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By now, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will be back home, unpacking the crumpled linens and reflecting upon a Caribbean tour that is going to go down in history – for all the wrong reasons.
Instead of being a jolly celebration to mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, the eight-day trip to three countries somehow bloomed into a crisis; one with long reaching consequences regarding the future of the Royal Family and in particular its role across the Commonwealth.
In my column last Friday, I wrote about the unfolding disaster – and for a royalist like me, it was just as painful to write as it was to behold. What on earth were William and Kate thinking? Or more pertinently, what was their retinue of supposedly expert aides and advisers thinking?
In a part of the world once shaped by British rule, it is no secret that sensitivities have recently been heightened over matters of republicanism, slavery and the possibility of reparations. The Windrush scandal which emerged in 2017 is another fresh wound that needs to be addressed with care. So how to tackle all this with empathy and tact?
Certainly not by going back to the future in a colonial-era, Pathe News reel style jaunt featuring William in the tropical dress of his old regiment, trundling around a field in a jeep with his medals on his chest, his wife in a hat by his side and a ceremonial sword in his hand. Dear God, it couldn’t have been more colonial if he had worn a pith helmet and driven a tank through the streets of Kingston.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge smiling at a parade in Kingston for service personnel from across the Caribbean who have recently completed their officer training
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge departed the Bahamas, marking the end of their Caribbean tour on March 26
William and Kate at a Jamaica Defence Force commissioning parade on the sixth day of their tour
Every time he tried to help, he only made things worse. At an official dinner the prince wrung his hands and expressed his ‘profound sorrow’ at ‘abhorrent’ slavery and echoed his father by saying it ‘stains’ British history.
Sadly, he didn’t mention the £100million plus of aid we have given to Caribbean Commonwealth countries over the years, nor did he speak of how the UK led the world in abolishing slavery.
How I wish, just for once, somebody would. Instead it was the full royal grovel – and when it wasn’t the full grovel it was the embarrassing photo opportunity.
These set pieces included the Trench Town bongo bashing, posing by the Bob Marley statue and yes, the now infamous Clasping The Hands of Children Through A Chain Link Fence, with each bad taste scenario outdoing the previous one in a daisy chain of ever-increasing cringe.
By Sunday, William had addressed some of these issues in a thoughtful statement, acknowledging the protests and controversy the couple had faced.
‘Foreign tours are an opportunity to reflect. You learn so much,’ he said.
It suggested that one day he is going to be a thoughtful, modernising king – but what will be left of his realm by then?
Surely in this day and age, the bald truth is that one can only truly modernise a monarchy by abolishing it? Like his father Prince Charles before him, Prince William can be as heartrending and emotional as he wants when he talks about the horrors of slavery, but both men are going to be kings one day – a system of belief that rests on the notion that their bloodline is superior to any other in the Commonwealth.
Prince William is damned by his very existence, execrated by the status that gives him his voice and puts him at the centre of events in the first place. He has said that his family wants to ‘serve the Commonwealth family’, but what does that even mean anymore? Nothing very much.
The Duke of Cambridge shakes hands with members of the public during a visit to a Fish Fry in Abaco
The royal couple meet pupils in a classroom as they visit Sybil Strachan Primary School in Nassau in The Bahamas
Royal aides have complained that much of the criticism and coverage is unfair, that it was just a few moments isolated in what was a largely successful tour – but don’t they understand? In the age of Twitter and Instagram and TikTok, moments are all that matter. And what is a royal tour except a symbolic progression of photo opportunities and strategic meet’n’greets in the first place?
Without these images being beamed around the world, a royal tour would be meaningless and if it is meaningless, it is also worthless.
One must suppose that it is the drum-beating, hand- shaking, conch-eating, booty-shaking capering about that gives these tours any lasting merit at all.
For the photographs are not the icing on the cake, they are the cake itself. Everything is magnified, everything counts. And despite all protestations, the lasting legacy from this doomed tour is going to be the chain link fence image, innocently posed by all, but indelibly freighted with the negative connotations of a long-gone age.
Terribly unfair, but terribly true.
All of this comes at a difficult juncture for the Royal Family, who find themselves besieged on many fronts.
Prince Andrew is in disgrace, Prince Harry seems to be determined to deepen the ongoing rift, the Queen is frail and not everyone is thrilled with the prospect of King Charles and Queen Camilla.
Quite honestly, we could do without William and Kate slipping on constitutional bananas on the other side of the world, but it is too late now.
The Duchess of Cambridge speaking with a child while in the Bahamas
Even worse, this takes place in a world where history itself is going through a boil wash of revisionism; one that finds the royals on the wrong side of the divide, down there at the bottom of the basket amongst the dirty laundry of colonialism and the stains of the past.
It’s going to take a lot more to turn this around than Kate turning up in a pretty yellow dress to honour the Jamaican flag while rattling her locally made artisan bracelets.
But I blame William and Kate for nothing.
Unlike the Sussexes, they stayed in post to do their duty, with all the good and bad that it involves. It is simply their misfortune to have crashed into senior overseas royal duties at a point in time where the sins of the past now inform the faltering trajectory of the future.
In Belize, Jamaica and the Bahamas, the couple were indeed shown much love by the crowds. Yet even from four thousand miles way, they still looked like nicely tailored dinosaurs from the Age of Deference; white ultra-privileged royalty gamely watching the locals gambol for their entertainment. It is not a good look.
What this trip showed is that the days of the big royal overseas visit are surely numbered. The very idea that the Royal Family should sally forth, in all their finery and jewels, to faraway lands to meet people they expect to bow and curtsey to them, or pay homage at the very least, is an increasing absurdity.
Is it the beginning of the end of the monarchy? Not quite, but it does point the way towards a tricky future in the post-Queen world. One in which the new generation of Windsors must fight to remain viable amid the increasingly clamorous social and racial politics of the modern age.