Prince William goes incognito — and aims to send more signals about future for House of Windsor

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He was, by all accounts, unassuming and friendly.

Prince William went incognito in central London this week — or as incognito as someone second in line to the throne can go — selling copies of a magazine in support of those who are homeless, long-term unemployed or trying to avoid going into debt.

The efforts by William to sell copies of The Big Issue came a few days after events marking Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee wrapped up.

According to media reports, some who met William selling the magazine were struck by his easy manner and the contrast between his low-key appearance on the street and the high-profile celebration of his grandmother’s seven decades as monarch that drew international attention.

As much as those events were focused on the Queen and her dedication to her role since 1952, they were also about sending signals for the future of the monarchy, which is increasingly focusing on those directly in the line of succession.

The closing image of the Jubilee last Sunday, from the balcony of Buckingham Palace, saw the 96-year-old Queen surrounded only by her heir, Prince Charles, and his wife, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, along with William, his wife, Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, and their three children, Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis.

From left, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall; Prince Charles; Queen Elizabeth; Prince George; Prince William; Princess Charlotte; Prince Louis; and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, appear on the balcony of Buckingham Palace in London on June 5. (Jonathan Brady/The Associated Press)

“This is the future of the Royal Family,” Katie Nicholl, royal editor for Vanity Fair, told CBC’S Adrienne Arsenault after the Jubilee events came to a close. “This is four generations of the House of Windsor: the Queen and her three successors, three future kings.”

For William, who turns 40 on June 21, this all comes a few years after rumblings about whether he was “work-shy” and as keen as he might be about the role he has.

William has said he takes duty very seriously, and any sense of a lack of keenness that surrounded him seems to have ebbed.

“It’s clear that Prince William is now very much at the core of the monarchy, and those ‘work-shy’ comments are definitely in the past,” Craig Prescott, a constitutional expert at Bangor University in Wales, said via email.

With Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, having stepped back from official duties, Prescott said it’s really the role of William and Kate “to ensure that the monarchy continues to engage with younger generations.”

Prince George, left, and his father, Prince William, attend a concert to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee in front of Buckingham Palace on June 4. (Henry Nicholls/Reuters)

“They are the only senior royals undertaking public duties that are under 55 or so,” Prescott added, noting that Prince Edward and Sophie, Countess of Wessex, are 58 and 57, respectively.

Prescott said it was a surprise to see William, apparently with little security, selling The Big Issue, and initially doing it incognito.

“The only time I can recall him doing something similar was in 2009, when he slept rough for a night with Centrepoint, another homeless charity.”

Other members of the Royal Family have informally helped charities, Prescott said, but it’s relatively rare to see them doing anything on such an informal basis. 

“Doing things such [as this] is likely to appeal to younger generations who are said to prefer ‘authenticity’ as opposed to merely staged photo opportunities.”

As much as it appeared low-key, it was also likely a deliberate public relations move on William’s part, done in the hope that it would get picked up on social media (which it did).

“In stunts like William’s Big Issue moment, you can see the cogs of modern PR whirling,” British PR expert Mark Borkowski wrote on his blog Friday.

“His rule will be characterized by a willingness to discuss the real issues, to get out and listen to people’s woes and to project empathy. Homelessness, mental health, even identity politics might be on the agenda of this future ruler.”

Prince William, left, Princess Charlotte, Prince George and Kate at Cardiff Castle in Cardiff, Wales, on June 4, as members of the Royal Family visited across the U.K. to mark Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee. (Ashley Crowden/The Associated Press)

Prescott said there is an increasing feeling that as the Queen continues to reign, whatever time Charles will have as King is likely to be a period of transition for the monarchy, and William will take the “helm of a ‘slimmed-down’ and more open monarchy” when his time comes.

“Perhaps with some of the [Commonwealth] realms becoming republics. William’s role will be to support and facilitate that transition,” Prescott said.

WATCH | A royal editor reflects on the future for the House of Windsor: 

Monarchy in ‘good shape’ after Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, editor says

The National’s Adrienne Arsenault talks to Vanity Fair royal editor Katie Nicholl about her thoughts on the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and what comes next for the monarchy.

Indeed, William telegraphed as much when the controversial visit he and Kate made to the Caribbean in March came to a close.

“Relationships evolve. Friendship endures,” he said during a speech at a reception in the Bahamas. “Next year, I know you are all looking forward to celebrating 50 years of independence — your golden anniversary,” he said.

“And with Jamaica celebrating 60 years of independence this year, and Belize celebrating 40 years of independence last year, I want to say this: We support with pride and respect your decisions about your future.”

As for the future of the Royal Family itself, the fact that William and Kate’s children were so visible during the Jubilee long weekend held its own significance. George and Charlotte took part in their first real public engagement when they accompanied their parents to Wales for a quick visit on Saturday.

Princess Charlotte laughs as she conducts a band next to her brother, Prince George, during their visit to Cardiff Castle. (Ashley Crowden/The Associated Press)

“This, combined with the fact that Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis also appeared on the [Buckingham Palace] balcony — along with Prince George — at the very end of the celebrations, is a suggestion that in the very long term, there will be a role for them as senior royals, in addition to Prince George,” Prescott said.

Still, it’s unlikely there will be frequent public appearances for the children for the next several years.

