How Kate, William, and Harry Became Charity Power Players

Kate, William, and Harry held the inaugural event for their mental health charity Heads Together—but is their combined starpower bad news for smaller organizations?

Jeremy Selwyn/Pool/Reuters

Kate Middleton and Princes William and Harry donned boxing gloves and sparred with professional fighters on Monday morning as they came together for one of their highest-profile engagements yet, emphasizing the importance of physical exercise to mental health.

The royal power trio were making a rare “three for the price of one” appearance in support of the new umbrella mental health charity, Heads Together.

Monday’s engagement was the inaugural event for Heads Together, which brings together some of the country’s leading mental health charities, with the goal of encouraging people to speak openly about mental health issues and seek help where necessary.

The Duchess of Cambridge was first into the ring, teaming a pair of red boxing gloves with a £105 skirt by Banana Republic and two-inch heels by Rupert Sanderson—the first time her sparring partner, British-born world champion boxer Duke McKenzie, MBE, had faced such a well-dressed opponent.

Kate, William and Harry—himself just back from the Invictus Games in the U.S., which had a strong focus on psychological support—emphasized their unified approach by making a joint speech, taking it in turns to address the audience.

The Duchess said: “Too often, people feel afraid to admit that they are struggling with their mental health. This fear stops people from getting the help they need, which can destroy families and end lives.”

Harry added: “We do not want prejudice and fear to stand in the way of people getting the help they need to cope with life.”

And William said: “The more we talk about mental health, the more normal the topic becomes, and the more we feel able to open up and seek support.”

For William and Harry, whose mother suffered from severe depression, bulimia, and occasional suicidal tendencies, the choice of focus is deeply personal.

Sources say that it is Kate, however, who has led the way in encouraging the royal focus on mental health, and she has made a point of championing this unfashionable cause throughout her royal career.

Kate has taken on very few patronages, but several of those—Place2be, Action on Addiction and, now, Heads Together—are focused on this area.

She has even delivered rare video messages urging ‘early action’ in school contexts for kids struggling with depression and anxiety.

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If wildlife and conservation (Prince William’s pet causes) are glamorous and popular causes, there is little doubt that there could scarcely be a less sexy cause than mental health and the raising of awareness around the issue.

The pulling power of the trio of young royals, however, meant that the launch today at Olympic Park in London was sprinkled with the kind of stardust its often hard to attract to such a cause; a British TV presenter, Abbey Clancy, who has become a key awareness-raiser for post-natal depression, was there as was the rapper Professor Green, whose father died by suicide.

It’s exactly the kind of “multiplier effect” effect the young royals’ advisers hoped for when they urged them to join forces to set up their combined, “Royal Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry.”

Heads Together, an umbrella organization bringing together eight of the country’s leading mental health charities, is now set to reap enormous rewards from its association with the young Royals.

Heads Together has already been named primary beneficiary of next year’s London Marathon (which is sponsored by Virgin; the Bransons are good friends of the royals).

The coming together of Harry, Kate, and William as a kind of triple-threat, fundraising A-bomb for just one, big cause is a huge departure from the way the Royals have traditionally done their philanthropic business.

But today’s event will have sent shivers down the spine of seasoned professionals in the fundraising world who will be wondering how they will be able to attract royal attention to their smaller causes, which don’t make the cut for the newest Royal Foundation.

There is little doubt that, as a unit, the young royals can bring tremendous attention to their favored causes, but the united front is actually a significant worry for countless small British charities that have long been highly dependent on the Royals for public profile in the U.K.

The general idea was that you got one royal per charity, not three.

William, Harry, and Kate’s new triumvirate has thrown a spanner in that trusty if inefficient old system.

The core of the problem is to be found in Prince Charles’s decision that a ‘slimmed down’ monarchy—him and his kids, basically—is the best way to maintain support for the institution.

It seems reasonable to conclude that Edward, Andrew, Eugenie et al won’t be spending their lives cutting ribbons after they have been cut out of the perks of royal life.

Charles’s pared-down monarchy means a smaller group of working royals and, inevitably, a smaller number of organizations supported.

In tandem with this, there is a very clear intention by the younger generation to professionalize and streamline their fundraising.

Yes, they want to do good and be helpful, but they don’t want fundraising to take over their lives the way it has done for their parents’ and grandparents’ generations.

Kate may not be as lazy as is sometimes portrayed by the British media, but equally she has no intention of emulating another royal spouse, Prince Philip, who has already shed many of his most time-consuming patronages but is still patron of more than half of the 1,300 organizations of which he and the Queen are the figureheads.

It is an astonishing number, but when the monarch and her husband die, there will be no repeat of the scene following the death of the Queen Mother when the Royal Family was reported to have laid out index cards with each patronage written on it, and divvied them up.

However, for the young royals, combining their forces has made them not just into a super-efficient fund raising machine (the Foundation raised £4m in 2014, a slight increase from what they managed in 2013) but, happily, also makes for an exceptionally pleasing PR package.

Officially, royals talk about using Harry, Kate, and Will as a unit to create more “leverage”, but that’s not the way everyone sees it.

“It’s actually almost impossible to raise any significant sum of money in England without a royal being involved, even a minor one,” one experienced fundraiser tells the Daily Beast. “The fact is that there are effectively not going to be any minor royals in the future. William, Harry, and Kate all coming together to promote this one ‘foundation’ may be great for efficiencies, but there is a major concern about where it leaves the rest of us.”