Thursday, August 14, 2014

Prince William: Petulant & Selfish or Dutiful & Protective?

     It has now been a week since it was officially confirmed that Prince William will be taking a job as a pilot for the East Anglian Air Ambulance service next spring, following a period of training that begins in September.

A EC135 helicopter used by the EAAA.
Image Credit:
Jsmauger via Wikimedia Commons cc

     The announcement generated a rather large buzz from around the world, and the Duke of Cambridge was trending on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Many of the reactions were positive and supportive, with several comments praising the 32-year-old for committing himself to a public service in which he will be saving lives. However, there were also comments and commentary of dissatisfaction with the move, which will see William and his family largely sheltered away from public view for the foreseeable future.

     Much of the criticism is not new, and appears to be focused in part on the Duke's alleged wishy-washiness and inability to come to terms with his royal destiny.

     Since his graduation from the University of St. Andrew's in 2005, Prince William has not yet settled into life as a full-time working member of the Royal Family. He went into the military - first training at the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, then going on to serve as an officer in all three main service branches (Naval, Air Force, and Army). Eventually, the Royal Air Force became his primary branch, and from 2010 to 2013, he served as Flight Lieutenant William Wales - a search-and-rescue helicopter pilot based at RAF Valley on the Isle of Anglesey in Wales.

     When his active military service came to an end in September of last year, he began what Palace officials described as a "transitional year", and it was thought that the Duke - now with a family of his own - would before long begin to carry out a full schedule of royal duties, and in doing so, step up his official role within the family as the second in line to the throne. However, he began this year by taking a ten-week "bespoke" agricultural course at the University of Cambridge, which was designed to prepare him for when he inherits the Duchy of Cornwall (a land portfolio mostly in southwest Britain, which provides an income for the heir to the throne) upon the accession of his father as King.

     Following the successful Down Under tour, William has been carrying out public engagements (sometimes with Kate and/or Prince Harry) on several occasions - most notably the commemorations for the 70th anniversary of D-Day, the World War I centenary, and the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. But he has yet to have a full schedule of day-to-day engagements like other members of the family, and with the air ambulance pilot job, this means that full royal duties will not be in store for at least two years.

     The result has been that some commentators have been calling out William for failing to be dutiful in the same mold as other members of his family. While William's desire for privacy and living "normally" is understandable and has been largely respected by the media, the opinion amongst such commentators is that it is time for him to stop "putting off" royal duties and "grow up" to the reality of his position. Flying helicopters and saving lives is noble, but as the future King of the United Kingdom, more ought to be expected of him in his public duties, and to follow the Queen's maxim of being "seen to be believed."

The Queen believes in the importance of getting out and being seen.
Image Credit: West Midlands Police via Flickr cc

     One columnist (for the Daily Mail) opined that William may not have acquired the "dutiful" gene of his father, grandmother, or great-grandfather - George VI. Instead, it was suggested that William is becoming more like Edward VIII, a man who enjoys the privileges afforded by royal status, but not much - if any - of the burdens, duties, and responsibilities which come with it. The very public chaos surrounding his parents' marriage notwithstanding, the view taken by this person and other people is that William cannot long continue to wait to begin full royal life, for the risk is that the British people will question his value to the taxpayer, which will cause him and Kate to lose the goodwill they have built up over the last several years.

     Such opinions also tend to say: yes, the burdens (especially via the media) can be unbearable at times, but then again, it is a small price to pay for all of the privileges afforded to the Duke of Cambridge and his family, whereas other families have to worry about how they will obtain their next meal and/or juggle money around to ensure that bills are paid.

     This leads to another gripe with William, which has do to with the British taxpayer funding renovations amounting to £4.5 million to Kensington Palace for the use of the Cambridge's, but which will now lay empty for the better part of (at least) two years while they decamp to Anmer Hall - their country home on the Queen's Sandringham Estate in Norfolk - as the Duke takes up his new air ambulance job in nearby Cambridge and Norwich.