“Until they complete their education, public appearances will continue to be rare, but it’s likely we’ll continue to see photographs at special moments such as birthdays and at Christmas,” Prescott said.

Meeting with the Commonwealth

Prince Charles, right, meets soccer player Bukayo Saka, second from left, at a reception at Buckingham Palace on Thursday to celebrate the Commonwealth diaspora of the United Kingdom ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Rwanda later this month. (Dominic Lipinski/The Associated Press)

Prince Charles and Camilla will become the first members of the Royal Family to visit Rwanda when they travel there later this month on behalf of the Queen to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.

In a media release this week, Charles said he and Camilla are looking forward to meeting Commonwealth leaders and being able to visit the African country.

“Too many members of the Commonwealth are amongst the world’s most climate-vulnerable countries. As two out of three Commonwealth citizens are under the age of 30, there is a pressing need to find opportunities for our young people,” Charles said in the release.

“Taking shared responsibility to solve problems like these means the Commonwealth has the potential to make a profound difference in the lives of its citizens — and, in so doing, to be an unparalleled force for good in our world.”

As much as Charles holds out that belief, there has also been long-standing debate and many questions over the role and relevance of the Commonwealth organization.

Still, Charles will use his time in Rwanda to focus on a wide range of issues, including climate change, support for biodiversity and land regeneration, economic development, youth opportunities and gender equality.

He will also announce a new partnership to create a “Living Lab” that promotes sustainable agriculture and land management with local communities, linked to similar initiatives around the world, the release said.

Camilla will carry out engagements reflecting her own interests, including literacy and women’s safety, and will give a keynote speech at a Violence Against Women and Girls event.

Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, right, meets English rugby player Maro Itoje at the reception at Buckingham Palace in London on Thursday. (Dominic Lipinski/The Associated Press)

The visit will also give Charles and Camilla “an opportunity to reflect on the strength and resilience of the Rwandan people, as well as their commitment to reconciliation and optimism, following the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi,” the release said.

They will visit a genocide memorial, where they will tour a museum and lay a wreath, and will meet with women from the Village of Hope, an organization set up after the genocide to offer shelter to women who suffered gender-based violence.

Charles will also visit a reconciliation village, where he will meet with survivors and perpetrators of the genocide and visit a local church to view a genocide memorial, the release said.

The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting takes place in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, from June 20 to 25. It was originally scheduled to be held there in June 2020, but was postponed twice because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Keeping time with Paddington

First, it was James Bond. Now, it’s Paddington Bear.

Ten years after Queen Elizabeth shared some clever cinematic moments with Daniel Craig’s 007 during the opening of the London Olympics, the monarch offered something of a surprise for those watching Jubilee events last weekend with her turn as a screen actor opposite the beloved fictional bear. (Turns out, at least in this instance, Elizabeth keeps a marmalade sandwich in her purse, “for later.”)

Queen Elizabeth and Paddington Bear have cream tea at Buckingham Palace in London, in this photo taken from a film that was shown before a Jubilee concert outside the palace on June 4. (Buckingham Palace/Studio Canal/BBC Studios/Heyday Films/The Associated Press)

“I thought it was better than her James Bond sketch,” Prescott said, describing it as “more elaborate, with the Queen showing genuine timing.”

Some of that timing emerged as she and Paddington tapped along with their spoons on their china tea cups to We Will Rock You, the opening Jubilee concert number from rockers Queen with Adam Lambert.

But the moments Elizabeth shared with the fictional bear were more than an entertaining montage.

“It was also an indication that despite her mobility difficulties, she continues to be as sharp as ever and is still very much in charge,” Prescott said.

“It shows the remarkable changes that she has seen during life and reign. Her first broadcast was made on the radio, and now she’s engaging, perfectly naturally, with a CGI character.”

WATCH | The Queen and Paddington Bear kick off the Platinum Jubilee concert, in this video the Royal Family posted to social media: 

Prescott said there is discussion in the U.K. about what Paddington stands for.

“Some people are very quick to make the point that — as much as a bear can be — he is an immigrant from Peru. But more fundamentally, he is a character which is much loved by all, young and old.”

And it was in that context, Prescott said, when Paddington said “thank you” to the Queen, that he was representing what the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth wanted to say to her.

“It was an opportunity to thank the Queen for an unprecedented 70 years of service. So in addition to being funny and heartwarming, it was also a deeply symbolic moment.”

Royally quotable

“My heart has been with you all, and I remain committed to serving you to the best of my ability.” 

— Queen Elizabeth, in a thank you message after Platinum Jubilee events came to a close.

Queen Elizabeth waves to the crowd from the balcony of Buckingham Palace during the Platinum Jubilee Pageant on June 5. (Frank Augstein/The Associated Press)

Royal watches and reads 

  1. Queen Elizabeth’s favourite horse is said to have been a Saskatchewan thoroughbred named Burmese, bred by the RCMP and given to her as a gift. [CBC]

  2. Meet a photographer who has been capturing royal history for decades, as he reveals his favourite shots and moments — and whether he’s ever received “the look” from the Queen. [CBC]

  3. Speaking of photos, Prince Harry and Meghan released a picture of their daughter, Lilibet, as she celebrated her first birthday last weekend. [BBC]

  4. In The Spectator, author Robert Hardman takes a look at the “quiet radicalism” of Queen Elizabeth.

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