Heirs and Spares

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It’s been a while since I have blogged as I have been hard at work writing a book on the Queen for the Pocket Giants Series soon to be published by The History Press.  But now, on the eve of the Queen’s eighty-ninth birthday, as my focus shifts and the world awaits the impending arrival of her fifth great-grandchild, the spare to William’s heir, we are reminded once again that we are all a witness to living history.

Throughout the British monarchy’s thousand-year history, the role of the “spare” in relation to the heir has been a tricky one. Some spares have revolutionized entire eras, while others have irrevocably tarnished the family name. Free of the burdens of impending sovereignty, spares have long been able to benefit from the trappings of royal life, but without a definitive constitutional role, it has been hard for many to carve out a worthwhile existence in which their own achievements could be recognized.

Henry VIII was perhaps the most notorious of all royal spares. He assumed his place as heir apparent in 1502 upon the death of his elder brother Arthur, Prince of Wales, who passed away from an unknown illness five months shy of his sixteenth birthday. Although famed for having six wives, two of whom he had executed, Henry’s kingship continues to have a lasting impact on modern British life. His squabbles with the papal authority led to the separation of the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church, whereupon Henry installed himself as Supreme Head of the Church of England – a position the reigning monarch continues to hold today. Recent amendments made to the Laws to Succession – brought before Parliament in 2013 – now allow members of the royal family to marry a Catholic without sacrificing their place in line, but a Roman Catholic monarch remains forbidden.

King George V, the current Queen’s grandfather, was the second-born son of King Edward VII, and was also a royal spare. His elder brother Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence and Avondale, died suddenly in 1892 after contracting influenza at the age of twenty-eight. His death placed George in direct line to the throne and paved the way for the first Windsor monarch. The early years of George’s reign were blighted by the First World War. In response to the British public’s escalating anti-German sentiment, George changed the house and family name by Royal Proclamation in July 1917 from the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to the more Anglican-sounding House of Windsor. Almost a hundred years later the House of Windsor continues to reign. It was also George who delivered the first Christmas Message to the “British Empire” in a radio broadcast made from a temporary studio set-up at Sandringham in 1932.

The Queen’s father, King George VI, was yet another spare thrust into fulfilling a destiny not his by birth. Following the abdication of his brother Edward VIII, who had reigned a mere three hundred and twenty-five days before stepping aside in order to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson, George reluctantly took on the role of King. Leading his country through the war years, he restored a sense of continuity, boosting public morale, and as such was a popular ruler. In 1926 his first daughter, Princess Elizabeth Alexandra Mary was born. At the time of her birth she was never expected to be crowned Queen, but later this year, on September 9th, 2015, she will surpass Queen Victoria’s record to become the longest reigning monarch in British history.

Raising Princes William and Harry, Diana was conscious that William, as heir, would be well taken care of by the establishment. She made a concerted effort to ensure Harry was treated equally and never felt left out. Though Harry remains one of the most popular members of the royal family, he, along with fellow spares Princess Margaret and Prince Andrew, Duke of York, has been at the mercy of incessant public scrutiny and has faced harsh criticism over a slew of ill-advised choices.  In recent years however, Harry has risen above the naysayers to champion the needs of wounded veterans as well as overseeing the work of his charity Sentebale.

With the birth of the new baby Cambridge, William and Kate are now charged with raising their own heir and spare, but as history has shown, the British monarchy is anything but predictable. In two of the last three generations of monarchs the second-born son has stepped into the top job and reigned successfully.

It will be many years from now before these children are expected to embark on official royal duties and make their own mark on the international stage, but one thing is certain: one should never underestimate the potential of a royal spare.

Another One Bites the Dust

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European monarchs appear to be falling like dominoes.  Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands set the ball rolling in April 2013 when she stepped down in favour of her son and heir Prince Willem-Alexander following a thirty-three year reign.  In July 2013, seventy-nine year old Albert II of Belgium gave up his throne citing advancing age and health issues, and today comes word that King Juan Carlos of Spain, 76, has decided to abdicate after a reign that has spanned almost four decades.

