After following the travails of the House of Windsor for three decades, Judy Wade isn’t caught off guard by many palace announcements. Still, the veteran royal watcher was surprised by the timing of the first overseas visit of Prince William and wife-to-be Kate Middleton. Their nine-day tour of Canada will start on June 30, a mere two months after the brunette walks down the aisle.
“It’s like throwing Kate in at the deep end, isn’t it?” Wade says. “She’s a novice and she doesn’t know what’s involved.” Middleton can’t look bored, tired or impatient. Above all, she can’t say or do anything controversial. Heaven help her if she wears an outfit twice. This isn’t a short visit but a sprawling adventure that will cover Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Ottawa, Alberta and the Northwest Territories. No other recent bride has taken on such an ambitious undertaking so soon after entering the gilded goldfish bowl.
After being on nearly 100 overseas royal tours, Wade knows what awaits Middleton: “Although there’s going to be a lot of flunkies around to help with the burden, she’s the one everyone wants to see, it’s her hand that is going to be crushed.” And it won’t just be the spectators on the ground who will turn out to see her. Kevin MacLeod, the Canadian secretary to the Queen and coordinator of the upcoming tour, has already heard that hordes of international media, especially the American networks, will be coming.
The interest isn’t simply because they are newlyweds, he explains, “but, because in the case of Miss Middleton, she’s never really undertaken royal engagements before.” Indeed, the tour was announced eight days before Middleton undertook her first official engagement. Last Thursday, she launched a new lifeboat on the Welsh island of Anglesey, just down the road from where William is a Royal Air Force search and rescue pilot.
By the time the couple arrive, “she will have gotten her proverbial feel wet, to a certain extent,” MacLeod says. Still, it’s a far cry from the plan for Middleton originally conveyed to London’s coterie of palace correspondents, including Wade, the royal editor of Hello! “We were told initially William and Kate were going to stay hidden away in Anglesey and she’s not going to do much in the way of official engagements at all in the first few years because they want the marriage to work and they want her to have a gentle introduction into royal life. Well, I don’t call this gentle.” There is clearly a belief in the royal household that Middleton, 29, is up for the task. When asked about the tour’s timing, the press office repeated its mantra that William is keen to “show his wife a country that is close to his family’s heart.”
It falls to MacLeod to make the tour work. The urbane courtier calls it a “delightful challenge,” but it’s one with enormous pressures, not least of which is the foreshortened time frame. Only last week did he start visiting the destination points to get an idea of the options for various engagements. By early April he’ll have a very rough program fleshed out. Though there will be some elements of protocol—”a royal tour is a royal tour,” MacLeod says—he’s expecting it to be much more informal than the Queen’s visit last year.
Why Canada won the prize of the couple’s first tour isn’t clear, though it’s no secret that Ottawa pushed hard for it. Prime Minister Stephen Harper put in the request on Nov. 16, the day the engagement was announced. It didn’t hurt that Canada beat Queen Elizabeth II’s 15 other realms to the punch by unveiling the first of its Diamond Jubilee programs—a medal and design—on Feb. 3, well ahead of next year’s celebrations honouring Elizabeth’s 60 years on the throne. As for the timing, the royal couple clearly had some free time this summer, one of the few times such a weather-dependent trip can be considered. And given William’s RAF obligations, the jubilee, and the Olympic Games, it was either now or much later.
MacLeod is sure the visit will be a success, and even Wade cautiously concurs: “I’m sure Kate will cope.” Still, don’t expect to see the new bride striking out on solo engagements: “It’s much too soon.” After all, there will be another visit. There always is.