I wouldn’t go so far as to say this was a scandal, but it certainly caused a public outcry: On March 17, 2016 the Duchess of Cambridge did NOT hand out shamrocks to the 1st Battalion Irish Guards at the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. I hope you were sitting down for that. I should have warned you, I’m sorry.
Prior to last year, Kate had taken part in the event every St. Patrick’s Day since her marriage; thus, she made an appearance in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015. It had been expected that she would continue the tradition annually, and it caused a bit of a stir when it was announced by Kensington Palace that William would be carrying out the engagement solo. At the time KP released the following statement:
“The Duchess has very much enjoyed the occasions when she has been able to attend, but the Duke is the Colonel of the Regiment and is looking forward to presenting the Irish Guards with their Shamrock. The Duchess has returned home to spend time with her children, but looks forward to marking St Patrick’s Day with the Irish Guards many times in the future.”
Now, in a vacuum that’s not really ground-breaking, but as with almost anything royal, context is key.
This particular tradition was begun by Queen Alexandra in 1901 two years after her husband, Edward VII, ascended the throne, and it’s been intermittently carried out ever since, though not with regularity until the Queen Mother ran with it in the 1960s. But if you’re going to mess with a tradition, particularly one associated with the military, then you’d best have an air tight reason for doing so.
And maybe there was one, but it certainly never became public. Instead sources spoke with newspapers on background and offered up variations of the following quote: “Until Kate goes on tour to India and Butan in four weeks, she’ll be spending all her time with the kids. Don’t expect to see many public duties from her.”
Ok, so the issue was timing. Except, here’s the thing: the parade was on March 17th and William and Kate weren’t due to leave for India until April 10th. That’s more than a three weeks respite before what was a one-week trip. A break for quality time that apparently needed to begin without taking a couple of hours one morning to carry out a popular tradition located about a three-hour drive from Norfolk. And then, to complicated optics further, Kate did, in fact, carry out a public engagement the very next day; granted, it was a local one near Anmer Hall on behalf of one of her patronages, EACH.
There’s nothing nefarious here: She declined to participate in an event in London and carried out an already-scheduled engagement closer to the family home. But it doesn’t look great, the wording of the statement was, well, stupid, and the followup blind quotes damaging. My first inclination upon hearing news about William and Kate isn’t to criticize, but my first instinct when reading these articles last year was a glancing thought for all the working mothers who go on week-long business trips on a regular basis and don’t have the luxury of taking a multi-week break beforehand to spend time with their kids.
I don’t begrudge Kate the fact that she has the luxury of more quality family time than most, but I also don’t think that’s really the issue here. She should have carried out the engagement. If she actually bowed out to get back to Norfolk faster out of a personal preference, than that was a significant misstep. But I’m also willing to entertain the idea that she may have had a legitimate reason for missing the event that simply wasn’t shared, and someone thought hanging their hat on family was a safe way to go. Can’t argue about kids.
And if that’s the case then it’s extremely tone deaf, because the more I read that statement the more annoying I find it. Shall we?
“The Duchess has very much enjoyed the occasions when she has been able to attend”
That’s nice, except the “occasion” isn’t for Kate’s enjoyment. How about the Duchess has been “honored” to attend? How about she has “appreciated the privilege” of attending?
“but the Duke is the Colonel of the Regiment and is looking forward to presenting the Irish Guards with their Shamrock.”
This entire statement was killed by the “but,” setting the rest of it up to contradict the first clause. That phrasing implies Kate has been doing some sort of favor. Going above and beyond. She hasn’t. She’s been carrying on a tradition that a former queen of England started, and one that was continued by the later Queen Mother and the Princess Royal. There was an expectation that she would be there and that expectation was appropriate given a 115-year precedent.
“The Duchess has returned home to spend time with her children, but looks forward to marking St Patrick’s Day with the Irish Guards many times in the future.”
And this is where Kate’s press office really threw her under the bus because the vast majority of people don’t think Kate works that hard. To be honest, they don’t associate “royal” with “work horse,” regardless of whether or not that’s fair. They see people living in palaces and wearing tiaras and, occasionally, what amount to historical costumes. So, let’s not paint a picture of Kate returning home after a long slog and then throw people a bone by saying, “Hey, maybe next time, schedules allowing.” By that logic, you might as well just tack on, “P.S. And please help yourself to some cake. It’s delicious.”
This is not a criticism of Kate. This is a criticism of whoever thought that statement was a good idea. Now, look, one dumb statement isn’t that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things, particularly if you’re a public figure with an enormous amount of public goodwill stored up. But that’s not quite the situation William and Kate were in last spring, which brings us back to the concept of “context is key.”
In May 2015 Kate gave birth to Princess Charlotte and took a longer maternity leave than she had with Prince George. She popped up here and there in June and July, but she wasn’t carrying out engagements, so much as showing up for a few standbys like the Trooping of the Colour and Wimbledon. August is generally a slow month anyway with most of the family decamping for holiday. Fine.