 
The popularity of the Spanish monarchy has nose-dived in recent years.  Juan Carlos’s secret luxury trip to Botswana to hunt elephant at the height of his country’s financial crisis in 2012 didn’t help…especially given his role as honorary President of the World Wildlife Fund.  Then there’s the on-going investigation of his son-in-law, Inaki Urdangarin, who stands accused of alledgedly embezzling six million Euros in public funds through his charity.  Add to that the king’s slew of health issues – five operations over the course of two years – and it seems rather a sensible decision to hand over to his son, Prince Felipe, 46, who has seen his own popularity steadily increase.

 
While Juan Carlos’s abdication comes as no surprise, it does beg the question:  Will Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II follow suit?  She has after all put in an impressive tenure, sixty-two years to be precise (today marks the sixty-first anniversary of her coronation).  She’s currently enjoying a surge in popularity – always better to go out on top – and at eighty-eight she has surely earned the right to put her feet up and bask in her twilight years. So will she be next to throw in the towel?  In a word, no!

 
In 1947, on the occasion of her twenty-first birthday, during a tour with her parents to Southern Africa, a then Princess Elizabeth made a pledge in a broadcast to the Commonwealth in which she said, “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.”  Sixty-five years later, in a speech to both houses of Parliament commemorating her Diamond Jubilee in 2012, the Queen rededicated herself to her country and its people, vowing to serve, “…now and in the years to come.”  The Queen is a deeply religious woman, and in 1953 she took her oath before God. For her that means a lifetime of commitment.

 
Due to her own advancing age, Prince Charles has stepped in to represent his mother at several high profile engagements over the last year, most notably at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Sri Lanka last November, but this by no means indicates that he’s planning a coup.  She continues to carry out a jam-packed royal schedule and will travel to France later this week to mark the D-Day commemorations alongside her “strength and stay” Prince Philip who will celebrate his ninety-third birthday next week.  The Queen is for all intents a purposes the royal equivalent of the Energizer Bunny and the only way she will ever step aside is if she becomes mentally or physically incapacitated.

 
Come September 2015, Queen Elizabeth II will surpass Queen Victoria’s record as Britain’s longest reigning monarch, and if one was to think optimistically, should she live to the ripe old age of one hundred and eight, she would break former King Sobhuza II of Swaziland’s reign as the world’s longest serving monarch.  While that is a record that stands to remain unbroken, you can rest assured that as long as she remains healthy, the Queen’s not going anywhere, and for that we should be immensely proud and grateful.

 

Royal Jet-Set

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(CNN) — Britain’s Duke and Duchess of Cambridge leave England for their three-week tour to New Zealand and Australia this weekend with their baby son Prince George. A “hub and spoke” system has been put in place allowing for the new parents to travel to engagements during the day and return to their son in the evening, much like parents the world over who trudge off to work in the morning only to dash home in the evening to catch baby before bedtime…http://www.cnn.com/2014/04/04/opinion/george-royal-tour/index.html?sr=sharebar_twitter

Living at Kensington Palace

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When I was a child my father, Dickie Arbiter, former Court Correspondent for LBC News Radio, was invited to serve as a press secretary for the Prince and Princess of Wales.  As a result of his time working for the Royal Family we spent a few years living in a Grace and Favour Apartment in Kensington Palace.  Here I share my memories with premiere royal website Royal Central:

People often ask me what it was like living at Kensington Palace and, in the past, I’ve responded in a somewhat blasé fashion. However, the passage of time has given me the opportunity to appreciate what a truly unique experience it was…http://www.royalcentral.co.uk/blogs/insight/victoria-arbiter-living-at-kensington-palace-26368

Picture This

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In a surprising turn this week, Kensington Palace reportedly gave the okay to celebs-pictured-at-home-in-matching-outfits bible, Hello! magazine, to publish paparazzi photos taken of Kate with Prince George en route to their hols on the island of Mustique.  Was it because Hello! is considered to be a well-respected magazine as opposed to a tabloid rag you’d use to line the litter box?  Possibly.  Was it a case of image control?  Perhaps.  More likely it was a case of William and Kate resigning themselves to the idea of picking their battles.  They were harmless pictures, and while no doubt particularly irritating to William, he’d have sounded like a petulant child had he cried foul this time around.

