He will celebrate one of life’s milestone birthdays on Tuesday but, as Prince William turns 40, he would be forgiven if his mind turns to the years ahead.
With the Queen understandably appearing less and less in public, the prince and his father are very much in the royal driving seat at the expense of two other HRHs – Andrew and Harry – as the royal family’s transition continues.
The united front of Charles and William continued at Monday’s Order of the Garter Service, as the Duke of York was “encouraged” to cancel his appearance in the procession of garter knights. It was very much an 11th-hour decision since Andrew’s name was in the order of service printed just a day or so before, following the Queen’s approval of the list of attendees. Reportedly William said if his uncle attended both he and Kate would pull out of attending the ceremony.
In this last phase of her reign, Her Majesty, pragmatic as ever, is preparing her country and Commonwealth for a time when she isn’t here. What’s interesting to note is that when she is unable to attend events she is represented by Charles and Camilla but often alongside William and Kate too. We saw it at the recent Thanksgiving Service at St Paul’s Cathedral when, instead of the never-ending procession of royals we used to see, it was limited to the four key players.
Even at “fun” events, such as the film premier of the much-delayed James Bond movie Spectre last September, this top team posed as one group rather than as two, which royal protocol usually dictates. We are back to the “we four” of the 1940s when the King and Queen and the princesses Elizabeth and Margaret appeared time and again as a rock-solid family unit. In other words Charles will certainly become king, but his will be almost a joint reign, utilising the undoubted star quality of Kate and the capabilities of William.
The Queen used the anniversary of her accession to publicly back Camilla as Queen just as, in 2016, she urged Commonwealth leaders to nominate Charles to succeed her as the organisation’s head. She knew the heir and his wife needed her public backing to facilitate a smooth transition into the next reign. She has no such concerns over William and Kate, who she has every faith in and recognises them as the dream team she and Prince Philip once were.
Uniting the Commonwealth is one thing, uniting her dysfunctional family is another. She has always found it hard to say no to her “second family” of Andrew and Edward, who were more spoilt and cosseted than Charles and Anne.
A former courtier told me it was, in his opinion, Andrew who coerced his mother into allowing him to escort her to Prince Philip’s Memorial Service. William and his father are concerned Andrew will continue to try to inveigle his way back into the limelight.
Worryingly for them is the fact that Andrew’s home, the Royal Lodge, is just a short car hop away from Windsor Castle and, now the Queen is in semi-retirement there, her second son is visiting her three or four times a week. This may be one of the reasons the Cambridges are apparently to base themselves at a house on the Windsor estate this summer.
It is an ideal choice for William and Kate. Not only can they see the Queen, whom they both revere, but it is an ideal environment for their children – George, Charlotte and Louis – to grow up in. While they have a garden at their Kensington Palace apartment it is not extensive enough for the children to enjoy bike rides or team sports in. The Cambridges, with one eye on the environment, have also encouraged their children to explore the countryside and to value it.
If they do move to Windsor, the children will enrol in schools near to the town and William wants his sons to one day attend Eton, which he found a calm and reassuring environment during the turbulent years of his parents’ separation.
Berkshire is also where Kate’s family live. William adores Michael and Carole Middleton and said during lockdown: “Some people are happy they haven’t seen their in-laws for a year… I love my in-laws.”
If William and Kate take up residence next door to his grandmother, it would have repercussions on his relationship with Harry and Meghan who also have a house on the estate. Not that they really have a relationship. The Sussexes’ Platinum Jubilee attendance was limited to a walk-on part and second-row seats at the St Paul’s service, and they must have gone back to California frustrated at the family snub.
William hasn’t got over the Oprah Winfrey documentary in which his brother and sister-in-law inferred the royal family was racist and that Kate had made Meghan cry. There is also undoubted concern on William’s part about Harry’s forthcoming memoirs. The Sussexes’ plan to reinvent themselves as global humanitarians hasn’t been the meteoric success they had hoped so far. One option might be for Harry to resume some sort of role in the UK to boost his brand by association with his royal roots. Having the Cambridges as neighbours certainly won’t appeal, as William knows, since the Sussexes declined the offer of an adjacent apartment to William at Kensington Palace.
And what does the future hold for William? The Queen praised his interest in the environment during her televised address to delegates at the Cop26 climate conference in Glasgow last autumn. He is also expected to follow in Philip’s footsteps as Ranger of Windsor Great Park, overseeing the survival and development of this 2,020-hectare royal park for decades to come.
The prince has combined his father’s love of the environment with his respect for his royal heritage, personified by the Queen. On top of that he’s inherited his mother’s devotion to particular causes. As Earl Spencer said in his famous funeral speech, Diana wanted her sons “to experience as many different aspects of life as possible to arm them spiritually and emotionally for the years ahead”. Photos of William selling the Big Issue magazine earlier this month and his support for everything from gay rights to mental health issues, give us an indication of the path he’s likely to pursue for the next few years. Rather than duty for duty’s sake we’ll see him thinking outside the box more and more, and trying to ensure the monarchy remains relevant and a force for good.
Ian Lloyd is author of The Queen: 70 Chapters In The Life Of Elizabeth II
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