck responses to Sir David Attenborough by Prince George, Princess Charlotte & Prince Louis, the monarchy are beginning to reap the benefits of their "normal" upbringing.
SEPTEMBER 27th, 2020
t isn’t every day you are gifted a 23 million-year-old fossil tooth; it also isn’t every day you meet Sir David Attenborough, yet for Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis, life can sometimes be anything but normal. As the future of the monarchy, meetings of this calibre will become more frequent, yet what was most striking was the genuine excitement resolute across the faces of the youngest Cambridge’s. This sweet reaction demonstrated more than just the simple excitement of a child, but more so, the parental success of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, who have expertly formulated a winning concoction of balancing their children’s public and private lives.
Royal life is an ambiguous enigma which focuses on mystery and marvel, rather than the publication of minute detail. The less you know, the more interesting the institution becomes. Of course, we all enjoy the gilded curtains being gently pulled back every now and then, but too much exposure of what happens within the walls of palace life and the magic can quickly vanish.
For the Cambridge’s, through trial and error, they’ve managed to create an approach which understands this paradox, and they’re beginning to reap the benefits. We only occasionally see George, Charlotte and Louis, and it is usually at moments when there is an expectation to see them. Birthdays, Christmases, Trooping the Colour, their first day at starting school; these events all emerge with a traditional and historic expectancy that the youngest royals will appear. Although every-so-often – like with Sir David’s visit to Kensington Palace – we are gifted a unique glimpse into the lives and personalities of the future king and his heirs.
As George, Charlotte and Louis are growing up, we can see a differing in natures. George is said to be more astute, guarded and principled; Charlotte is confidant, cheeky and more than a match for her brothers, and Prince Louis is, well as a friend of the family claimed: “Fantastic fun”. Their differences may be developing as they grow older, but one running theme which is constant is how “normal” the Cambridge’s are.
“They’re honestly like any other family. I think most people expect them to be grand and formal, but they’re the complete opposite,” said another friend. “They’re just like you and me.”
Whilst sweet in sentiment, the reality is however, they aren’t. The Cambridge’s are a family who will become the future of one of the longest established monarchies in history, and one whose interest and prestige is unrivalled. Two future kings and one future Queen are members of this family, and thus a formidable and powerful linage rests within the walls of Kensington Palace. So it is a triumph, that for the most part, many do look at the Duke and Duchess and their children as a grounded and inviting family unit.
Looking back, this attainment wasn’t always achievable. Many members of the monarchy have tried and failed to understand or accomplish the balance of publicity against privacy. For some it has been their downfall, for others, the scars of overexposure have run deep and driven them to ensure past mistakes aren’t repeated.
“I’ve learnt from the mistakes of the past and certainly won’t be making them for my own family”, said Prince William in an interview with Attitude magazine in 2016. It’s an interesting statement for the Duke to make, considering his upbringing within the public realm. Throughout the years, many royal commentators have long believed that William and Harry were far too exposed to the media, especially as children. Whilst the laxed rules around the paparazzi are today much more stringent; in the early 90s, any public figure was effectively deemed “free game”.
“It was a different time, with different rules – if there ever were any,” describes one former photographer. “Sadly, when it came to Diana, William and Harry, their pictures sold extremely well, and you could effectively demand any price. In those days, they were seen as public property and a product of public interest, it basically resulted in them not being seen as human beings anymore.”
It would be wrong to claim that William wasn’t scarred by his childhood. Although his vocalisations of the more negative aspects of his past aren’t as frequent or public as his younger brother, they are still there, lurking beneath the surface. Yet one experience seemed to define William’s understanding that a “normal” life wasn’t ever really going to be feasible.
In 1993, Princess Diana decided to treat her boys and their friends to a trip to Walt Disney World in Florida. Having spent time with their father, who always felt the responsibility to teach the boys about their future roles within the monarchy, the Princess believed the visit would give both boys – especially William – “time off” from their royal duties. On arrival to the resort, staff and management were instructed to treat the princes as if they were like “any other guest”. No special treatment was set to be organised and the boys, alongside their mother, would queue for the rides with the public and would be seated amongst other visitors if they chose to attend any shows.
The day started off well, with William’s initial wariness fading as it seemed no one was paying much attention to the future king. Things continued to improve as the group visited Disney’s Hoop-De-Do Music Review show. With the Prince’s guard vanishing by the second and encouraged by his mother, he volunteered to take part in the act. Stepping up onto the stage, a clearly blushing William dressed up as a Texas ranger and even planted a kiss on the cheek of one of the female characters, asking in a faux American accent: “What’re you doin’ after the show baby?” The show ended with the teenager receiving the certificate of “bravery” for “daring to participate”.
