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If you keep a royal scorecard—and really, everyone needs a hobby—a shocking thing has taken place in recent days. Prince William and Kate Middleton have seemed, for the first time ever, more interesting than Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
Whether this is a blip, and the glamorous California controversy-magnets are planning a front-page coup de théâtre, remains to be seen. The Oprah interview, its fallout, and the various dramas around Prince Philip’s funeral have all been centered around Harry and Meghan. But suddenly, crikey William and Kate, the dancefloor is yours.
On Wednesday, William and Kate launched their own YouTube channel with a 25-second promotional video intended to showcase them as thoroughly modern royals. The video, titled “Welcome to our official YouTube channel!,” begins with William looking at Kate and saying, with a smile: “By the way you need to be careful what you say now because these guys are filming everything.” “I know,” laughs Kate.
Now, comic timing isn’t their strongpoint, but they have successfully executed the first test of the royal, very rich, or famous—to at least make a cutely convincing attempt at perfecting the pantomime of normality. The video features Kate and William variously on the red carpet, doing charity work, on foreign tours, sitting with Sir David Attenborough, clapping for the NHS during the pandemic with their three children, and finally with Queen Elizabeth. The message is: yes, we’re royal, but interested in health, kids, serving Britain, being parents, regular stuff.
This attempt at conveying normality—and somehow making us forget they are filthy rich and funded by the British taxpayer—is built on in the channel’s selection of other videos, the couple’s work broken down into “Mental Health,” “Early Years,” and “Engagements,” with links also provided to the couple’s official Instagram and Twitter accounts. The couple’s Instagram account also changed its name on Wednesday, from @KensingtonRoyal to @Dukeandduchessofcambridge.
What has woken William and Kate up? This week’s flurry of getting down with the kids followed a video released by the couple to mark their 10th wedding anniversary last week, which showed them at their Norfolk home playing with their children in the garden and on a nearby beach. It was beautifully shot, undeniably charming. If William and Kate were not William and Kate, it would have been an exquisite knitwear ad. (Harry and Meghan sent their congratulations, privately, to the couple.)
The changing of the name, “Kensington Royal,” is perhaps the most significant, signaling a final detachment from Harry and Meghan, once the other duo in the royal “fab four,” who—when relations were warm and functional—shared the same-named social media account.
It signals that William and Kate have had enough of playing the silent, dutiful royal duo, outpaced by the headline-garnering antics of Harry and Meghan. With William second in line to the British throne, he and Kate know they can never be as outwardly edgy, but they can promote their brand of low-key glamor, reliability, and warmth just as hard as they have proven in recent days.
The contrast is good for their brand, and possibly good for Meghan and Harry too. The two young royal couples are selling very different things, but united by one much-repeated principle: service. However, this week, William and Kate added pep to their public image. There is a sharpening of image happening. Harry and Meghan have hogged all the drama and driven all the royal storylines in recent months. Now, William and Kate want to reclaim some public relations territory, and get some pole positioning at Mail Online.
To be clear, Harry and Meghan have not embraced invisibility. To mark son Archie’s second birthday yesterday, Harry and Meghan released a striking filtered picture of their son, with his back to the camera holding some balloons. The image was accompanied with a fundraising call to help make the COVID vaccine available to the poor.
It was also revealed this week that Meghan was about to become a published author—a children’s book she has written, The Bench, will be published on June 8.
It is, the blurb goes “about the special bond between father and son—as seen through a mother’s eyes. Inspired by her own husband and son, The Duchess of Sussex’s debut touchingly captures the evolving and expanding relationship between fathers and sons and reminds us of the many ways that love can take shape and be expressed in a modern family.”
“The Bench started as a poem I wrote for my husband on Father’s Day, the month after Archie was born,” Meghan continued blurbing. “That poem became this story. Christian (Robinson, illustrator) layered in beautiful and ethereal watercolor illustrations that capture the warmth, joy, and comfort of the relationship between fathers and sons from all walks of life; this representation was particularly important to me, and Christian and I worked closely to depict this special bond through an inclusive lens. My hope is that The Bench resonates with every family, no matter the makeup, as much as it does with mine.”
How does Meghan want to be seen right now? Her book bio reads that she “is a mother, wife, feminist, and activist. Through the nonprofit work of the Archewell Foundation, she and her husband are committed to activating compassion in communities across the world. She currently resides in her home state of California with her family, two dogs, and a growing flock of rescue chickens.”
The chickens, thanks to Oprah Winfrey, we are already well acquainted with. The coop provided a brief moment of laughter and respite from the heavy-duty, and still unanswered, allegations from her and Harry’s interview—principally that a member of the royal family had queried the darkness of the then-unborn Archie’s skin, and that no one helped Meghan when she was contemplating suicide. The royal family has not responded to these allegations, but is still conducting an inquiry about allegations of bullying by Meghan when she was a member of the royal family.
Earlier this week, Harry appeared on his own at Vax Live, a concert with thousands of vaccinated frontline workers as guests, where he again emphasized his and Meghan’s idea of public service: "You spent the last year battling courageously and selflessly to protect us all… You served and sacrificed, put yourselves in harm’s way and with bravery knowing the costs. We owe you an incredible depth of gratitude, thank you.”
Through the book and public appearances like this, Harry and Meghan appear keen to move on from the tabloid dust-cloud of volcanic accusations and broken ties, most recently seen at Prince Philip’s funeral where a brief exchange between Harry and William, seen on TV, apparently came to naught. It’s not even sure Harry will come to the U.K. for the unveiling of Princess Diana’s statue in July.
Meghan’s book and Harry’s stirring address is intended to move the couple to more inspirational, cuddlier territory—although expect Meghan’s new book to be read closely for echoes, real and metaphorical, in Meghan’s troubled relationship with her own father, Harry’s relationship with Prince Charles, and the couple’s entirely vexed relationship to the royal family.
Through books, speeches, and slick videos, some fresh royal territory is being marked out and staked. Kate and William have less room for provocative maneuver than Harry and Meghan, but they seem to have figured out that their strongpoint is making slices of their life look as pretty as possible, with rap and twanging guitar as modish accompaniments.
Their glossy videos have shown that they are not, as had seemed apparent until now, content to simply let Harry and Meghan be the pretty ones and lead the headlines. The revitalized Kate and William are determined to find their own spotlight, and so a new royal battle is underway alongside the familiar landscape of briefing and counter-briefing. This one is about brand-building. It may not sound as exciting as the more familiar crucible of royal feuding, but expect it to be just as fiercely fought.