It’s hard now to believe that just over three years ago, several hundred journalists, cameramen, and news crews spent several weeks in one of London’s hottest summers standing, sitting, and even sleeping on a pavement outside a London hospital waiting for a glimpse of a newborn baby—Prince George—who was eventually carried out of St. Mary’s in a car seat.
It was undoubtedly the height of royal mania; since then, it has all been downhill.
Last year’s arrival of Princess Charlotte was a more subdued affair, hardly blockbuster stuff, and while it was still a significant news event domestically, internationally it didn’t register in the same way as George’s birth did.
It was still quite extraordinary, however, just how little buzz was generated by the arrival of the Cambridges in Canada on Saturday. Their descent from the Canadian Air Force craft was the first time the public got to see both children together without one of them being pushed in a pram or wrapped in swaddling bands, and the palace had expected it to be a big pictorial moment. But, as the foursome walked down onto the tarmac to be met by handsome Canadian Premier Justin Trudeau and his glamorous wife, Sophie, even the 24-hour news channels in the U.K. did not carry a live feed.
George did his bit, waving at the assembled journalists (his father should take some tips) but the following morning, U.K. papers were plastered with a far more juicy royal story—Pippa Middleton’s iCloud account had been hacked, and 3,000 pictures, including intimate shots of her fiancé in the nude, were being hawked around the newspapers (the alleged hacker has since been arrested and released on bail, and it appears the leak has been stemmed).
It’s not, of course, the first time that Pippa has overshadowed Kate and William, and, distressing as it must have been for Pippa to read the salacious headlines, it was probably even grimmer reading for Kate.
The fact that the royal family got knocked off the front page by a Pippa story after they had flown thousands of miles for their first big joint appearance will undoubtedly raise red flags among the palace press officers.
There has been dutiful reporting of Kate’s dresses, including the most recent red Preen evening gown, but not gushing praise.
The harsh truth is that the domestic and global public have lost a great deal of interest in Kate and William, and it’s not hard to see why; they lead a life of almost obsessive reclusiveness at Anmer Hall in Norfolk.
As such they have become increasingly remote and unknowable figures.
Although their lifestyles are funded with incalculable taxpayer pounds, they do shockingly few public duties in comparison to Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip.
And nobody is allowed to know what they are doing, tucked away up there in Norfolk, in between their occasional public appearances and carefully stage-managed photo opportunities.
Even to ask is a surefire way to receive a snippy reply from a courtier “informing” you that whatever they are doing, it is “private.”
Photographers legally staking out local supermarkets hoping to grab a pic that might shed some light on the Cambridge lifestyle are routinely served with threatening legal letters.
Such behavior at home is bad enough, but when it happens on what is undeniably the public’s dime, it is unforgiveable.
Few news editors have yet forgiven Kate and William for dragging their crews, at great expense, to a remote hilltop monastery in Bhutan, before at the last minute banning the newsmen from joining the royal couple for the last hour of the trek when they actually, you know, got to the monastery.
Their reasoning? The royals wanted to have some “private” time.
To which one might have been tempted to reply, “Don’t you get enough private time locked away on your vast country estate on the other 300 days of the year when you’re not ‘working’?”
Several news outlets were quite open about how disgusted they were with the access and treatment they received on tour.
The Sun journalist Emily Andrews wrote a brilliant takedown of the whole debacle in which she revealed, among other things, that halfway up that steep hike to the Tiger’s Nest monastery, Kate’s assistant Natasha Archer touched up her hair and makeup.
Although most British news organizations have stumped up to send staff on the tour once again, they have sent lighter teams, and there is a feeling that the Cambridges can no longer simply expect a front page just for showing up with Kate in a new hat (especially when her dowdy dressing has been comprehensively exposed by Sophie Trudeau).
And while no one could have predicted the Pippa hack, putting the Cambridges up against an event such as the first presidential debate may not have been entirely wise planning by the palace.
So we now have the bizarre situation where a couple who complain so bitterly and noisily about the invasion of their privacy that goes with their jobs (jobs which come with an incalculable package of salary and benefits, including a complete exemption from inheritance tax) are relying on an appearance by their kids, scheduled to attend an event at a kids’ club Thursday, to salvage a royal tour that is fast disappearing into obscurity.
This will, of course, not be how they see it.
They probably aren’t reading the commentators saying how dull and wooden they are, advising them to loosen up and have a little impromptu moment now and again.
They probably don’t care too much that media old and new seem underwhelmed by this visit.
But they should.
The future king and queen often affect a contemptuous disregard for whatever the press may or may not write about them, but they and their advisers should understand that a modern constitutional monarchy can exist long term only as long as it is wildly popular.
And to get back to that happy place, Will and Kate have a lot of work to do—and, like it or not, they are going to need their kids to help them.