Prince William and wife Kate are to visit India from Sunday as part of a week-long royal tour in the region that will also include a side trip to the mountain kingdom of Bhutan.
The couple have undertaken numerous foreign royal tours since their marriage five years ago, with the list of countries visited including America, Canada, Australia, Singapore, and France, to name just a few.
But India, given its significance as the cornerstone on which the British Empire was built, and the all the controversy and grievance that flow from that, is different.
This royal tour is, it is widely understood, the best opportunity in a generation for Britain to rebrand itself in the eyes of the second most populous country on earth.
The U.K. is desperate to cement India as a trading partner, and presenting a fresh, informal face of royalty, and throwing off once and for all the baggage of the U.K.’s colonizing past, is an important part of that effort.
So what lessons can Will and Kate learn from previous royal tours to make this one a hit?
DO Face Down Old Ghosts
William and Kate have let it be known that they will be posing for photographs on the simple bench outside the Taj Mahal where Diana sat in 1992, forlorn and alone. The photos of Diana encapsulated the bitter betrayal of her husband, Prince Charles.
She had previously spent 30 minutes walking around the tomb and had asked her royal entourage to allow her time to be alone with her thoughts.
As she left the tomb she told reporters, “It was a fascinating experience, very healing.”
Asked to elaborate on what she meant by “healing,” she replied, “Work it out for yourself.”
Diana carefully set up the picture, which spoke powerfully to her side of the story.
Charles, flat-footed when it came to the media as always, had handed her an open goal by choosing to spend the day addressing a conference of businessmen 200 miles away in Delhi.
Charles, however, learned his lesson, and on a later trip to India, he posed with his new wife, Camilla, outside the ancient monument, effectively facing down the old memory.
DO Remember They Are Actually Only Interested in Kate
Prince Charles used to get terribly jealous of the publicity Diana got on foreign tours. He couldn’t understand why they were so interested in his wife, who had nothing to say for herself, rather than listening to him and his strident views on everything and anything. He hated being cropped out of photos.
But the fact is Diana was a global icon, and Charles was always just, well, Charles. William is headstrong like his father, but he plays a much savvier media game. He knows full well that Kate is the star attraction on this tour, and he is just a supporting cast member. Expect to see William allowing Kate to hog the limelight in most public engagements.
Dancing to traditional musicians is a good way, the royal family thinks, of showing how unstuffy they are. It always ends in a giant, knuckle-biting cringe, and yet they continue to do it.
DO Keep Calm and Carry On
There have been threats of terrorism, with reports of a band of crazed ISIS members intent on breaching security and taking out the royals.
William and Kate are of course ignoring such threats and are even making a deliberate statement that “life must go on” by checking in at the Taj hotel, scene of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, as their first stop on Sunday.
Truth is, there is no safer place to be in India next week than by the side of a member of the royal family, but saying that is easier than living it.
DON’T Offer to Return the Koh-i-Noor Diamond
Widespread anger at the British, among both educated and uneducated citizens, for the pillaging of India’s wealth and natural resources undertaken in the era of empire, is a phenomenon that many British visitors to this mesmerizing country still encounter.
On a recent visit to India, this reporter personally experienced this animosity at a hilltop fort in Udaipur where he was verbally set on by a group of four headmasters who regaled him with the injustices of the Indian colonial experience.
India was the key part of the British colonial structure. Not for nothing was it known as the “jewel in the crown” of the empire.
Indeed, it is a jewel that is the latest flashpoint in the never-ending post-colonial row over British loot: the Koh-i-Noor diamond, the second largest diamond in the world, worth more than $100 million and set in the crown jewels.
The jewel was “given” to the reigning queen of the time, Victoria, by the last ruler of the Sikhs, Duleep Singh, after the British annexed the Punjab. Its return to India is the subject of a long-standing campaign by a pressure group of India’s great and good.
The historian Andrew Roberts spoke for the “keepers” when he told the Mail on Sunday: “The British Crown Jewels is precisely the right place for the Koh-i-Noor diamond to reside, in grateful recognition for over three centuries of British involvement in India, which led to the modernization, development, protection, agrarian advance, linguistic unification and ultimately the democratization of the sub-continent.”
Hmmm. We recommend a magisterial silence on the matter if questioned.
DO Ride an Elephant
There are a series of wonderful pictures of William’s grandmother Queen Elizabeth riding serenely atop an elephant on her royal tour of India (which was of astonishing duration compared to modern royal tours, lasting over a month in early 1961).
Elephants are a symbol of power in Indian art, and riding one is a convenient shorthand for majesty, so we urge Will and Kate to follow Granny’s example and climb aboard.
DO Be a Good Sport
Prince Harry wins hearts and minds wherever he goes by being up for anything. No, we don’t mean naked billiards, we mean racing Usain Bolt or pretending to be a lion for a “camera trap,” as he did the other day in Nepal. The royals have a tradition of throwing off their caginess and being a little bit silly when they visit overseas, and it’s a tradition we wouldn’t want to see Kate and Will abandon amid the inevitable pomp and diplomacy of their trip to India.
DO Get Pregnant
Kate is thought to have conceived Prince George in the Solomon Islands and Princess Charlotte in Belgium. Do we detect a pattern? In which case, should we expect another addition to the royal brood this Christmas?
We do hope so.