Renewed with a sense of relief that they had effectively managed to spend most of the day unseen, it sadly ended after a ride on Splash Mountain. A crowd of onlookers had gathered at the ride's exit and although Diana tried to maintain some level of anonymity, the paparazzi quickly descended, and their visit abruptly came to an end. The realisation that he couldn’t even spend a day at Disney World ignited a deep-seated frustration for William against, not only the media, but his position in royal life.
That frustration continued throughout most of his teenage years, though began to ebb away with the inclusion of Catherine Middleton into his life. “I think Kate realigned him to be honest. She came from a life and family he had always hoped for – the Middleton’s were his definition of “normal” and there was a comfort for him in that,” claimed a royal source in 2011.
Although Prince William is much more at ease with his public role and the subsequent media, there have been moments where he allegedly felt the coverage over his children had become too much. Take the christening of Prince Louis. After the service, the Cambridge’s returned to St James’ Palace with Princess Charlotte telling the media, “You’re not coming.” The hilarious putdown was seen as a sweet insight into the growing fearlessness of the little princess, yet for William the coverage purportedly left him annoyed.
“He wasn't annoyed, just confused, as that wasn’t what Charlotte said. If you watch the footage of them leaving, Charlotte is looking behind her to see where the rest of the family is. She actually said: “they’re not coming”, meaning the other members of the family,” explains a former royal aide. “He didn’t like the coverage as he thought it would lead people to think his children were being rude.”
His alleged complaint was dampened after the Duchess advised him to simply ignore the articles and see them through a light-hearted lens. “She affectionally felt William was making a mountain out of a molehill, but it just proves that his past experiences with the media still affects him,” claimed a royal source. “In fairness, you don’t endure the harassment he has at times in his life and not be somewhat oversensitive.”
Whilst there will be many factors which have helped William find a more peaceful acceptance of public life, the experiences from his past have resolutely defined his forceful direction that his own children will not face the same level of exposure. Along with Catherine, both are unyielding in their approach to their children’s upbringing.
“They are both aware of their children’s futures – especially George’s – but refuse to buckle under the pressure of exposing them to a public life before their time”, said one former courtier. “It was made clear from the beginning that “slow and steady” was the approach being used and you can see that as the children get older.”
It is an approach backed by the Queen, who has always encouraged the Duke and Duchess to spend time as a family away from constant royal duties. It is claimed that she feels the balance of public and private life has been a success because of this.
That success was demonstrated last year when George and Charlotte walked to Sandringham for the traditional Christmas Service for the first time. Royal fans went crazy for the siblings, commenting on Charlotte’s refusal to hand over her flowers, and George hugging a bystander. And whilst some had questioned whether the decision was made in light of the absence of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, a palace aide claims that George and Charlotte were always expected to make their debut. “It was already decided long before any decision over the Sussexes. The Duke and Duchess felt they were old enough to deal with the attention from the crowds and didn’t feel it would be too overwhelming for them. Also, they knew they’d behave on the day.”
To ensure that belief, Prince William guided his eldest children through the entire event and explained what would be expected from them the day before. Though it was left to Catherine to ensure both George and Charlotte understood they were to be on their best behaviour.
As Prince Louis grows older and begins his transition into the public realm, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are actively monitoring how and when this should happen. With different personalities comes a differing structure to the approach. “Charlotte has a little more confidence than George, which is why she’s being introduced to the public that little bit quicker, and it also puts her older brother at ease having her there,” says one Royal commentator. “For Louis, the kid’s a star, so I think there is less fear over how he’ll do with the public, there’s no question he’ll take it in his stride.”
The future for the youngest Cambridge’s is set in stone, with only limited space for manoeuvring. Yet against the perceived rigid and structured life of royalty, there has never been a younger set of royal heirs’ with as much freedom. For George, Charlotte and Louis, they are normal children living within a safe, stable and loving family with two parents who are determined to ensure they should live their lives without the burdens of monarchy for as long as possible. They won’t realise it now, but as they grow into adulthood and enter their public duties, these three royal trailblazers will bring a stability to an institution which has seen many a rocky day in recent years. That steadiness will be to the benefit of the Monarchy and the public and will arguably be the greatest legacy King William and Queen Catherine will leave behind.
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