A view of Apartment 1A at Kensington Palace, which is located in the center of this photograph.
Image Credit:
David Baron via Flickr cc

     In reality, the renovations to Apartment 1A (formerly the residence of Princess Margaret) were going to have to be done anyway, especially with regard to replacing the plumbing and electrical wiring, asbestos removal, roof replacement, and other essential things. Furnishing the 20-room apartment was left to be done by the couple with their personal funds, but it still raised eyebrows when it emerged that in addition to renovating the existing kitchen, a second kitchen was built - with one being used for their personal needs and the other one utilized for social gatherings.

     In this light, it does appear that the Duke comes off as petulant, selfish, arrogant, and pig-headed (like his Spencer relations, as described by a courtier). However, it must be said that William - as well as other members of the Royal Family - suffer from "damned if they do, damned if they don't."

     Right now, the gripe is that William is not doing enough with regard to public royal duties, and that taxpayers' are not getting value for money. But then if William were to vastly expand his schedule of engagements up and down the United Kingdom, then the cost of carrying out such engagements would show up on the annual Royal finances report and would become fodder for the media to make the monarchy appear spendthrift and profligate. Either way, William and the Royal Family can't win this battle, and they are only left to do what they believe is best - with consequences coming as they may.

Prince Charles has been stepping up his public outings in recent years.
Image Credit:
Worthy FM via flickr cc

     As it is, the Royal Family already has several of its members on full-time duty. The Queen, Prince Philip, Prince Charles, Camilla, Prince Andrew, Prince Edward and his wife Sophie, Princess Anne, the Duke of Kent, the Duke of Gloucester and his wife Birgette, and Princess Alexandra carry out a hefty number of engagements throughout the year, so not having William and Kate (or for that matter Harry, Beatrice, and Eugenie) on board full time is not the end of the world.

     However, it is true that the Cambridge's and Prince Harry are amongst the most high-profile members of the family, and that therefore, the general public would like to see more of them. And although the Queen and Prince Philip are carrying on well at their respective ages, it is inevitable that they will cut back on their appearances, and the same is true for the Queen's cousins - with the result that the younger generations will have to step up as time goes forward.

     For now, William probably does not feel the need to become a full-time working member of the family. Remember, he is second in line, not first, and while he is in that position, he probably believes that his primary role is that of a father who is actively helping to raise his son alongside his wife. The time will come for the Duke to become more active, but perhaps this is not it.

Prince George, Duke of York - the future George V - in 1893.
Image Credit: Library of Congress (George Grantham Bain collection)

     To put this in context, William's position is similar to that of George V when he was Duke of York and second in line to the throne behind his father - the future Edward VII - who was the heir of Queen Victoria. In 1893, George and his wife Mary moved into York Cottage on the Sandringham Estate, which was their main home for nearly 20 years until George's accession as King in 1910, and it was there that five of their six children were born. George in particular preferred the quiet country life in contrast to the lively urban social scene coveted by his father, and his biographer Harold Nicolson wrote that "when he was Duke of York ... he did nothing at all but kill animals and stick in stamps [for his stamp collection]." This was not entirely true, but it gives an indication of how the then second in line lived in middle-class fashion.

     With his air ambulance job, the current second in line is planning to do much more than his great-great grandfather. Nevertheless, they appear to be similar insofar that they decided to retreat to the quiet countryside until they were needed in public. George went go on to become King, and though he did not always like the public and colorful ceremonies, he carried them out anyway because he felt that it was the right thing to do, and this attitude laid the groundwork for House of Windsor, with its hallmark commitment to the mantra of "duty first" which has been followed by his second son, George VI and granddaughter, Elizabeth II.

     This was in contrast to his eldest son, Edward VIII, who preferred the pleasures and comforts afforded by his status, but showed his hostility to the traditional burdens and responsibilities which came with it. Vain and petulant, he was temperamentally ill-suited for the top job, and this led him down the road to abdication within twelve months of his accession.

