One of the most successful illusions that William and Kate have managed to pull off since their marriage in April 2011 is that, despite their enormous wealth and privilege, they were, underneath it all, just two ordinary kids who fell in love and got married. Some of this has undoubtedly been engineered, but, the even more extraordinary truth is that Kate’s upper middle-class background has had a revolutionary, normalising effect on how the royal family are perceived - and how they perceive themselves.
The continuing success of William and Kate in reinvigorating the once-moribund British monarchy relies on the public’s ability to identify with them. Kate is the girl next door, William is the guy anyone would be happy for their mother to meet. They ask their staff to call them by their first names (although Kate does prefer to be called Catherine).
Kate has been very insistent about her and William continuing to do plenty of regular stuff, the most public demonstration of which comes in her weekly supermarket shop in Waitrose on the island of Anglesey (but this is not a staged event and Kate genuinely wishes it wasn’t public; her reps moved quickly against the only UK paper to publish the most recent set of supermarket shots and they were removed from the Daily Telegraph’s website).
But their normalness is there in everything they do, whether it’s taking the train down to London from Wales along with everyone else, driving themselves home from the hospital after the baby is born or, in William’s case, playing football with his mates in the park and, crucially, holding down a full-time job in the RAF.
But yesterday, William played one of the dumbest moves of his life as a Prince when he officially left his job.
His job description now appears to be exactly what was written on the birth certificate of Prince George: Prince of the United Kingdom.
Which, however you slice it, is not exactly normal.
Kensington Palace released the news yesterday, but rather mixed its messages. While the official statement said that William would “continue to support the work of The Queen and the Royal Family through a program of official engagements, both at home and overseas, with The Duchess of Cambridge,” 9code for 'they willbe going on tour in Australia next year') courtiers insisted in private briefings that this was a ‘transition year’ and that William was not becoming a ‘full-time working royal’.
Then, just a few hours after the first press release, there came another. This one said that William would be “…expanding his work in the field of conservation, particularly in respect of protecting endangered species and habitat..”
This second release also said that William was to be president of a new charitable partnership, named “United for Wildlife”, which would be “a long-term commitment to tackle the global challenges to the world’s natural resources so they can be safeguarded for future generations.”
Now, while few would disagree with the importance of choosing a cause one is passionate about, and undoubtedly the preservation of cheetahs and elephants is a noble calling, is William, 31, seriously saying that he is going to spend the rest of his life cutting ribbons and hugging rhinos full time?
What will he actually do all day, in between going on tours of biscuit factories? Write letters? Jump on the phone with Sting?
The man will go mad before he turns forty.
William suddenly seems at severe risk of becoming what everyone dreads most: his father. Give it a couple of years rattling around KP, getting under Kate’s feet and he’ll probably be firing off letters to architects complaining about the blots they are building on the landscape.
William’s apparent retirement from the world of work at the age of 31 is bound to play as badly as his embrace of paid employment played well. It is hard to imagine how the usually media-savvy Prince and his wife could have allowed themselves to be led to believe otherwise. How could they be so out of touch? The public simply won’t accept that touring the world by private jet as a ‘super-ambassador’ is a real job.
Surely an accommodation could have been reached with the army or RAF to allow William to continue working and also fulfill his royal duties and charitable goals?
Maybe this is why the palace has said that this is a transition year.
And we can only hope that at the end of it, William does the smart thing, wakes up and gets himself a real job again.