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.

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