Due to security concerns, magazine editors supposedly played it safe by asking permission from the palace and agreeing not to publish until Kate had returned to England, but I expect everyone fell off their seats when actually given the go-ahead.   A right royal pay day for everyone concerned.

The reason this is so surprising is that William and Kate in particular have been more vocal than perhaps any other royal over what is and is not deemed acceptable when it comes to their privacy.  In light of the recent Levenson enquiry into press standards, their wishes have, so far anyway, been pretty well respected.  The topless photos taken in France in 2012 were a major balls-up, but William went after the European publication like a bear with a sore head, and rightfully so.  At the other end of the spectrum, not wanting to reveal the name of their dog, Lupo, seemed a tad trivial; but regardless, the British newspapers have been exceedingly well behaved.  Thirty years ago topless photos of Diana or Fergie on holiday would have been splashed across the front page, and every subsequent page thereafter, of every single newspaper in the country.  Indeed, Fergie’s were…with an extra dash of toe sucking thrown in.

The printing of these new photos, however, does send something of a mixed message, and I fear that by letting the magazine publish without so much as a quibble, the palace has made a rod for its own back.  The green light was apparently given because they were taken in a “public” place where dozens of other tourists were milling around, so “anyone” could have taken them.  It wasn’t just anyone who took them though, it was a paparazzi photographer with his eye on the prize.  A very large prize when you consider we’ve only been granted two photographs of Prince George in the seven months since he was born.

During the royal couple’s last trip to Mustique in February 2013, photos of a bikini-clad Kate on the beach were snapped and sold to the highest bidder, and it was made abundantly clear that the royals were not happy.  Granted it was a sensitive time.  Kate had only just recovered from her bout of acute morning sickness, and timing wise it was hot on the heels of the topless pix printed by Closer Magazine in France.  There was also a sense that the photos had been obtained in a seedy fashion by a photographer with a telephoto lens hunkered down in a boat off shore.  That may well be the case, but the photos taken at the airport in St. Vincent last week were not obtained in a fashion any less seedy. They were still the work of a paparazzi photographer staked out in the bushes with a telephoto lens, all unbeknownst to Kate.

                Moving forward, it does beg the question:  what qualifies as a public place?  The airport?  Check.  The beach?  That’s a negative.  So what about the park?  The supermarket?  Starbucks?  I don’t believe Hello! would have published any photos of Kate and George out and about in London, and London is a very “public” place.

Generally speaking paparazzi photographers are made from different stock than your average Joe.  They feed on the thrill of the chase; they positively salivate over the resulting paycheque that comes from catching public figures in private moments, and they adhere to an alternative moral standard than the more “legitimate” photographers.  Give them an inch and they won’t just take a mile, they’ll take ten.  As there were no repercussions this time around, you can guarantee there will be at least one snapper who declares this open season.

Hello! is the first British publication to offer up numerous pages of paparazzi photographs printed alongside less than riveting text detailing everything from the colour of Kate’s shoes (taupe!!!) to how Prince George has…wait for it…grown!  The pictures have since been picked up worldwide, so while I’m inclined to believe this approach is likely a one-off for the royal couple, it remains to be seen how long the British press tolerates the publish-at-your-own-peril sentiment.

Diana famously wrestled with her relationship with the paparazzi.  She courted them to her advantage and then cried for privacy when things didn’t go as planned.  In light of that, William and Kate have probably been quite sensible to take a zero tolerance approach.  Let’s hope this one small reprieve doesn’t cost them the privacy they hold so dear.

Sources Say…What???

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January has always been a notoriously slow month in terms of royal “news”.  The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh are at Sandringham, where they’ll remain until shortly after February 6th, the anniversary of her father’s death and her subsequent accession to the throne.  Charles and Camilla are enjoying time off after a stellar 2013 which saw the Heir Apparent named Britain’s Busiest Royal, having completed 442 engagements in the UK and 95 on official overseas tours.  William is studying at Cambridge; Kate is holding down the fort at home with George, and Harry is laying low before returning to his base.

With nothing concrete to report, many of the same old stories have been resuscitated this month, along with a smattering of others that are ridiculous in the extreme.

