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William and Kate’s US visit triumphs despite royal troubles

AP Photo/Mary Schwalm
Britain’s Prince William and Kate, Princess of Wales, arrive for the second annual Earthshot Prize Awards Ceremony at the MGM Music Hall on Dec. 2, 2022, in Boston.

The recent visit of the Prince and Princess of Wales to Boston, the first royal visit there since Queen Elizabeth’s in 1976, was a success for Britain, the monarchy, and for the couple themselves. Against a backdrop of bedeviling royal news on both sides of the Atlantic, the Waleses, or William and Kate, as they are less formally known, displayed charm, ability to connect with people on many levels, and the “keep calm and carry on” that is often associated with members of their family.

The main event of their trip, to award recipients of the Earthshot Prize, was projected — and privately hoped — by some U.S. and British media outlets to be upstaged by a duo of public relations challenges, including some allegedly controversial comments made by an octogenarian courtier, Lady Susan Hussey, to Ngozi Fulani, a campaigner on domestic abuse who was visiting Buckingham Palace. A further event — timed suspiciously coincident with the Waleses’ visit to the U.S., thought to upstage William and Kate — was the Dec. 1 release of the trailer of an upcoming Netflix documentary series for “Harry & Meghan,” dishing the dirt on the celebrity duo’s travails abandoning royal life, only to enter much less high-profile Hollywood life.

Commentators postulated that William and Kate felt pressured to return to America to show their worth after the March 21 blockbuster Oprah interview, in which Meghan Markle and Prince Harry whined about their struggles within the family and alleged incidents of racism, though stopped short of naming names. The Prince and Princess of Wales, no mere celebrities, are representatives of the British Crown and, as such, their popularity — good or bad — in the U.S. hardly matters. What does matter is how they are viewed in their homeland, where the couple top the chart.

Having said that, notwithstanding naysayers in some media outlets, the couple got a reception in Boston fit for a king and queen, so to speak, by everyone from the Boston Celtics to crowds who traveled long distances and packed in to get a glimpse at them. Not bad for a nation that rejected monarchy at our founding — or for a heavily Irish-identified city that, like President Biden, can cling to outdated grievances and anti-British sentiment.

The royal couple won many hearts and minds because, in sharp contrast to Harry and Meghan, they are gracious public servants who project positivity on others, rather than promoting their own agendas. In Boston, they celebrated environmental innovators, visited organizations focused on high-risk youth and prenatal development, and toured centers for green technology. William and Kate conducted themselves with relatability and modesty.

While the Sussexes bare their grievances in a network miniseries and insert themselves in political issues, for the most part, the Waleses, in accordance with British convention for the  constitutional monarchy, stick to less divisive causes dear to their hearts.

William and Kate, whose destinies are set according to more than a thousand years of hereditary successions, can afford to play a long game. The publicity-hungry Sussexes gave up this privilege when they packed up and moved to Montecito, Calif. While their status — thanks to Harry’s family — makes them unique in Hollywood, their withdrawal from royal service means they must compete, Kardashian-style, for the spotlight in a place where publicity is king and substance, sparse.

Like William’s beloved late grandmother, William and Kate abide by the conventions of constitutional monarchy, whose chief objective is to represent all the peoples of their realms, to unite both nation and Commonwealth. While Queen Elizabeth refrained from campaigns — even on issues such as the environment — the Waleses seem to strike a good balance of attachment to relevant issues of the day, while avoiding alienating segments of the population that might demur. It is this last point that is a conclusive answer to those who claim the monarchy is archaic and inappropriate in our times.

From our perspective, it is difficult to ascertain, but each monarch has “modernized” in their own way. Queen Elizabeth II will be remembered by most as an “old-fashioned” lady, but she forged a way forward in many ways. She did more business travel than any of her predecessors, taking full advantage of the jet age that began during her reign. So, too, she maintained the monarchy through 71 years filled with progress and some crises. King Charles III, who acceded to the British throne after his mother’s death on Sept. 8, 2022, is showing himself to strike a prudent balance, forgoing any jarring departure from the style of his much-loved mother, but nevertheless determined to change as necessary with the times. And it is only early days for his rule.

William enjoyed the benefit of decades of proximity to his grandmother, who inevitably learned a lot in her decades on the throne. But the Waleses’ charm and commitment to unite, rather than divide, while seemingly enjoying the ride as they did in Boston, means the monarchy will be in safe hands for the long term.

Lee Cohen, a senior fellow of the United Kingdom’s Bow Group and the Bruges Group, was adviser on the U.K. to the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee and founded the Congressional United Kingdom Caucus. Follow him on Twitter @LeeLeesco3.

Tags British Royal Family British royal visit Monarchy Prince Prince and Princess of Wales queen elizabeth II William and Kate
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