It’s been called a royal tour and a media event, but for Prince William and Kate, it was surely something else: a nine-day “intro to Canada” crash course. The start was to be relatively slow and sombre: some mandatory basics in Ottawa, before peeling off to the regions for the fun stuff, like dragon boat racing and street hockey.
However, while the itinerary in the capital was predictable, the size of the crowds and the couple’s determination to interact with them were not. The mania for Will and Kate started in earnest at the very first event: laying a wreath and a bouquet of flowers on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. After that sombre occasion, the pair spent an unexpectedly long time mingling, talking to scores of veterans and ordinary citizens. (Some 25,000 were there.) The timetable went out the window—the Governor General was left waiting patiently at Rideau Hall—as the couple mixed with the crowds.
And this, it soon became clear, was not an isolated incident but a precedent. The usual rules of royal etiquette were abandoned for the entire Ottawa visit, not only by touchy-feely throngs determined to get face time with William and Kate, but also by the couple, who signalled their approval of the casual exchanges by shaking so many hands that British commentators speculated about the potentially hazardous consequences for the royal digits. No gesture, however casual, was ignored by the 1,300 accredited journalists confined to “media pens.” When William was offered sunglasses by a spectator on the Hill, he laughed, popped them on for a photo op—wild excitement amongst the TV cameramen—then returned them to their owner. It wasn’t just ordinary mortals who succumbed to the fever: two lines of RCMP officers were needed to hold back rows of invited Canada Day VIPs who had morphed into a squealing mob of Bieber-esque groupies.
When asked to describe the cause for the adoration, two reasons were offered repeatedly: Kate and Will are the most famous newlyweds in the world, and they’ve injected a refreshing and decidedly youthful brand of informality into the royal family. For instance, William slung his arm around Kate during a youth dinner at Rideau Hall; she gently touched his leg to get his attention. While he struggled bravely in French, she looked on encouragingly, with the barest flick of her hair and the occasional demure sip of water—and yet creating, somehow, the strong impression that the two of them would be laughing about it all later. And breaking with normal royal etiquette, she issued a breezy “Hello, call me Kate” to veterans and their families at the Canadian War Museum on the couple’s last day in Ottawa. Her determination to talk to everyone in her path meant she was often being hustled along by the couple’s hovering private secretary, Jamie Lowther-Pinkerton. “I’m so sorry, I think I’m getting moved,” she explained apologetically, more than once.
On Canada Day, an estimated 300,000 red-and-white clad spectators—many chanting “Will and Kate, Will and Kate,” and more than a few sporting paper-plate fascinators—braved sweltering heat to pack the Hill and surrounding streets. (Normally, about 50,000 people show up on July 1.) Rebecca Ross, 18, and two friends from Wellesley, in southwestern Ontario, dashed frantically across the west lawn after the morning changing of the guard to secure the last vacant area by the crowd barrier. “I might have trampled a couple of people,” Ross confessed. But for a perfect view of the stage, “it was worth it.”
There, a tableau mesmerizing for its layers of history: William slumped in his seat like his father yet blushed like his mother, Diana. Next to him, Kate sat bolt upright, wearing the diamond-encrusted maple-leaf brooch given to her husband’s great-grandmother on her first tour of Canada in 1939 and worn by the Queen on her inaugural trip in 1951.
In his speech that day, William, who had a Canadian flag pinned to his lapel, declared that he and his wife are “part of the Canadian family” and that his grandmother, “Queen of Canada”—for those who couldn’t ID her—had “taken a great interest in the themes and program of our tour, and looks forward to following our progress as it unfolds.”
Indeed, the Ottawa engagements, including a citizenship ceremony and multiple meetings with veterans, emphasized that this wasn’t a standard drop-in by visiting dignitaries but the inaugural tour of the future king and queen of Canada. Even the few hours of private time they enjoyed that afternoon were occupied in a stereotypically Canadian way: boating on a lake.
And certainly, there is renewed interest in the monarchy. Tom Richards, head of the youth wing of the Monarchist League of Canada, notes that paid memberships by the under-25 crowd have exploded in the last two years, from a few hundred to around 2,250, thanks in large part to the royal newlyweds.
So by the time the couple waved goodbye and flew on to their next stop, they’d earned the equivalent, one supposes, of a top mark in the crash course.