In recent weeks the Queen has been much maligned for not accepting posies of flowers from awaiting children outside St. Mary Magdalene Church at Sandringham.  Headlines blazed “The Queen Snubs Onlookers” and “The Queen Refuses to Accept Flowers in Person for a Second Time”.  There is no precedent for accepting flowers other than on Christmas Day, and consequently there should be no expectation that the Queen ever will.  If she were to collect flowers from one she would have to collect flowers from all on every Sunday thereafter, and though she may seem immortal, asking her to stand around on parade in the freezing cold at 87 seems a little excessive, no?  She attends church for the religious ceremony.  She is not there to conduct an official engagement, so to portray the Queen as a rotten old meanie who shuns awaiting onlookers seems grossly unfair.

Her Majesty caused yet more scandal when she reportedly demanded Harry shave his much-admired beard.  Household staff are required to be clean-shaven, as were the employees of Disneyland until 2012, when they were finally allowed to grow a beard as long as it is kept “short and trim”.  Many employers have certain requirements when it comes to presentation in the work place, however those same rules do not apply to members of the royal family.  The Queen is a figurehead not a dictator, and she would never “demand” that her adult grandson, approaching thirty, shave.  If anyone were to demand that Harry shave, it would be his military superiors.  Harry is not the first royal to have sported a beard during the Queen’s reign.  Prince Michael of Kent has had one for decades, and Princes Philip, Charles, Andrew and William have all been bearded at one time or another.  She might not like it, but would she mandate Harry shave it off?  Categorically, no!

Continuing the madness, last week a tabloid cover stated “It’s Official…Kate’s Pregnant Again”.  No doubt they will continue to do so until she actually is, at which point they will scream EXCLUSIVE from the rooftops.  While it may sound terribly clinical, royals plan. With a tour to Australia and New Zealand coming up in the spring, and with George being only six months old, a second pregnancy is optimistic at best.  But you can rest assured that when Kate really is pregnant again, The Star won’t have it exclusively.

Following excessive engagement talk, Harry and Cressida break-up rumors are now rife due to the fact that they haven’t been seen together recently.  While it is true that the couple did not in fact go skiing after the New Year, I believe it’s highly improbable they’ve broken up.  More likely, not being seen together is a calculated maneuver by Harry and Cressida to get the press off their backs.  Talk of an engagement is premature, but Cressida has already made a number of sacrifices in order to be with Harry, and he is clearly smitten with her, so before tea-towels go into production, this will be their way of telling everyone to calm down!

Royal aides generally don’t respond to stories circulating on the royal rumor mill.  There wouldn’t be enough hours in the day, and denials from behind palace walls only serve to fuel stories further.  It must be interminably frustrating, however, for both staff and the royal in question to read the litany of gossip, especially when it’s speedily tweeted, re-tweeted, facebooked and instagramed around the world.

Over the years there have been plenty of royal scandals, from toe sucking and naked billiards to embarrassing private phone calls and topless photos leaked to the press, but if and when those particular stories are true, they are usually backed up with evidence of some description no matter how salubriously it was attained.  So should you find yourself reading an article based on a quote from “an insider” or “a friend,” take a moment to ask yourself could this really be true?  Chances are you’ll promptly be shaking your head and saying, “nah!”  Now what was that about Jennifer Aniston being pregnant…???

Not Too Cool for School

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St. John's College, Cambridge

St. John’s College, Cambridge

Prince William went back to school this week. Cambridge University, to be precise, where he will undertake a tailor-made, ten-week course in agricultural management.  Upon completing the course he won’t have earned a degree; he won’t walk out with a doctorate or a masters; he won’t receive any formal qualifications, but he will have gained a beginner’s knowledge toward managing the Duchy of Cornwall Estate – a vast £760 million entity established in 1337 to provide a private income for use by the reigning monarch’s eldest son, which William will inherit when Charles becomes King.

As with most matters relating to the monarchy his enrollment has had a polarizing effect.  Met with staunch criticism amidst a smattering of praise, some university students declared he’d been given a “free pass” due to his royal status.  Others went so far as to describe his admittance as an “insult” to those already studying at the university.  Not surprisingly, people have been quick to jump on the critical band wagon without taking a moment to actually understand exactly what it is he’s doing.  Moreover, since when has receiving further education of any description been a negative?

