Royal Roundup: Malta, Brunei & Definitely Not Myanmar

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A week out from the Invictus Games, the Royal Family has racked up a fair bit of international news thanks to the international travel of the Queen’s children. Let’s start with the Prince of Wales’s visit to Malta for the 75th anniversary of the George Cross, with which the island was awarded in 1942 by George VI for Malta’s heroism and service during the Siege of Malta from 1940-1942.

He arrived on Thursday, meeting with Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, his wife, Michelle, and their twin daughters, Etoile and Soleil.

That evening, Charles made a speech thanking Malta for their service, meeting with veterans and opening a new visitors’ center.

The ceremony honored the two-year-long fight for control of the island, featuring a number of government officials and servicemen. The light and image displays are reminiscent of what we saw in Belgium in July for a World War I anniversary.

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The House of Windsor has an interesting relationship with Malta. After World War II, it’s where the Duke of Edinburgh and Princess Elizabeth lived as newlyweds thanks to Philip’s naval career. During those years, Charles and his sister, the Princess Royal, remained in London with George VI and Queen Elizabeth (aka the Queen Mother) until the couple moved back home in 1951. Charles’s and Anne’s first visit to the island wasn’t until 1954 when their mother had already ascended the throne.

On Thursday, Charles highlighted environmental conservation, a cause obviously close to his heart. Speaking at the Our Ocean Conference in Malta, he stated during his remarks that:

“All the plastic that we have produced since the 1950s that has ended up in the ocean is still with us in one form or another, so that wherever you swim there are particles of plastic near you and we are very close to reaching the point when whatever wild-caught fish you eat will contain plastic. Plastic is indeed now on the menu!”

And then, in a moment heavily reported by the media and on Twitter, he released a rehabilitated sea turtle back into the ocean. While the below video doesn’t show it, yes, the turtle(s) eventually made it down to the water.

Charles’s speech and presence helped launch the Blue Economy Initiative, a collaboration between the Prince’s International Sustainability Unit and the World Resources Institute, which works towards ocean conservation.

Throughout all of this, the Duchess of Cornwall was in Aberdeen carrying out an engagement at the local airport. And though I’m seeing something about “dancing robots” I do have my limits and that’s all we’re going to say about that.

Moving on the Earl and Countess of Wessex, who are currently in Brunei to celebrate the Sultan’s 50 years on the throne.

For those not currently up on Brunei’s Royal Family (like me), the Sultan is Hassanal Bolkiah. The Queen is his first (and current) wife, Queen Saleha. The two are first cousins and have been married since 1965 and have six children together, including the heir to the throne, Al-Muhtadee Billah. I say first and current wife, because the Sultan has had two others during his marriage to Saleha, both of whom he has divorced. They include Hajah Mariam, to whom he was married from 1982 to 2003 and Azrinaz Mazhar, to whom he was married from 2005 to 2010. Between the two marriages, the Sultan produced another five children, though upon the divorces, their mothers were stripped of all royal titles and privileges.

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Edward and Sophie represented the Queen during the actual anniversary ceremony, which looked, well, quite golden. Later on, they visited the British garrison at Seria decked out in camouflage where they met with the servicemen and women and their families who live there.

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The images are a bit at odds with the jubilee festivities going on throughout the week, but are nevertheless compelling. My primary takeaway from them is that Sophie really is naturally beautiful because there is no way I would look that poised or elegant in the middle of a jungle.

Anywho, that’s that. In other news from this particular generation, Clarence House announced this week that Charles and Camilla will visit Singapore, Malaysia and India from October 31 to November 9, which is very exciting. I’ll certainly do my best to cover it here – if not day-to-day, then certainly in a handful of summary posts throughout the course of the trip.

The announcement mainly caught my eye because of news from earlier in September that Myanmar might be included in the list of countries. Myanmar is currently in the news due to increased human rights abuses, including allegations that the government is carrying out – and refusing to intervene with – ethnic cleansing. Per Reuters:

“More than 500,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh in the past month since insurgents attacked security posts near the border, triggering fierce military retaliation that the United Nations has branded ethnic cleansing.

“Last month Britain suspended its training programme for the military in Myanmar because of the violence, and diplomatic relations have deteriorated.

“Rights campaigners had argued against a royal visit.

”To have someone of Prince Charles’s stature go to visit the country would be seen as a reward, and giving legitimacy to the government and the military that are currently violating international law,’ said Mark Farmaner, director of Burma Campaign UK.”

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Charles and Camilla with Aung San Suu Kyi

What’s interesting is that this situation has been ongoing for some time, obviously, and yet Clarence House was including Myanmar’s inclusion as recently as a few weeks ago. There was speculation that Charles might play a hand in intervening with the government by urging them to address the issue and put a stop to the killing. While that would certainly have been a sight to behold, I can’t really blame everyone from taking a giant step backwards. We’re still very much in thick of this situation playing out and if there is going to be intervention or further condemnation, I’m not sure a royal tour is the way for it to play out. In short, there’s more to lose than there is to gain.

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Image courtesy of Heads Together

And, finally, on a happier note, let’s end with the Duke of Cambridge. He, the Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry have pledged £2 million to back a digital initiative in support of their mental health campaign. The grant was announced as William learned how Heads Together had moved the needle, so to speak, on public attitudes towards mental health in light of the royal trio’s hope to remove stigma.

The results found that as of February, 45% of men and 52% percent of women had discussed their mental health – that number grew to 60% of men and 61% of women by May. In other words, an estimated 1.5 million more Britons discussed mental health issues over the span of three months, which is statistically significant.

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That timing is obviously telling given that this past spring saw a marked push from William, Kate and Harry on behalf of Heads Together. Harry gave his podcast interview, William and Kate did a radio interview, William filmed a video with Lady Gaga, there were a slew of engagements, a film made at Kensington Palace of the three talking and massive promotion of the London Marathon which boasted a Heads Together team. In short, this is very good news for KP, the campaign and William, Kate and Harry.

After seeing the results, William said:

“At the beginning, we were trying to understand why at home people weren’t sharing some of their problems. If we’ve at least made a big impression there we can work on the wider societal aspects. But I think it all has to start at home. If you can’t even have a conversation with your loved ones, there’s no way you’re going to go to HR at work […]

“The only thing, trying to extrapolate the data from this, is that these individuals who have spoken have probably got a reasonably good support network around them. Are we missing a whole set of people who have either been in care or who have had very bad experiences at young ages, who have bad mental health already? How do we affect that demographic?”

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To-date, this campaign has involved a listening tour and then an active effort to urge people to speak out while reducing stigma. The next step, according to the Royal Foundation, is to invest in supplying the practical tools that will help people access support and help.

And with that, we are wrapped. We’ll see William and Harry at a reception at St. James’s Palace on Tuesday for World Mental Health Day and then the two of them plus Kate at Buckingham Palace later in the evening. That will of course be our first sight of Kate since the White Garden tour back in August thanks to last month’s baby announcement. There’s still no word on whether or not she and William will still carry out their overseas trip in November, but it’s a good sign that she’s getting back out there.

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If she’s fully on the mend, then we can expect a very busy autumn for her – likely as many engagements as possible will be packed into her schedule before the Christmas holiday.

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