Back in January I wrote a post about the Royal Family’s relationship with their public personas – about how the younger generation was better-positioned to use interest in their personal lives effectively. I argued that in humanizing themselves, in today’s climate, they had a better chance of effectively reaching people. At the time I pointed to Prince Harry as an example of one Royal already doing so, though it was three months before his watershed interview with The Telegraph was published. I also noted that while the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, particularly William, have flirted with private anecdotes, they had spent the first five/six years of their marriage focused on guarding their own privacy, particularly as they brought up their young children.
Incredibly, in just four short months, much of this has shifted. There were hints of what was to come as early as last year when Harry and his uncle, the Duke of York, issued press releases blasting the media for intrusion into their personal lives. But while the sentiment was unsurprising, the tone and candor were, particularly from Harry. In the new year, all eyes were on the younger royals, particularly William and Kate, after a blistering round of criticism for low engagement numbers and confirmation from Kensington Palace that the Cambridges would be moving to London later this year and William stepping down from his pilot job.
In March, Kate made a speech about parenting a few days after the terrorist attack in Westminster where she touched on postpartum depression and the isolation that can accompany new parenthood. For Kate, this was a significant departure from her usual tight-lipped graciousness.
Harry, less surprisingly, took the lead by more clearly linking his public work with that of his mother – positioning himself as the natural heir apparent to the late Princess of Wales’s legacy. In addition to mental health, he was speaking out on landmines and HIV. His work with veterans is such that the emotional link is clear and he has little trouble talking about his own experiences with service.
And then April happened. In the build up to the London Marathon, William, Kate and Harry kicked their Heads Together initiative into high gear – and with that, unprecedented insight into who they were. First came Harry’s podcast interview, then William displayed emotion at the first screening of the BBC documentary the three worked on. William and Kate participated in their second joint (and by far more informal) interview for a radio show. William and Lady Gaga skyped to talk about depression. This was followed up by their own #okaytosay video, which featured William and Harry talking about Diana and Kate remembering their first weeks home with Prince George as an infant.
After the London Marathon on April 23rd there were murmurs that the three were so taken aback by the response to their work – ending stigma around mental health – that they wanted to keep the momentum going. And perhaps so, for earlier this week the first snippets of an interview with British GQ were published in which William more thoroughly discussed his personal life, from how he has handled his mother’s death to his attitude towards his home life and fatherhood. This is no mean feat – for William or GQ, I suppose – since William isn’t known to be a huge fan of the media.
Not for nothing, but 2017 marks the 20th anniversary of Diana’s death and she’s been more discussed in the last six months than she has in years. More to the point, William and Harry speak about her regularly, to the point that while it might still prompt headlines (everything they say does, after all), it’s less pressurized than it once was – Diana’s legacy and memory have become less the giant elephant in the room anytime a Windsor pops up.
They’ve also set a bit of a precedent. With the exception of the Prince of Wales (and Diana, I suppose), it’s rare for the earlier generation of Royals to speak to the media. Every now and again the Earl and Countess of Wessex will, Sophie being one of the more popular members of the family. But the Duchess of Cornwall, for example, never has. After marrying Charles in 2005 she bypassed the more in-depth analyses of acclimating to royal life by sort of just smiling through the blaze and has built a persona based very much on being a sort of genial grandmother figure.
Even so, she recently participated in an article for the Mail on Sunday where she opened up more than she ever has on how she has adjusted as Charles’s wife, her own family and the unpleasant years in which she was viewed first and foremost as Charles’s mistress and the source of Diana’s unhappiness.
On her unpopularity back in the day:
“For about a year, when we lived at Middlewick, I couldn’t really go anywhere. But the children came and went as normal – they just got on with it – and so did great friends.
‘I would pass the time by reading a lot – more than I’d ever have been able to in a normal life. I thought, well, if I’m stuck here I might as well do something positive like read all the books I want to read, and try to learn to paint – though that wasn’t a huge success! – and after a while, life sort of went on.
“It was horrid. It was a deeply unpleasant time and I wouldn’t want to put my worst enemy through it. I couldn’t have survived it without my family.”
On royal life:
“Thank goodness I was brought up with the grounding of my parents, and taught manners. It sounds, especially in this day and age, sort of snobbish but we left school at 16, nobody went on to university unless you were a real brainbox. Instead, we went to Paris and Florence and learned about life and culture and how to behave with people, how to talk to people. This was very ingrained in my upbringing and if I hadn’t had that, I would have found royal life much more difficult.”
Her son, Tom Parker Bowles’s two cents:
“The paparazzi used to follow us everywhere and lurk around like spooks. We used to keep binoculars in my mother’s bathroom [when the family were living in their previous home, Middlewick House], and one of us would look out every morning to see how many paparazzi were hiding in the bushes. We could tell by the flash of sun on their camera lenses. At the peak [of interest in Camilla], there would be half a dozen hiding outside. It seemed entirely normal.”
The article states:
“Their [Charles and Camilla’s] extraordinary love affair has propelled her to this extreme public position as the number two royal lady in the land; she has suffered more than a little turbulence since they first met almost half a century ago.
“Since then she has endured the cruellest vilification when Princess Diana hysteria was at its highest, but is now firmly established in the public’s affection. Tourist shops display Camilla thimbles, mugs and tea towels; her in-tray overflows with requests for public appearances. What has never wavered is the deep affection Prince Charles has towards the woman to whom he refers in public as ‘my darling wife’, and nor has her reciprocal love for him. It has at times been a traumatising process replacing Diana to become wife to the future king. All the more difficult as Diana died in tragic circumstances aged just 36, and remains forever young.
“Yet this spring, as Camilla carried out a nine-day official tour of Europe with Prince Charles – 20 years after Diana’s death – there were scenes of adulation day after day, with the crowd in Naples standing ten deep. Photographs show Camilla smiling warmly; the constantly used description for her is ‘down to earth’. Never has there been such a reversal of fortune for a royal paramour since Prince Albert went from being a despised German outsider to revered Prince Consort upon his marriage to Queen Victoria more than 150 years ago.”
Certainly, Charles and Camilla run a sophisticated PR machine – he’s the heir to the throne, after all. And rumor has it that Charles is dead set on having Camilla named queen, despite earlier protestations that she would be known as Princess Consort during his reign. Even so, no tactic heretofore has included participation in a media interview in which Camilla was directly quoted – this is new.
Timing is interesting here. For example, while Harry’s podcast interview was released in April it was recorded back in March. William’s GQ cover was released in May but conducted in April right around the marathon push. It’s unclear when Camilla’s interview took place, but my guess would be that it went down post-marathon given the cadence of MoS stories and if that’s true, then it’s hard to argue it wasn’t informed by William, Kate and Harry’s success. As it was, no doubt, made more appetizing by Camilla’s recent success in Italy and Vienna.
None of this particularly revolutionary, but it sets the stage for a monarchy with an updated tone and tempo. And this is how that’s done – not all at once, but bit by bit. The Cambridges announce they are coming back to London, Harry gives a memorable interview, Prince Phillip announces his retirement and in-between those turning points we have a bit more exposure, a little more candor and what would have once seemed extraordinary becomes the norm.
For example, see the difference between how Wallis Simpson and Meghan Markle have been received.