Except there was a dearth of royal coverage and the existing situation that the Cambridges hadn’t been quite as “out and about” as they usually were. And then in the middle of it, KP issued an incendiary press release blasting the media for intrusive photos of Prince George and warning that it would be difficult for protection officers to differentiate between photographers and criminals…dangling out there the idea that, what, paparazzi were running the risk of being shot at any given moment? And look, they might be, and certainly there may have been incidents, threats or risk factors that the public wasn’t privy to, but the optics of it were that out of the clear blue sky the Palace was getting remarkably aggressive over, well, nothing anyone could see. I’ve written further about the issue here, but suffice to say, it didn’t exactly garner the family much warmth.
Kate returned to work in the autumn. Great. But then, December and January are also typically slow royal months as the family hunkers down for Sandringham, the holidays, etc. By the second half of January they start to re-emerge and by February events are usually in full swing. EXCEPT, except that last February William and Kate decided to take their kids on a ski holiday. Sure. But they also decided to take a single Press Association photographer along for a photo call, which has historically been a fairly common practice – Charles and Diana having done quite a few when William and Harry were children – but one William and Kate have never done (a decision, by the way, for which I don’t think they should be criticized).
KP issued a series of photos of the four Cambridges posing and playing in the snow. They were adorable, Twitter went nuts – all great stuff. But you see, journalism is a competitive business and it didn’t sit well with many members of the press that one organization had been shown what amounted, in their opinion, to favoritism. To add insult to optics injury, the whole thing came across as vaguely sneaky, the holiday having been taken without anyone knowing, the photographer not making a peep until the Palace released the photos via social media. Instead of a holiday it became a “secret holiday” – a “secret holiday” the couple had taken so soon after a Christmas break and after months of laying low in their country estate.
Two days later Emily Andrews broke a story at The Sun which stated William was working well-below what he should, or could, have been with the East Anglian Air Ambulance – a job that has been used, in part, to justify his former status as a part-time royal. The lengthy article doesn’t pull any punches, saying:
He does few engagements and routinely props up the “league table” of public appearances, with his 94- year-old grandad Prince Philip clocking up 128 MORE than him last year. Wills’ aunt, Princess Anne, put in 544 shifts on royal duty.
He deliberately based himself, wife Kate and their children — George, two, and nine-month-old Charlotte — out of the public eye at the ten-bedroom Anmer Hall in deepest Norfolk. And he shows little interest in taking on more royal patronages, preferring instead to work as a pilot for the local air ambulance. Sources within the royal household whisper his whole way of life has been developed around his wish to play the “gentleman country farmer”.
One said: “No one really wants to admit it openly, but it was the talk of Sandringham over Christmas that he does nothing. “He wanted to move to Norfolk to give him the life of the gentleman country farmer, like his friends. Everything has been set up his pilot job, his duties, his home — so he can do this. Shooting, fishing, house parties at weekends and a very private life with his family away from the cameras are the order of the day. All his friends live this country lifestyle and so, now, does he.”
William is a devoted husband and father — of that there can be no doubt. The stability of family life, right down to Lupo the cocker spaniel, is incredibly important to him. So he wants to keep his family, particularly George and Charlotte, as far removed as possible from the strictures of royal life. That also involves keeping away from London, despite YOU having to fork out £4million for the refurbishment of the family’s 22-room apartment at Kensington Palace.
Kate, 34, who mustered a woeful 62 engagements, could at least point to being
on maternity leave for half of the year. Yet she too drew scorn this week after it emerged she took a helicopter from a royal engagement in the capital home to Norfolk, costing the taxpayer £3,000. The Queen made the same journey by train, costing a mere £54.90.
William’s supporters point out his engagements are down as he was busy with a new job last summer with East Anglian Air Ambulance. And he’s “packing in the shifts” so everything else has to fit in. But a source grumbled to The Sun: “He’s hardly ever on shift. He was very enthusiastic to begin with but it tailed off. “It’s supposed to be four on, four off but with the Duke it’s more off than on.
To which I say, dayum, because that is just not the story you want to wake up to. Also, emphasis not mine. The article literally includes bold, all-caps words. But here’s the thing, that’s the story that KP should be working against at all times. That’s always in the back pocket; the “get,” if you will is finding someone to go on background from William’s job. The rest of it is easy to piece together; it’s a simple numbers game and playing into the already-present question of “Are they worth it?” That question is always there. The task at hand is to stave off its articulation.
A month later Kate then pulls out of a relied-upon tradition because she has to spend time with her children ahead of one-week tour taking place the following month.
That is just not good timing.
On Thursday, KP announced that William and Kate would be attending the parade. I was genuinely curious as to how they were going to play it this year, particularly once it was announced they would leaving for a two-day tour of Paris on the 17th. Logistically, it’s entirely doable for them to carry out the engagement in the morning and then hop over, but I could see the argument being made that Kate going would amount to a mea culpa. An acknowledgement that not only had they fumbled the ball in 2016, but that they were caving to public pressure – or, more significantly, the press had the ability to force them to bend. On the other hand, had the event been missed twice in a row, it would do nothing to help the current narrative KP is attempting to write, which is that William and Kate are stepping up their game just as they’ve always planned – a key facet of that being it was, you know, totally their idea.
The whole thing is ridiculous because none of this had to be that big of a deal. The couple probably is evolving their role on their own timetable. Kate could have gracefully ducked out of last year’s parade. Discussing the matter of their children’s safety as public figures doesn’t have to be controversial. Maternity leave isn’t shying away from work and families are entitled to holidays.
Just be smart about it. And happy early St. Patrick’s Day.