Prince William headed to Paris on Friday for two days of official engagements with his wife Kate Middleton, just days after undertaking a series of unofficial engagements that went rather wrong just down the road in Verbier, Switzerland.
William was roundly criticized after it emerged that he had skipped an important church service marking Commonwealth Day on Monday—the Commonwealth is the loose association of former British Empire nations of which, one day, William will putatively be the head—in favor of a trip to one of the world’s most expensive ski destinations.
Then came an embarrassing video of him dancing—badly—in an après-ski nightclub leaked online.
The ‘dad dancing’ video has been a topic of wide discussion on talk radio and news channels across the UK for the past few days. The tone has notably not been terribly affectionate.
William’s decision to go on a ski trip with his old party pals Guy Pelly and Tom Van Straubenzee instead of attending a symbolically important church service would, at any time, be unwise.
But to do so just days after the UK parliament formally ratified the Prime Minister’s power to trigger article 50, the notice that it intends to quit the EU, after which it is hoped that trade with Commonwealth countries such as India will help balance the British books, was a colossal miscalculation.
Images of the future British king making an over-privileged clown of himself will not have hurt the Scottish first minister’s opportunistic call for a fresh referendum on independence either. Among Scottish nationalists, “Not My Queen” is a popular rallying cry.
Unfortunately, Prince William is unlikely to see it that way.
If previous form following monsterings he has received from the press are any guide, William will, instead of accepting any blame himself, simply gnash his teeth and bemoan the horrid media, the evil internet and the outrageous invasion of his privacy that is someone shooting footage of him on their cameraphone dancing appallingly in a nightclub.
“He won't listen to advice and hires people too scared to give it,” says one source, who adds that William tends to ‘see himself as the victim’ when these privacy rows blow up.
“William, Kate and Harry have this delusional idea—encouraged by their press team—that they can be both private and public people depending what they are up to, so people have 'no right' to see what he is doing,” the source tells the Daily Beast, “Of course this is nonsense, but he won't accept it. The irony is, it just makes them even more miserable because they will never be private citizens.”
The Queen has never labored under any such delusions. Whenever a choice has had to be made, she has subjugated her personal desires (and comfort) to the interests of the Crown.
The Queen knows there is only one place she can let her hair down behind closed doors. And that’s what her country retreats, Sandringham and Balmoral, are for.
However, the Queen is not entirely blameless in the PR mess that William’s public/private life has become. She calls the shots, and the miscalculation may be as much hers as William’s.
As the royal historian and author “Majesty”, Robert Lacey said, that it is very clear that William’s current low-tempo public life “is licensed by his grandmother.”
“It is clear that she has wanted to spare him the truncated family life that she suffered due to the early death of her father. People talk about the Queen not being maternal—Charles is on the record as suggesting it--but I remember interviewing Lord Mountbatten in those years and him telling me that the Queen’s favorite night of the week was Thursday because, “that was Mabel’s night off.”
“Mabel was the governess. And on Thursday nights, it was the Queen who bathed the children, read the bedtime story and put them to bed.
“She wants that for William, and she has very much enabled this arrangement of a family home and base on the Sandringham Estate to facilitate his work with the air ambulance."
No-one is arguing that William can’t have a bit of fun dancing like an idiot—like the rest of us do—if he wants to. No-one’s telling him he can’t get drunk.
But it is, surely, reasonable enough to suggest that he can’t do so in public if he is to represent the country effectively. The royal family may not be members of the Foreign Office, but they are Britain’s most important diplomats and standard bearers; much has been said lately of the key role William and Kate in particular will play in charming the world beyond their borders post-Brexit.
“London has recruited the royal family in its diplomatic offensive to negotiate the best possible exit from the E.U.,” Le Point headlined a recent story, “The British government certainly has the habit of using the Windsors’ assistance when the United Kingdom has problems to oil bilateral relations with other countries,” it argued.
Penny Junor, the biographer who has written biographies of every senior living royal, including William, told the Daily Beast: “The images coming out of Verbier are, of course, an outrageous invasion of his privacy, he’s right, but he is living in a world where every individual with a mobile phone can invade his privacy, and will. It’s very unfair but it’s a fact of life and he needs to accept that he can’t be in control of everything.”
She adds: “I think William can be quite difficult, and like his father, I don’t think he likes people who gainsay him, therefore will be quite tricky to advise.”
Put simply, William needs to be more careful what he does in public or semi-public spaces. Of course, people have been telling him this ever since his wife was photographed—from a public road—sunbathing topless.
He’s lucky this time that the footage and photos showed nothing more incriminating than a rich young man doing some dodgy ‘dad dancing’.
But the default position of simply blaming the press won’t get William far. As Lacey says, “To imagine that the press or just about anyone with a smart phone will not take photos of him if he’s with a glamorous blonde is downright naïve.”