Cocktails with Kate and Will

The royal couple invites a pliant press corps for a drink

The invitation, issued by the press secretary to “TRH The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge,” was impossible to decline: a 7:10 p.m. drinks reception with the royal couple immediately after their arrival in Charlottetown Sunday night. Just 200 or so journalists and provincial organizers for 40 minutes. The setting was shockingly intimate given royal-tour coverage dictates the royals are always at least a three-metre remove from the ink- and digitally-stained wretches. Following the couple around feels like being embedded in a military mission without any proximity: journalists wait hours in a slightly more privileged position than the hoi polloi for a glimpse of the couple, and are forever on the lookout for colourful crumbs to pad out reports.

The soiree had rules. It was to be casual, off-the-record, no cameras—which is like asking hunters who’ve been tracking big, exotic game to come face to face with their quarry stripped of their weapons.

The gathering was held on the second storey deck of a casual restaurant overlooking the harbour. The night was gorgeous. Drinks flowed. Oysters were shucked, lobster rolls served and a fiddle band played.

Before the newlyweds arrived, journalist were herded inside and divided by media type—Canadian, print, etc. Then the royals worked the reception line separately, each lead by handlers. The prince came through first, shaking hands in a dark suit with a Canada flag pin, carrying a drink which looked like Coke, though he joked about wanting to have a couple of them. He’s an old pro at this—engaged, leaning in, making eye contact, quick to joke in a self-deprecating manner. Yet if you look closely his jaw clenches; there’s tension there.

He’s a master in small talk, aware his audience will always remember the encounter. There was chatter about the next day’s schedule—joking that could be a big news day if anything went wrong during his dragon boat race or flying a Sea King helicopter. He talked about returning to work three days after the tour ends and his enthusiasm about attending the Stampede—something about wearing chaps. Somehow a journalist from an American celebrity tabloid wedged herself in front of our group, nattering away about how much Diana had meant to her and how she’d been covering him since his engagement. He was gracious, ignoring her comment about his mother and joked about her having to write about him. “How awful for you,” he said.

Kate followed minutes later. In her five-inch stilettos, Kate stands almost shoulder to shoulder with her 6’ 3” husband. She’s very thin and very tan, Celine-Dion-like. Her large features—expressive eyes, dark brows, huge high-wattage smile—coalesce into a more harmonious refinement on camera. She was wearing a nude-coloured “Vanessa” crepe dress by the UK high-street designer Joseph, a fact journalists knew before her arrival because the royal’s press agent had sent out an email with details. Over it she wore a short pink bouclé jacket with that looked like Chanel but was unlikely to be Chanel because the outrageously priced French luxury label would send out all the wrong signals. Its source has become a topic of intense scrutiny among bloggers who obsessively deconstruct everything Kate wears. The princess didn’t carry a drink, just a clutch purse. On her finger sat that famous engagement ring.

Still vivacious after a long, tedious day, Kate wowed the crowd with her knack of appearing to be utterly engaged with the person she’s speaking with. Even hardened Republicans in the crowd conceded she was a natural, born to it. Like her husband, she can talk intently and sincerely about nothing and serve up banal tidbits that feel like confidences—that she did read and loved Anne of Green Gables as a girl; how she was worried she’d jammed her wedding dress into William’s sports car for their surprise wedding-day ride through the streets of London; how competitive she and her husband are playing sports (they find it difficult to finish a tennis game); how all of that smiling can make her mouth tired.

For 15 or so more minutes later, they mingled as if there was nothing they’d rather do. It wasn’t a forum for any real questions: What did they make of the protesters in Quebec? What are the strategic purposes of this trip? Does William actually think of us as his future “subjects”? Is this what Kate thought she was signing up for? Still, it was a shrewd move, a British journalist who has been following the royals for decades noted: “He detests journalists but has learned it’s better to be friendly than not.”

Not that this is journalism; it’s junketeering— an abridged version of the 10-minute interview celebrities submit to in order to promote their latest movie. And celebrites are of course what William and Kate have become. That’s why they’re the House of Windsor’s most effective weapon. And why a 40-minute intimate drinks party for 200 journalists was a brilliant move. What better way of thanking the minions whose slavish devotion to their every move made them thus?