The type of course William is undertaking is open to pretty much anyone who has the money to pay for it – land owners, company executives, the posh set.  An elitist course?  Perhaps.  But who could argue that William holds an elite position?  Entry for this particular program is not reliant on past grades or previous academic records.  Professor Ross Anderson of Cambridge University’s Computer Laboratory stated to the Cambridge News, “Whether they have any A-levels at all is no more relevant than the price of tea in China.”

William’s course was organized by the Cambridge Program for Sustainability Leadership (CPSL), whose patron is the Prince of Wales, himself a former Cambridge graduate.  Charles has been clear regarding his concerns for the welfare of Britain’s countryside, and it would appear William is keen to educate himself and continue his father’s mission.  Better that he learn how to do it properly of his own initiative than screw it up down the line because his A-level results didn’t live up to the Cambridge ideal.

It’s no secret that William would like to delay leading a full royal life for as long as possible.  Hard to comprehend for those slogging to make ends meet on minimum wage, but understandable given that there is no retirement age for a job that calls for a lifetime of service to crown and country.  As opposed to attending lectures and seminars and writing essays on economics and land economy, I expect William would rather bolt to Mustique with the Middleton family in the coming weeks for what has become something of a traditional winter break.  Given the option, many of the hoi polloi would have plumped for Mustique in a nanosecond, but having completed service in all three branches of the British military, performed his first investiture on behalf of the Queen, and represented the Queen for the first time at a State visit, he is now preparing more extensively for the role he will one day fulfill.  Royal engagements have been stepped up, and along with his wife he will undertake a tour to Australia and New Zealand in April.  Furthering his education is the natural next step.

Personally I’d rather see William fork over private funds in preparation for his future role than squander said funds on Treasure Chest cocktails at Mahiki, the royals’ perennial favorite nightclub.  Wherever there are fortunes and family firms, there are heirs to fortunes and family firms.  The children of both Branson and Trump joined their respective family businesses and have done exceptionally well.  Why?  Because they learned their trade beforehand.  Others have enjoyed all the benefits of wealth and a globally recognized family name only to stumble out of nightclubs and make sex tapes.

Surely it can only be a good thing that William has gone back to school.  His course is being paid for privately, not through the public purse.  He’s putting in the work, and ultimately the British countryside stands to benefit from what he learns.  I imagine Oxford would have been mighty chuffed to have a second heir to the throne walking its hallowed halls.  The city of Cambridge is certain to enjoy a rise in tourism due to its famous pupil.  Interest in the university itself will increase, and perhaps inquiries about higher education in general will spike.  To me, it seems perfectly apropos that the Duke of Cambridge actually attend Cambridge.   He could have hightailed it to Cambridge, Massachusetts, but then people really would be up in arms.

A Birthday Celebration to Di For

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With Thanksgiving on the horizon, I wanted to share a more personal blog this week.  I have warmly embraced Thanksgiving since moving to the US; after all when else is a blackened turkey considered a thing of beauty?  But this week in particular also offers a nationwide opportunity to reflect on all that we have to be grateful for.  Like most people, I am immeasurably thankful for my family and friends, but as I look back on the UK’s last three triumphant years – from the royal wedding and Diamond Jubilee, to the Olympics and worldwide excitement over the birth of Prince George – I am also enormously appreciative that my job has afforded me a front row seat to history in the making.  Little did I know as I was growing up that the foundations for a career I didn’t know I aspired to were being laid.

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A Smoked Greenberg Turkey

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What usually happens in my house…

From the age of twelve I was a boarder at a full-time ballet school in England, and if a parent showed up mid-week, it meant bad news was imminent.  The date was September 25, 1990, and my class was preparing to head into London to see the West End musical, Cats.  Minutes before piling onto the coach, I was summoned to the Headmaster’s office, where I found my father waiting.  My stomach dropped.  Nobody ever wanted to be summoned to the Headmaster’s office, but I knew I hadn’t been caught smoking behind the chapel, so why was my father at school?  While he assured me that everything was okay, I mentally ran through a list of potential catastrophes.  Who had died?  What had I done?  And infinitely more pressing:  was I going to miss seeing Cats?  Devoid of answers, I was told to change out of my school uniform and into my Sunday best.  I was apparently going out for lunch to celebrate my Dad’s fiftieth birthday.

