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The New Royal Family
Prince George, William and Kate, The Next Generation
By Robert Jobson
John Blake Publishing LtdCopyright © 2014 Robert Jobson
All rights reserved.
The Changing of the Guard
'She'll want to hand over knowing she's done everything she possibly could to help, and that she's got no regrets and no unfinished business; that she's done everything she can for the country and that she's not let anyone down – she minds an awful lot about that.'
HRH Prince William, duke of Cambridge talking about HM the queen
A white-haired, well-loved, elderly lady cautiously climbed the steps of St Paul's Cathedral, without her partner of 64 years at her side. For once, she appeared frail. As she slowly progressed – followed by her immediate family – that abiding air of implacable confidence seemed to escape her. It was an image that potentially had profound implications for the Royal Family. The date was 5 June 2012 and Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Britain's oldest ever monarch, was there for the Diamond Jubilee Service of Thanksgiving, an event held in her honour. It had been an exhausting weekend of national holiday, complete with pomp, pageantry and tumultuous celebration. It had clearly taken its toll on her.
Outside, the loyal Union flag-waving well-wishers kept on coming. By dawn, thousands had already gathered at the nation's Cathedral to stand patiently behind steel police barriers. One woman said she had risen at 3.30 a.m. to travel to the historic event from her home in Essex. 'My children wanted to watch it on television, but I told them the atmosphere would be so different if we were there.' She was proved right. Like so many, she wanted to feel part of it. Inside, senior members of the Government, the Opposition and representatives from around the UK and the Commonwealth heard Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, praise Her Majesty's 'lifelong dedication'.
The Queen, however, seemed distracted, even a little lost. She could be forgiven. For once, her husband and stalwart, Prince Philip, the man she publicly described as her 'strength and stay' ever since she met him as a giddy teenager, was not by her side. Instead, he was recovering in hospital a few miles away from a bladder infection. Her Majesty was understandably worried, but, characteristically, she uncomplainingly carried on.
Four days of Diamond Jubilee events eventually culminated in an appearance by the Queen on the Buckingham Palace balcony in front of huge, cheering crowds. There was also a fly-past by World War II aircraft, and the Royal Air Force Red Arrows capped it off perfectly. Significantly, however, this was not witnessed by the usual extended Royal Family appearing at their palace vantage point. This time, it was just the core family: The New Royal Family. She was joined by just five royals: the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry. It can have been nothing other than a conscious decision to do this and, clearly, this was, and is, the shape of things to come.
Prince Philip's absence that June day was a key catalyst for a major shake-up in thinking at the heart of the Royal Family. Senior palace insiders remarked privately that it had simply looked wrong for the then 86-year-old monarch to be entering St Paul's for a celebration of her own life with a complete absence of a male family member to support her. It is a role that Prince Charles might have been expected to take on, but his responsibilities to his wife created a delicate quandary for him.
It came at the end of a glorious weekend of celebrations. The Thames River Pageant, in freezing rain, had contributed to the Duke's condition as he had stood on the deck of the royal barge for the duration, refusing to sit in one of the rather grotesque gilded thrones provided. Of course, as he did not sit, nor did the Queen. Despite this, he had seemed like he was having the time of his life; resplendent in his Royal Navy uniform, he appeared on top form.
As the party had rolled on, news emerged that, on the advice of his doctors, the Duke would have to miss the Jubilee concert, organised by Take That singer Gary Barlow, and had even been hospitalised. I was working for the American broadcaster NBC that weekend, sharing a platform for a Jubilee Special with American broadcasters Matt Lauer and the charming Meredith Vieira. Among the media, there was a mood of genuine concern.
Fortunately, on cue, Prince Charles stepped up to the mark and left his mother visibly moved by his kind, warm and sometimes emotional speech in praise of her at the close of concert. The Prince's opening word – 'Mummy' – earned him rapturous cheers from the crowd. She beamed back, looking every inch the diamond Queen when she arrived on stage, adorned with Swarovski crystals, in a stunning cocktail dress of gold lame designed by Angela Kelly, under a dark cape, with sweeping trimmings of antique gold lace and deep olive.
Mother and son, accompanied by the Duchess of Cornwall, had minutes earlier made their way down to the stage encircling the Queen Victoria Memorial to a standing ovation. Celebrities including Kylie Minogue and Cheryl Cole jostled to stand as close to the royal party as possible. There was no jostling by the 'pop knights', Sir Paul McCartney, Sir Tom Jones and Sir Elton John, who had all been guaranteed prime positions close to the monarch. Charles warmed his audience up by making a joke about the terrible weather for Sunday's river pageant: 'If I may say so, thank God it turned out fine!' But it was when he made a poignant reference to the Duke of Edinburgh, in hospital just a few miles away, that Her Majesty's stiff upper lip for once appeared to weaken, if only for a moment. He went on, 'Your Majesty, millions, we are told, dream of having tea with you. Quite a lot nearly had a picnic with you in the garden of Buckingham Palace. The only sad thing about this evening is that my father could not be here with us because, unfortunately, he was taken unwell. But, ladies and gentlemen, if we shout loud enough he might just hear us in hospital and get better.'