The shadow of the media and paparazzi hounding Diana is a prime influence on Prince William.
Image Credit:
Rick via Wikimedia Commons cc

     On the other hand, Prince William does not appear to behave like "Uncle David". He may be indecisive, and when he does make a decision, becomes stubborn and immovable, but this seems to be motivated - at least in part - by his desire to protect his family from the pitfalls that consumed and destroyed his parents' marriage and which led to his mother's tragic death.

     Also, the criticism does not do justice to the fact that William has dutifully served his country in the Her Majesty's Armed Forces, and appears to ignore the work that he has done - and continues to do - with the organizations that he supports, sometimes out of the public eye.

     In addition, there is nothing wrong with him taking up a job which will see him engaging and interacting with people from various backgrounds. If anything, it will be helpful as he continues his journey to kingship, for he can become relatable - at least in some way - to the day-to-day issues that people face - away from the flickering cameras.

     On a more personal level - and unlike Edward VIII - William is married to a woman who understands him more than virtually anybody else, which will come in handy as both of them ease into full royal duties later on. For now, it is quite possible that he believes that having as normal a family life as possible (with little media/public intrusion) is the best way to ensure that the chaos and drama of the 1990's will not happen in the future. This long-term outlook views family life as essential to providing stability for the monarchy, and as second in line, the Duke probably feels that he can afford to put off a full slate of royal duties for the time being, so that his family comes first, and there is nothing selfish or petulant about that.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Back to Flying and Living “Normally"

     After months of speculation and repeated denials by the Palace, it was finally confirmed that Prince William will be employed as a pilot for the East Anglian Air Ambulance service.

     This comes after what officials termed a "transition year" for the 32-year-old Duke of Cambridge, in which he completed a 10-week agricultural course (in preparation for his future role as Duke of Cornwall) and mixed in several significant royal duties - including going on a tour of Australia and New Zealand with Kate and Prince George, commemorating the D-Day landings at Normandy and the WWI centenary in Belgium, and - along with Prince Harry and Kate - representing the Royal Family at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

A EC135 helicopter used by the EAAA.
Image Credit:
Jsmauger via Wikimedia Commons cc

     Now, he will return to flying helicopters and saving lives, something he loved doing during his time as a Royal Air Force (RAF) pilot in Wales. As Flight Lieutenant Wales, the Duke served as a Search and Rescue officer at RAF Valley in Anglesey from January 2010 to September of 2013, and in the course of that time, he undertook more than 150 rescue operations and completed over 1,300 flying hours. When his tour of duty at RAF Valley came to an end shortly after Prince George's birth, William opted not to go for another tour, which brought his active military career to an end after seven and a half years. This prompted speculation that he would move toward being a "full-time" member of the Royal Family, with the newly-renovated Kensington Palace being his and his family's base.

     Instead, for nearly a year, it was not at all clear what his next move would be. There were thoughts that he might become a flying instructor or take a desk job with the military, but the Palace would only say that the Duke wanted a public service role. When reports started to emerge that William was looking to start flying again as an air ambulance pilot, the Palace repeatedly denied them. However on August 7th, they finally put the speculation to an end and made the formal announcement.
      According to the press release, William will begin training for his Air Transport Pilot's Licence in September, which is estimated to take a minimum of five months to complete, and includes 14 examinations and a flight test. After the mandatory training period, he will start work next spring as a pilot based at the Cambridge and Norwich airports, and fly both day and night shifts. He will start as a co-pilot, but after more training, will qualify to be a commander. It is expected that he will work five days responding to situations such as medical emergencies and automobile accidents, and have three days off.

      The release also stated that the Duke will be formally employed by Bond Air Services, from whom he will draw a salary (estimated to be £40,000) which will be donated to charity. It is believed that he is the first member of the Royal Family in the direct succession to sign a job contract with a civilian employer.

      This new job is to be Prince William's primary occupation, but the Palace also stresses that the rotation "will take into account the duties and responsibilities he will continue to undertake on behalf of The Queen, both in the United Kingdom and overseas," and that he will continue his work with his patronages and the Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry.