Anxiety intensified when I found my stepmother and grandmother waiting in the car, poker faces set firmly in place.   Little was said until we pulled up to the police barricade at Kensington Palace.  We had yet to move into the old stable block on the Palace grounds, so this was novel.  “Er…will someone please tell me what’s going on?”  Nothing.   But I was beginning to suspect that whatever was about to happen was going to be well worth missing Cats for.

Once through the gates, we parked and crossed the inner courtyard to a large, glossy-black front door marked number one.  Dad rang the bell.  I don’t know who I was expecting to answer, but…oh my God, I can’t breathe, I’m going be sick!  It was Diana.  I was immediately struck by how beautiful she was, but all I could think as I gazed at her loveliness was:  I’m dressed like a man. 

I was sixteen, and far from hip.  It may have been 1990, but my outfit was screaming 80s:  ankle-length burgundy culottes made all the worse by my white, over-sized man’s shirt and too-long navy blazer complete with shoulder pads.  Think Working Girl without make-up.  I still cringe thinking about it, but if Diana was appalled, she certainly didn’t show it.  She couldn’t have been more gracious or welcoming.

She ushered us across the threshold and into her house.  I shook her hand while executing my best curtsy (ballet school perk number one), and we ascended the stairs to the drawing room to join the gathered guests consisting of my father’s work colleagues.  With drinks in hand, everyone seemed exceedingly happy to be celebrating Dad’s special day, but perhaps it was more due to the fact that they were quaffing Champers in the middle of what should have been a standard workday.  The doors to the dining room opened. It was time for lunch.

            Four tables of five had been set, and tied to each of the chairs was a helium-filled balloon emblazoned with Nifty Fifty.  For anyone in doubt, Dad had graduated from the Naughty Forties, much to Diana’s amusement.  My table was made up of the Princess herself along with my family members, who had been rendered articulately handicapped by her presence.  I spent most of the meal trying desperately not to miss my mouth while answering questions about school.  Diana had visited my ballet school the year before I was accepted, but I was amazed by how much she had remembered of her visit, and quite how fascinated she was.  It’s no secret that she had hoped to be a ballet dancer one day.

As lunch drew to an end the piece de resistance was ushered in with great ceremony – a bright blue birthday cake baked by her personal chef in the shape of my Dad’s gargantuan Gordon Gekko-esque mobile phone, and neatly iced amid the myriad candles:  You’re never alone when Dickie’s got his phone.

Even now, I am struck by all that Diana did to make my father’s birthday so memorable.  From her attention to personal details, to choosing to sit at a table made up purely of my family members, she gave us a profound gift that day.

Dad's 50th Birthday                                              Photo taken by Diana

It’s hard to believe that nearly a quarter of a century has since passed.  The Duchess of Cambridge is now the likely future Princess of Wales.  She and William share an apartment at Kensington Palace with their son, and her engagement ring serves as a constant reminder of the woman who walked the same path so many years ago.

I have a deep respect for the Duchess.  She possesses royal qualities in spades: compassion, empathy, good humor, and she looks good in tweed and tartan.  But more importantly, like Diana, she has the ability to connect with people from all walks of life.  A long and complex journey lies ahead for Kate, but times have changed, and she is already proving to be an asset to crown, country, and the great British High Street.

People often tell me I have the best job in the world, and as I look ahead to the future of the monarchy, I’m inclined to agree.  I might have missed out on seeing Cats at a time when I dreamed of a career in dance, but I have no doubt that my date with Diana laid the foundation for the job I was meant to do…and for that, I will always be thankful.