Spontaneous cheers and applause followed. The prince spoke for everyone when he added, 'Your Majesty, a Diamond Jubilee is a unique and special event. Some of us have had the joy of celebrating three Jubilees with you. And I have the medals to prove it. And we are now celebrating the life and service of a very special person over the last 60 years. I was three when my grandfather George VI died and suddenly, unexpectedly, you and my father's lives were irrevocably changed when you were only 25. So as a nation this is our opportunity to thank you and my father for always being there for us. For inspiring us with your selfless duty and service, and for making us proud to be British.' Turning to his mother, he paid tribute to 'the life and service of a very special person'.
It was a brilliant performance. That gloss, that had so pleased the cheering masses, won all the plaudits in the newspapers the next day. In the palace corridors of power, however, the absence of the Duke of Edinburgh – the oldest spouse of a reigning British monarch – and his ill-health the next day had focused minds.
Philip is certainly blessed with a remarkably robust constitution. No chances are taken with his health. It was abundantly clear to everyone, including the Queen herself, that it was no longer reasonable to expect him to keep up the same pace as he approaches his century. There would inevitably be more occasions when the Duke will not be in his usual place a few paces behind his wife.
It will not be an easy transition, but, in the course of celebrating what a magnificent service the two had given to their country, it had become obvious to everyone that it was time to allow them to step back, if only slightly. Even Philip had said publicly in a BBC interview that 'he has done his bit'. That said, he bluntly refused to let his wife down and is notoriously reluctant to cut down on his busy schedule of private engagements. Indeed, if he had cut back as he suggested he would, there was no real evidence of it in the coming months.
However, another hospitalisation for Philip – and the Queen's concern about his workload – accelerated her plans for a subtle handing over of some responsibility to Prince Charles. Together with his wife – the now fully accepted Duchess of Cornwall – his brothers Andrew and Edward, and the next generation of William, Kate and Harry, he began to ease the pressure on the Queen and her dutiful husband by taking on more of the royal duties. There has been talk of Charles adopting a 'Shadow King' role – enabling his mother to spend more time with her husband privately.
'There is no question of Her Majesty abdicating her responsibilities,' one senior member of the Royal Household explained. 'It's more about sharing the workload and being more selective of the duties she undertakes. Her Majesty and the Duke of Edinburgh worked tirelessly throughout the Diamond Jubilee. Perhaps too much was expected of them.'
The aide went on, 'The Queen is remarkably fit, but she appreciates that when she is on duty the Duke, as her liegeman, believes it is his duty to be at her side. The difficulty is persuading him that any of his sons can step in for him to accompany Her Majesty and that that would be acceptable. If the Duke does not agree to that, the only solution is for Her Majesty to do fewer engagements and for the younger members of the family to represent her at the others.'
The younger generation had already acquitted themselves well during the London Olympics of 2012, when they appeared in Team GB T-shirts to shout encouragement to our athletes. Now they would become far more visible. Despite his PR slip in Las Vegas, royal advisers believed Prince Harry, too, had a key role to play. His improving reputation would survive the exposure. Successful Jubilee visits to Jamaica and Brazil in 2012, followed by an equally positive USA tour in 2013, confirmed his star quality as a roving royal. He may be risqué but, like his late mother Diana, he certainly has the wow factor.
But the Queen's subtle move to take a step back in 2013 undoubtedly had deeper and more far-reaching consequences for Prince William – still serving as an RAF search and rescue pilot for the first half of 2013 – and his pregnant wife. It meant, too, he would have to rethink any ideas for a longer-term military career in order to instead become a full-time royal to fill the void. When Philip was taken ill and hospitalised again a few weeks later – forced to spend six days in Aberdeen Royal Infirmary while on his annual Balmoral holiday – the Queen took the opportunity to discuss how to handle this important reshaping of the monarchy with her heir Prince Charles.
'It is a delicate situation, and one of which the Prince of Wales in particular is mindful. He is ready to do whatever Her Majesty requires of him,' a member of the Royal Household told me at the time. 'The transition will be imperceptibly gradual, tightly managed and no doubt entirely orchestrated by the Queen herself – she knows that, even if they come across as a little dull, we like our Royal Family to appear calm, composed and in control at all times,' the aide went on.
Then came one of the most significant stories I have ever written during my decades as a chronicler of the House of Windsor. On Tuesday, 7 May 2013, I wrote in the London Evening Standard that this was not just talk. The Queen was backing it up with real action. A senior figure told me a few days earlier that the Queen was poised to quit long-haul overseas travel so that she can 'pace herself' for her future role as monarch. In a highly important move, the 87-year-old Sovereign announced she would miss her first CHOGM meeting for over 40 years in November, and send Prince Charles in her place.