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh are still going strong, but it is inevitable that the younger generation will be expected to step up soon with Royal duties.
Image Credit:
David (dbking) via Flickr cc

     However it is clear that this is William's chosen profession, and that he will be doing it the next couple of years. More to the point, his contract with EAAA lasts for two years staring next year, which means that the Duke may not begin full-time royal duties until 2017, or perhaps longer than that if he opts to do serve another two years, by which time he will be 37 years old. Meanwhile, Queen will be 93 and Prince Philip will be pushing 98.

     For the Flying Prince, this may become an issue if his grandparents are only able to carry out but so many engagements - far down from the 700-800 that are currently carried out between them every year. It becomes more pressing when you take into the account the advancing ages of other members of the Royal Family - especially the Duke of Kent and Princess Alexandra, both of whom have had health issues in the past year or two that have seen them cancel engagements.

     Prince Charles has already been stepping up in place of his mother at several events - most notably at the Order of the Bath service earlier this year - and his wife and siblings are also increasing their profiles at home and abroad. It is therefore inevitable that the younger generations - William, Kate, and Harry, and possibly princesses Beatrice and Eugenie - are expected to pick up the slack as time goes on.

Anmer Hall, the Cambridge's country home in Norfolk, which is still undergoing renovations.
Image Credit:
Richard Humphrey via Geograph cc

     But William and Kate appear to have different plans in the near future - ones that primarily focus on raising a family and living as normally as possible. It is no mistake that the Duke's new job is a drive away from Anmer Hall, the country residence on the Queen's Sandringham Estate in Norfolk, which is set to become the Cambridge's semi-permanent family home after renovations are completed on the building and its immediate area. Among other things, the driveway is bring reconstructed to put it further away from public eyes, and surrounding structures are being converted to house the security detail and Prince George's nanny, all of which is being paid via personal funds.

     Meanwhile, Kensington Palace in London - which has also been renovated to the tune of £4.5 million (partly by the British taxpayer) for the use of the Cambridge's - will be their official residence and base of operations, but it appears that they will be spending most of their time in Norfolk for at least the next two years, and will reside at Kensington when necessary as they carry out engagements and other activities in the capital.

Kensington Palace is the official residence of the Cambridge's, but it may not see much of them for at least two years.
Image Credit:
Colin Smith via Geograph cc

     Friends of the couple say that they prefer the countryside over the city, noting in particular their fondness for Anglesey, where they could live like virtually anybody else without intrusion. In contrast, Kensington feels like a prison where at any moment, pictures may be snapped of them, and this is especially true with regard to being outside for walking Prince George on the grounds.

      So by decamping to Norfolk, William and Kate are making it clear that their primary focus will be to ensure that Prince George has a solid upbringing in which they are active parents for the future king, who will have more than his fair share of the public spotlight in the course of his life. The establishment of a home there also means that the couple will be able to get out and enjoy life with relative privacy.

Great Massingham, a village in East Anglia frequented by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Image Credit: Martin Pearman via Geograph cc

     They are known to shop in the area, walk the beaches, and have a drink. William in particular is fond of the Dabbling Duck Pub in Great Massingham and the bakery in Great Bircham, whilst Kate has been known to shop at local stores such as the Mews Antiques Emporium in nearby Holt. Both have been made honorary members at the prestigious Royal West Norfolk Golf Club, and they have a circle of friends and family in the area - collectively known as the "Turnip Toffs" - with whom they can have social gatherings and who will do their bit to keep the couple well-protected. Such people - along with the Middleton's and other members of the Royal Family - are expected to be around to also help provide a support network for Prince George.

      With royal duties placed on the back-burner for the near-future, the Duke and Duchess are determined to have a quiet and wholesome family life, with a focus on avoiding the chaos that enveloped the Duke's own life during the failure of his parent's marriage. For William himself in particular, having the air ambulance pilot job is another way for him to experience life amongst ordinary people and outside of the palace walls.

     There will be complaints about not seeing enough of the couple, and of the expenses relating to Kensington Palace, but in the long-term, this is a move that may well prove to be good for the monarchy.