And so, to my adopted nation, I wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Diana Visiting Elmhurst Ballet School

A Step Up Way Way Down

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Prince Harry is currently in Cape Town awaiting an improvement in weather conditions so that he, along with his fellow Walking With The Wounded team mates, can fly to Antarctica’s Novo Airbase and begin acclimating their bodies to the extreme conditions before their 208 mile trek to the South Pole.  Weather would have to be positively equatorial in order for me to even consider setting foot on Antarctica, but as royal charity coups go this is a cracker.  By committing to head to the bottom of the earth alongside his team, Harry is setting a whole new precedent in terms of royal charity involvement for the future.

Members of the royal family serve to provide continuity, promote British interests, and act as global ambassadors by representing all that is great about Great Britain, but a large percentage of their operational life is devoted to charity work.  For decades royals have traveled the length and breadth of the country, and indeed the globe, on behalf of their many organizations.  They act as patron or president, raise awareness of the cause, cut ribbons, unveil plaques, attend dinners, plant trees, and most importantly – raise money.

A royal patronage is about the best gift a charity can receive short of a wealthy benefactor bequeathing a billion dollars to the cause upon their death bed, and in times of recession and economic hardship the survival of many charities rests on the regal shoulders of its patron.  At eighty-seven the Queen has over six hundred patronages and at ninety-two Prince Philip has around eight hundred.  According to a recent Time Magazine article, Prince Charles raised $224 million for his charities between April 2012 and March 2013.  Tickets to the upcoming Winter Whites Gala on behalf of homeless charity Centrepoint were going for the princely sum of £500 before selling out almost immediately.  The reason for the large price tag and instant sell out?  Prince William, Patron of Centrepoint, will be in attendance.

Charities can command top dollar when a senior royal rolls out.  Along with said royal comes a legion of reporters and wealthy benefactors, and whenever Kate’s involved you can pretty much guarantee the occasion making front page news the following day.  That type of attention leaves charity heads googly-eyed.

The royals have always approached charity engagements with enthusiasm, well aware that their presence allows for worldwide exposure.  One need only to look at coverage of Diana shaking hands with an AIDS patient in 1989, or her walking through a partially-cleared land mine field in Angola in 1997, to understand the power of a globally recognized figure.  William and Harry, however, have taken things one step further in recent years by rolling up their proverbial sleeves and throwing themselves in at ground level.

In December 2009 Prince William spent the night sleeping rough near Blackfriars Bridge.  He did so in order to gain a better understanding of what the homeless community experiences night after night.  Had he simply dished out soup and shaken hands with a few volunteers he still would have drawn attention to the work of Centrepoint, but by actually bedding down on the streets of Central London he significantly heightened public awareness.

               In March 2011 Prince Harry joined a team of injured servicemen for the first five days of their trek to the North Pole.  Yes, of course it was about raising money for Walking With The Wounded, but as Harry said at the time, it was also about raising an awareness of the debt the country owes to those it sends off to fight.  Harry has made no secret of his dedication to the welfare of injured servicemen and women, and the money raised enables the charity to fulfill its mission; however, by taking part alongside his fellow soldiers, Harry gave them far more than a well-funded charity.  He showed them that they matter, that their loss matters, and that their lives may continue to inspire.

               Looking to the future of the monarchy, Charles has made it clear that he wants to push for a more streamlined royal family, but it is my hope that when the time comes he will make room for extended members of the family to step up and continue their efforts on behalf of their chosen charities.  As the only blood-born princesses of their generation, Beatrice and Eugenie have already shown a readiness to support causes meaningful to them.  Were the Queen to give them an “official” role, their potential could be enormous.  It comes down to simple mathematics: streamline the monarchy, and funding to the smaller charities that rely on a royal patron slips down the tubes.

Royals and charity work will always go hand-in-hand…and may it be so.  Plaques will remain, trees will grow, and the work of the charity in question will continue, but it is this new hardcore approach that is so exciting.  It won’t work for everyone, and it would lose its impact if suddenly every engagement required rigorous training, compression chambers, hard hats, life vests and the likes, but we should salute Prince Harry on his epic polar endeavor.  Harry’s physical disability may be limited to a broken toe, but walking alongside those brave wounded warriors will no doubt leave him with an unbreakable spirit.

Who’ll Be Home For Christmas?