Coming just weeks after the Queen was herself hospitalised, suffering from gastroenteritis, it showed Her Majesty's determination to manage her workload more appropriately going forward. If she was going to stay the course, and there is no suggestion that she is not, she had to pace herself. Her decision to send Prince Charles to Sri Lanka and represent her at the high-level meeting was also a decisive act of a canny Sovereign. From now on, Charles, supported by Camilla, would be expected to step in whenever the Queen needed him to represent her on future long-haul trips, just like he and other royals had done during the Diamond Jubilee year.
It would be the first time since 1971 that the Queen had not attended CHOGM, but my source was keen to stress that Her Majesty remained as committed as she had always been to her role as Head of the Commonwealth. One senior aide told me, 'We are simply looking at better pacing the Queen's activity.'
The Queen takes advice on Commonwealth matters from a number of sources, including the Commonwealth Secretary General. But her decision not to attend the meeting in Sri Lanka was hers and hers alone, and was, of course, eminently sensible. Once again she demonstrated the foresight that has been the key feature of her long and successful reign. In a stroke, she had given the Prince of Wales – our longest-serving and best-prepared heir to the throne in history – the chance to show us his strengths on the world stage.
It seemed that not only had the Diamond Jubilee celebrations, when she had taken centre-stage, been a crowning moment, but also it might perhaps have been her final great public display of pomp and pageantry. She remains remarkably physically and mentally fit for a woman of her age. She rides her horses regularly, loves walking and reading. But it was time, it seemed, to give the next generation their chance, and, for Prince Charles, there was no better place to showcase his skills than at the Commonwealth meeting.
The Commonwealth has been one of the great successes of Her Majesty's reign. It is not an organisation on a mission – as Her Majesty has said. Instead, it offers its 2.1 billion people the unique opportunity to work together to achieve solutions to a wide range of problems. It is, she is proud to say, a major force for change. With a combination of quiet modesty, wisdom and experience, she has been central to holding the association together for 61 years and taking it forward. It is central to her role as a modern monarch and, close sources say, she believes it is at the heart of the new Royal Family. Yes, she wants Charles to take his position at its head, but she also believes the next generation of William, Kate and Harry has a vital role to play here too.
That said, with Prince Charles poised to take on a 'Shadow King' role in 2013 and beyond, it is for the younger generation to take up the torch, particularly when it comes to the Commonwealth and international diplomacy, which after all is at the core of what modern monarchy is all about. In the Jubilee year, it had been a team effort – particularly when it came to representing the Queen abroad. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visited Malaysia, Singapore, the Solomon Islands and the tiny island of Tuvalu. Prince Harry, who was on his first solo trip on behalf of the Queen, went to Belize, Jamaica and the Bahamas. The extended Royal Family did their bit too. The Duke of York went to India, while the Princess Royal toured Mozambique and Zambia. Her Majesty's first cousin the Duke of Gloucester went to the British Virgin Islands and Malta, and the Duke of Kent took in the Falkland Islands and Uganda, while the Earl and Countess of Wessex journeyed to the Caribbean, visiting Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Grenada, Montserrat, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago, with an extra visit to Gibraltar.
Her Majesty, in organising who went where, was sending another clear message – the Commonwealth really mattered to her. Under her stewardship, the Commonwealth has grown into a voluntary association of 54 independent countries, spanning 6 continents – about 30 per cent of the world's population, with half under 25 years of age. She calls it the original worldwide web. The Royal Family's future long-term involvement with the Commonwealth in an official capacity is, therefore, a delicate subject. Some within the organisation have argued that one of the central reasons for the success of 'the family of nations' has been the personal involvement of the Queen. She has been, and continues to be, the talismanic figure at the heart of it all. She knows most of the nations' leaders personally, and many of them are now old friends.
There is no hard and fast rule stipulating that a British monarch should be Head of the Commonwealth. Therefore, there is no guarantee that Prince Charles or his heirs and successors, as the rules stand, will succeed Her Majesty in this crucial role. The Queen, after all, was invited by the then handful of Commonwealth states to follow her father at its head. It was India's new president, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, who took the lead, and the rest followed. But in 2013 some senior figures and officials in the organisation have publicly cast doubt on whether the Prince of Wales should succeed the Queen, arguing that the next head should be selected from one of the other member states if the Commonwealth is to shake off its colonial past. A decade ago, Nelson Mandela would have been a popular choice, but now there is no obvious choice as to who would be the best replacement to unite the somewhat disparate nations.
Excerpted from The New Royal Family by Robert Jobson. Copyright © 2014 Robert Jobson. Excerpted by permission of John Blake Publishing Ltd.
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