You probably won’t have noticed it, but the summer of 2014 has been the best summer for The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge since they got married.
The reason? Well, precisely that they haven’t been noticed. William and Kate have avoided the media for almost an entire month, by going domestic for their vacation this year, and spending the month of August holidaying in the UK.
Thus there have been no annoying stories about Kate sunbathing topless (summer, 2012, France), no punters taking snaps of her on the beach (February, 2013, Mustique) and no nasty foreign paparazzi snooping on her and her son Prince George playing in the garden like they did on one of her days off during the official tour in Australia this year.
When one thinks back on any of the Royal scandals (or invasions of privacy) over the past few years it is noticeable how many of them—Prince Harry in Vegas, Kate Middleton sunbathing topless, Kate photographed on the beach—took place on foreign soil.
Kate and William performed their last official duty in England on August 5, a World War I commemoration, and shortly after that they took off for Scotland. They are believed to have spent much of the past few weeks since then staying at Prince Charles’ Scottish residence, Birkhall, which is on the Queen’s enormous Balmoral estate. But details are as hazy as a mist rolling over the highlands—the sheer size of the estate (not to mention the tribal loyalty of the locals) keeps prying eyes and cameramen at bay.
The Balmoral estate is a wonderful, magical place, make no mistake, but it hardly boasts the kind of indulgent luxury Kate and her family like to enjoy on their annual family holiday to Mustique.
In fact, life at Balmoral is about as far from the land of full-service villas and saltwater pools as you can get. The Queen’s piper plays a reel on his bagpipes every morning under the Queen’s window to wake her—and the rest of the estate—up. If it’s cold, a single bar electric fire is switched on in the sitting room. Breakfast cereals—for those who don’t like porridge—are kept in Tupperware boxes. Sundays involve a visit to church.
A source tells The Daily Beast that one of the Queen’s favorite vacation activities is to enjoy the novelty of cooking for herself in a small cottage in a remote corner of the estate. She even does the washing up herself. Prince Philip delights in lighting huge bonfires. The Queen considers one of the greatest luxuries at Balmoral to be a bowl of wild blackberries (or “brambles,” as they are known) with cream. I am sure they are lovely, but still…
Life at Birkhall is slightly more millionairey, as befits Prince Charles’ tastes, but it’s still austere compared to the Caribbean.
And of course, there’s nothing you can do about the Scottish rain.
There is an understanding which extends across the Balmoral estate that everyone should be out of the house all day every day, rain or shine, which is one of the many things that Princess Diana loathed about being there (the others were the isolation from her London friends and the constant contact with Prince Philip). She would often say she was ill, and stay in her bedroom for days on end with meals delivered on a tray, much to the Queen’s disapproval.
Kate is no Diana, of course, but still, the domestic staycation will have been a tough sell. As a child of the super-affluent middle classes, for whom at least one fancy foreign holiday a year is de rigeur, coming to terms with the fact that as a Princess the best place for her to holiday now is on a rainy, wind-swept Scottish hillside will undoubtedly be a somewhat bitter pill to swallow.
And yet, if, as the Cambridges often tell friends, their privacy is what they really value above all else, then the UK really is the best place for them to be.
When the Royals are on British territory, they can be totally protected, cocooned in a protective blanket, woven with the warp of threat and weft of deference. The British press, who have become infinitely more cautious about covering the private lives of the British Royal family since the Leveson inquiry and the hacking trial, no longer have much of an appetite to send photographers to keep a watching brief on Balmoral for the summer as they once did.
If holidays are kept domestic, it is remarkably easy for the establishment to protect the privacy of its favored sons and daughters.
Scotland has not been their exclusive holiday destination, however. The couple have also been spending time this August supervising the $2m refurbishment of their own new country house, Amner Hall, which is on the Queen’s Sandringham estate in Norfolk. They are believed to have been staying in the big house while renovations are undertaken.
The happy result of all this low-key British holiday-making means that Kate and William have almost managed what must often seem to them to an impossible task—and slipped off the media radar this summer.
Indeed, the only time they have troubled Twitter in recent weeks is when they went to a local pub with Kate’s parents and sister Pippa for dinner. They ate Scotch eggs; a particularly British delicacy featuring a hard-boiled egg coated in sausage meat and then rolled in fried bread crumbs, which is almost as disgusting as it sounds.
The fact that this outing made it on to Twitter thanks to a disrespectful punter seated nearby will have annoyed William (who is more fanatical about his privacy than Kate).
The Queen is more than happy to trade the prospect of fine weather overseas for Balmoral’s outdoor menu of midges and damp and bracing walks on the hills if it means that she receives no criticism.
William can probably handle it, but will Kate be as happy to make such a vacation trade-off?
To everyone’s surprise, this summer at least, the answer appears to be yes.