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sandringhamsnow

The Queen has invited the Middleton Family to Sandringham for Christmas, or so the British newspaper headlines recently declared.  Oh, that it were true if only because Richard Palmer, Royal Reporter for Britain’s Daily Express, tweeted that if Carole Middleton emerged alongside the Queen and drove to church, he’d cartwheel naked down the path.  Lucky for Richard – and dare I say even luckier for us – it’s highly unlikely.

Invitations to Christmas are never extended to the families of royal spouses and why should they be?  Nothing personal, simply that Christmas provides an opportunity for the Queen to enjoy quality time with her own immediate family with no expectation of being on parade.  Well, that and the issue of space.  Large as Sandringham might be, it is a house, not a castle.  When the whole family is in attendance, there just isn’t room for anyone else.

The Royal Family has Christmas down to a science, and the Queen’s festive plans are as reliable as television airings of It’s a Wonderful Life and my inadvertently cooking the turkey upside down.  It’s the same every year.

Since the fire at Windsor Castle in 1992, the royal family has gathered to celebrate Christmas at Sandringham, the Queen’s privately-owned Norfolk estate.  Following arrivals on Christmas Eve, afternoon tea is served.  The evening brings a fancy black-tie dinner, and the opening of presents – a German tradition embraced by Queen Victoria when she married Prince Albert.  After breakfast on Christmas morning, it’s church, lunch, a huddle around the television to watch the Queen’s Christmas message to the nation, a country walk, and an evening of parlour games.  It is an occasion steeped in familiar tradition and protocol for the Windsors, but for the inexperienced newbie it’s enough to make you want to double-spike your eggnog.

Sandringham is the Queen’s house, and therefore as the Lady of the Manor invitations are at her discretion.  She has consistently been open to change and has adapted to the times accordingly.  During her reign she has opened Buckingham Palace to the public, made the royal finances more transparent, made walkabouts the norm, signed the Commonwealth Charter, and she was the first reigning monarch to visit the Republic of Ireland since Irish independence.  Christmas, however, is one area where change is unlikely.

The Queen is not obligated in any way to the extended families of either her children or her grandchildren.  The Middletons may well be the grandparents of the future king, but so too were Earl Spencer and Frances Shand Kydd, yet that didn’t see either of them swilling sherry and pulling crackers over the Queen’s Christmas goose.  Were the Queen to invite the Middleton family, it would in turn pave the way for other in-laws to attend.  Camilla’s children haven’t spent Christmas with their mother since she married Charles in 2005.  Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie haven’t celebrated Christmas with their mum since their parents’ divorce in 1996.  And how about Mike Tindall’s parents…?  The list goes on and therein lies the quandary.  Invite the Middletons, and suddenly Christmas becomes a free-for-all “plus one”.

Last year, with the Queen’s blessing, William and Kate chose to spend Christmas with Kate’s family in Bucklebury.  While alternating families for the holidays is the standard festive headache for us regular folk, it was an unprecedented decision for the Sandringham lot.  By doing something different William and Kate effectively changed the model of a royal family Christmas.

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh enjoy a relaxed relationship with Michael and Carole Middleton.  Prior to the royal wedding the Queen asked them to lunch at Windsor Castle.  In June 2012 they were invited to sail on the Elizabethan Paddle Steamer during the Diamond Jubilee River Pageant, and they joined other members of the royal family in the Queen’s official carriage procession to Royal Ascot in 2011 and 2012.  She has already publicly embraced the Middleton family far more than she has the family of any other royal spouse.

William and Kate are the new owners of Anmer Hall, a property on the Sandringham estate, but it is currently being renovated, so there’s no room at the inn for the Middletons there.  Even if it were ready, I don’t see William and Kate leaving her family at home while they swan off to the “big house”.

Every family celebrates Christmas in their own unique way, and the Middletons would never presume to be included in the royals’ personal festivities, nor would the Queen, Philip, Charles and Camilla expect to load the corgis and a fruitcake into the Range Rover and head down to Bucklebury.

There is no slight, no malice, no scandal here, rather a wish to preserve the elements of a sacred family Christmas.  In that respect, the royals are “just like us”.  Looks like Richard will be keeping his clothes on this year after all.