Daniela Elser: Royal holiday amid climate change campaign

Newspaper Published Source
The New Zealand Herald 2021-10-30 Link

The timing of William and Kate's holiday was risky, writes Daniela Elser. Photo / Getty Images OPINION: Toe-sucking in the South of France. Shimmying on a Swiss dance floor in eyebrow-raising proximity to an anonymous blonde. A naked game of strip billiards. In the long and winding history of the royal family, there are many, many overseas incidents which have embarrassed the house of Windsor. (Let us not also forget the footage that emerged in 2015 showing Prince Edward, the future King Edward VIII, leading the Queen Mother and the then Princess Elizabeth in practising the Nazi salute.) Which is to say, there are very rich pickings when it comes to the annals of shameful holiday pursuits of the Queen's family at play. In this ignominious scheme of things, the photos which very briefly popped up in the press this week of William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, their three children and their devoted nanny Maria Terresa Barrallo arriving at Heathrow don't even rate a mention given there is not a stray body part, lithesome stranger or deeply offensive political symbol in sight. (After appearing online, the images were mysteriously retracted.) But the clothed, outwardly prosaic nature of this week's images belies the very serious misstep on the part of William and Kate which they represent. Let me explain. In the shots, the Cambridges are seen exiting their Audi and arriving at Heathrow Airport. Kate can be seen wearing a floaty dress and toting what looks suspiciously like a beach bag, while Prince George wears shorts and a T-shirt. Little Princess Charlotte is also in dress and sandals. Given that the temperature in London on Sunday was 13C and 14C on Monday (it is not known exactly what day they were taken), their balmy attire could point to the family being off to spend the half term holiday in the sunshine somewhere abroad. If William and Kate and their adorable trio of kidlets (oh, and Maria of course) have zipped off for an overseas break, it would be the first international holiday they have taken together since 2019. (They did make a brief dash to France last month for her brother James' wedding.) A post shared by James Middleton (@jmidy) Now, sure. The entire UK seems united in feeling they have an unassailable right to enjoy an annual beach break. (The economies of Spain and Greece would crater tomorrow without such sentiment.) But the timing of the Cambridges' getaway is problematic. To start with, there's the climate change issue. It was less than two weeks ago that William unveiled his debut Earthshot Prize, dolling out the first $9.1 million of the $91.5 million that will be given out over the next 10 years to support real world solutions to addressing the climate crisis. Such were the green credentials of the event, dubbed the "Eco Oscars", that nominees and performers were encouraged not to fly in but appeared remotely, the actual awards themselves were made out of recycled sludge and all the sets were built using recycled or reusable materials. When Coldplay performed a set, it was powered by the energy generated by 60 people peddling bicycles. There is something on the nose about going to such lengths to ensure that every last detail would have met with Great Thunberg's exacting approval and then zipping off on a commercial flight to god knows where. If it were Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex we were talking about here the British press would have had a field day pointing out the hypocrisy of stopping nominees from attending the awards in person only for the royal couple to then jet off on a CO2-spewing plane for a family jolly. Even more awkwardly, in the coming days, William and Kate are set to travel to Glasgow for the UN's COP26 climate conference where they will be part of the unprecedented united royal front who will press the case for urgent action. (The Queen pulled out from attending after being hospitalised last week and will address the 120 world leaders via video.) Enjoying a jet-fuel guzzling getaway the week before the event makes for very awkward timing. Then, there is the question of where the Cambridges might have gone. If they have indeed stayed in the UK, then the fact they flew, rather than driving or taking a train, would only be even more galling. However, if they have gone overseas, that sits even more uncomfortably. Making this situation even more troubling is that, despite the fact the Cambridges have very proudly flown budget airlines in the past, this week they were Heathrow's VIP Windsor Suites service which costs upwards of $6000 for entry, and on top of ticket costs. (And the service? It's usually only available to passengers travelling in business or first class.) Is this a good look when the UK is in a beleaguered, battered state right now? The nation has just barely emerged from a fuel crisis which got so bad, the government put the military on standby to help out. A crucial shortage of truck drivers has contributed to some supermarkets using cardboard cutouts of produce to hide the glaring gaps on shelves. (In the past two weeks, one in four Londoners have reported not being able to buy essential food.) And Covid? Last week a government document "detailing Winter Plan B proposals" to curb the spread of the virus was leaked and according to Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth, hospitals are "under crushing pressure". It is against this backdrop, that William, the country's future official head of state, has decided to gallivant off somewhere for a bit of a break. During the London Blitz, the Queen Mother famously said of the royal family's decision to stay put in Buckingham Palace, "The children will not leave unless I do. I shall not leave unless their father does, and the king will not leave the country in any circumstances, whatever." (A number of bombs landed on the palace and the grounds too.) Where is that sense of regal unity and oneness with the masses, even if it is just performative, now? The royal family's brand as both individuals and as an institution has never been more precarious or under more intense pressure than in recent years thanks to event including Prince Andrew's friendship with a convicted sex offender, accusations raised in a civil case that he sexually assaulted a 17-year-old victim of sex trafficking (which he strenuously denies), Harry and Meghan's disenchantment with royal life festering to such an extreme they walked away from the whole gilded enterprise, and this year, their repeated painful, denouncements of The Firm. Somehow, the monarchy has survived all of this, and, over the past year especially, we've seen William and Kate debut the biggest projects not only of their careers but to ever be spearheaded by the royal family. Under the Cambridges' aegis, to be a working HRH has evolved from one defined by plaque-opening niceties to a much more dynamic and activist model. It was not only the right strategic move but the right moral one too, with the couple leading the charge to subtly reposition the role of the royal family in public life. Handily, this approach has also lessened, to some degree, the psychic hold over the Sussexes' hold over the royal narrative. But this transition is still at a fragile point and all it would take would be a new scandal or embarrassing situation to plunge the royal family back into crisis mode. And this is what William and Kate might have been risking with this week's holiday. With the Queen's recent hospitalisation and the unanswered questions about the true state of her health dominating news, the Cambridges' trip has largely flown under the radar (pun absolutely intended) and luckily for them. If they want to continue to lead the royal family forward and to continue to build on their hard-won gains of late then they need to play things much more carefully. And if they do take a beachside holiday at some much more appropriate point down the track? For heaven's sake: No toe sucking please.