2017’s Engagement Numbers & What They Tell Us

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It’s that time of year again: annual engagement numbers are out and so now we look a what the statistics tell us about how the British Royal Family did. These numbers were released yesterday thanks to a list published by The Times every year courtesy of a veteran royal watcher, Tom O’Donovan, who has been compiling the statistics since 1979.

This year, the member of the RF who undertook the highest total number of engagements is none other than the Prince of Wales (546). He is closely followed by his younger sister, Anne, the Princess Royal (540). Third place goes to Andrew, the Duke of York (326), and fourth to Queen Elizabeth herself (296). Fifth place is awarded to Edward, the Earl of Wessex (281) and sixth to the Duchess of Cornwall (235). Seventh place goes to the Queen’s cousin, Richard, the Duke of Gloucester (232), while eighth is for Sophie, the Countess of Wessex (218). Ninth place is Prince Harry (209), while tenth is the Duke of Cambridge (171). Edward, Duke of Kent comes in eleventh (160), followed by the Duke of Edinburgh (131) in twelfth. The Duchess of Gloucester is at thirteenth (113), trailed only the Duchess of Cambridge (105) at fourteenth and the Duke of Kent’s younger sister, Princess Alexandra (65), at fifteenth.

All told, 15 members of the Royal Family carried out 3,628 engagements, a decline from 3,725 engagements last year.

The news coverage that is coming out of these numbers is about the same as it always is. Charles and Anne are being (rightfully) lauded as the hardest working members of the RF, while Kate is being roundly criticized for low stats. Normally, William and Harry are wrapped up in that criticism, but both men became “full time” as of September, which helped to grow their numbers by the end of the year. They’ve been given a pass for 2017 with the expectation that 2018 will look significantly different.

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Just a few years ago, the Queen’s engagement numbers were substantially higher, but as we’ve seen, she is beginning to pass more and more of the weight on to other members of the family as she grows older. Similarly, Prince Philip’s numbers used be higher, but his retirement in August of this year limited his year-end tally.

For those that are unfamiliar with some of these names, the Dukes of Kent and Gloucester are the Queen’s cousins from her father’s side. Both of their fathers were brothers of George VI and as such they are grandsons of George V. Typically, grandchildren of a monarch are working members of the family and carry out engagements, though as we’ve discussed in the past, this is now being handled differently. The Queen’s four adult grandchildren excluding William and Harry – Peter Phillips, Zara Tindall and Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie – are not working royals and are expected to forge their own careers. The same will be true of Edward and Sophie’s children when they reach adulthood and, theoretically, this will also be the case for Harry’s children with Meghan Markle.

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So, let’s address Kate since this is driving the conversation. Yes, the number is less than ideal, but the reasons for this are pretty clear. She was a part-time royal until September of this year, but as of when she was meant to re-emerge with a full schedule, she ended up having to bow out of work due to her third pregnancy. To put this year’s figure in perspective, she conducted 140 engagements in 2016 when she wasn’t pregnant, which was better than 2015 (the year Princess Charlotte was born) when she carried out only 62.

What irks people about these figures is that William, Kate and Harry are all squarely in their 30s – and at the peak of their popularity, quite likely – and all are outpaced by their father, step-mother, aunts and uncles, all of whom are what would normally be considered retirement age or pretty close to it. Looking at the figures in black and white, it’s hard to wrap one’s head around a healthy adult’s 91-year-old grandmother working more days.

But of course this isn’t typical work and this isn’t a typical family. In many ways it works backwards in that your work matches your seniority and Charles and his siblings are the children of the monarch, which counts for something. Charles, Anne and Andrew are also all empty-nesters, while William and Kate have two young children under the age of five. And let us not forget that up until a few months ago, William worked part-time as an air ambulance pilot, which might not be public work, but is still very much work.

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None of that is necessarily a defense of these numbers, because I don’t love them. I do, however, want to offer up the proper context for them. William and Harry have been vocal that they have a different attitude towards engagements, which is one of quality over quantity. They’re not looking to break 300, they’re looking to move the needle on issues like their mental health campaign. Fine, very well. And were Kate not pregnant, it can be safely assumed that her numbers would be higher. But perhaps not high enough, lest we begin to imagine that the Cambridges are the only royal couple in history to have children. The below tweet pretty starkly puts this into context re: Sophie of Wessex:

There is also the small issue that Kate’s statistics will lead headlines, while William will get far more of a free pass. His autumn workload earned him a higher place, but like Kate he was also part-time for 75 percent of this year and has often been lower on the list in years past. Nevertheless, it’s Kate who is usually tarred and feathered by the public despite the fact that William is the future monarch.

The last point is the crux of the issue. Regardless of how old William is or his seniority in the family, he is the future king and Kate is the future queen consort. That they are roundly beaten by the Duke of Gloucester is difficult to defend. Frankly, so too is the fact that they are beaten by Edward and Sophie.

The Queen’s reign is the last one that will look like this, in theory, and there will come a day when there aren’t 15 working royals, but rather Charles, Camilla, William, Kate, Harry and Meghan (with perhaps ancillary support from Anne, Andrew, Edward and Sophie as they continue with certain patronages). That will be a significant shrinkage in manpower and for obvious reasons we haven’t been given a good indication of how exactly they’re going to handle that. There are charities who currently enjoy royal patronage, for example, who are nervous about what will happen when they don’t carry that kind of endorsement.

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In light of this coming transition – and in light of the popularity of the younger three (soon to be four) – it’s time for these numbers to be reported without everyone having to offer 800 words of context to show that they’re not “work shy.” Prince Philip is retired and the Queen’s numbers are continuing to shrink. In my opinion, it is absolutely correct that Charles is the leader of the pack, but I would likely to see a hugely shrunken gap between him and Camilla, William, Harry and Kate. Eventually I would also like to see them overtake Anne, Andrew and Edward, but I doubt that will happen in the Queen’s lifetime.

A big piece of this for 2018 is dependent on how Kensington Palace handles Kate’s maternity leave next year. To be clear, I’m not against Kate taking a leave of absence – it is absolutely correct, reasonable and necessary that she does – but I also am not interested in seeing 62 engagements in 2018. If Kate gives birth in April as expected, then we can assume she’ll bow out of public view at the end of March and remain out of commission for all of April, May and most of June. She’ll turn up at Trooping the Colour in June, but may skip Ascot and won’t be undertaking engagements. She’ll (hopefully) be working in July, absent for August per tradition, and then back at it for the end of the year. Unlike this year, it’s unlikely there will be another tour after this winter’s four-day trip to Scandinavia. 2015 saw zero tours for her and William because of Charlotte, so I think our best bet, if we get anything, is a European mini-tour at the end of next year (though I’m more than happy to be wrong on this).

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If we assume that Kate will be only working roughly seven months next year, then KP needs to make the most of that time – substantive engagements, speeches, new patronages and some insight into how the maternal mental health initiative is going. I’m hopeful next year will be different than 2015 because the Cambridges are based in London, but as each year goes by this narrative becomes harder and harder to undo.

As for Meghan, she’ll be on this list next year, which will be an exciting addition. She and Harry are expected to carry out a number of engagements around the UK between January and May, and I would be willing to bet they’ll undertake their first tour next summer or autumn akin to the North American tour that William and Kate did in 2011. I would also imagine Meghan’s numbers will be pretty low as she dips her toe into what it means to be a working royal and she should be given the space to acclimate.

But God help us all if those figures are comparable to Kate’s.

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