What do you reckon the 613 of students at Lambrook school who aren’t members of the royal family do over their summer hols?
A quick trip to St Barts? A villa outside Nice? A getaway to that small, exclusive Greek island that only people with superyachts know about?
All these options are off limits for the school’s three most famous and closely guarded pupils, Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis. There are definite downsides to being second, third and fourth in line to the throne.
Exhibit A: The photo released by the their parents William and Kate, the Prince and Princess of Wales, to mark UK Mother’s Day over the weekend. It’s a shot that positively ladles on the syrupy and the twee with so much unoriginality it hurts (it’s not even the first time we’ve had a princess in a tree).
But what makes this image worth a second look is one detail in the otherwise predictable offering that no one seems to have noticed yet, considering it was taken up to nine months ago.
The Wales children and Kate are all wearing their same outfits, from the Debenhams Average Middle England collection, that they were wearing for their 2022 Christmas card. The summery looks suggest the photo was taken mid-last year.
While the location is not known, the background would suggest it was likely taken at be Anmer Hall, their Norfolk weekender where the family make do with ten bedrooms, two nurseries and a swimming pool, or Adelaide Cottage, the Windsor estate home they moved to late last August or early September.
So why are the Waleses putting out a picture that is so old that Queen Elizabeth, the Racing Post’s number one subscriber, was probably still alive when it was taken?
Sure, you could think it’s just down to Kate hastily scrolling through her camera roll to find some cutesy family snap and sending it off to some Kensington Palace aide who’s at least heard of hashtags to slap up onto social media – but I reckon there’s something much savvier going on here.
The most obvious thing that stands out here is that the Waleses are thinking about and forward planning their kids’ public outings, or the moments they are exposed to the public sphere, with incredible precision. That is, rather than, say, hastily shoving their tots up a tree when someone twigs they have forgotten it’s nearly Mother’s Day and will need a new picture to put out.
For George, Charlotte and Louis, regularly taking part in photo shoots like this one might be part and parcel of the whole HRH game, but that does not change the fact they must be uncomfortable for them at best and painful at worst.
What George, Charlotte and Louis are subjected to during professional photo shoots would likely involve multiple people, possibly including photographers’ assistants who would help with lighting and a hair and makeup team. (William’s balding pate doesn’t polish itself.)
These sorts of shoots would also very likely take hours and hours, meaning that while their Lambrook classmates are enjoying making Bauhaus sandcastles in the Caribbean or learning how to say ‘I’m gluten-free’ in French over their summer break, the youngest Waleses are being forced to work.
For William and Kate, using a shot this week that was taken back long ago would suggest the degree to which they want to protect their kids from having to go through this shoot rigmarole too often.
And therein lies the much, much bigger, future-of-the-monarchy-impacting, history-making challenge, which is: how the hell do you raise little HRHs without somehow stuffing them up completely?
Imagine if any regular family in the developed World was forcing their four-year-old to work -any decent human would be on the phone to the Department of Community Services faster than you can say ‘child endangerment.’
However, that is exactly what being a royal kidlet means. The ‘job’ starts within hours of your birth (hello Lindo Wing steps photo op!) and is a perpetual milestone of responsibility around even the tiniest of necks.
Now matter how often William and Kate try to play the ‘normal family’ card, the truth is no matter what they might think is best for their kids – like tucking them far away from the press and public’s fawning grasp – they just can’t.
George, Charlotte and Louis are the heir and the spares, and with both of these roles comes a weight of responsibility and duty that would be heavy for even an adult, let alone someone who is still mastering the basics of finger painting. (Oh, you just know that Louis would be a delightful menace during art at school. Imagine how much stain removal their poor housekeeper is forced to do …)
These children exist in a very strange liminal space between being both public property and tiny fragile little humans. The heavy weight that falls on the Prince and Princess of Waleses’ shoulders is to find a way to balance these two halves of their identity and lives without thoroughly making a hash of things.
As their uncle Prince Harry’s memoir Spare made abundantly clear, fail to get royal child rearing right and you run the risk of producing some extraordinarily unhappy and damaged adults.
Even without the tragedy and heartbreak of the death of William and Harry’s mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, their earliest years were indelibly impacted by their royal status.
For example, there is footage of William, not even two years old, having to face a contingent of Fleet Street in his back garden during a photo shoot. He is adorable, of course, but his curiosity about the journalists, snappers and TV crews belies the really sad scene we are actually watching play out. A tiny child being forced to begin a lifetime of having to share himself with the world, of having to let lenses into his most private of spaces and smile and make nice.
Things have obviously changed since then, and there is no way in royal hell they would green light this sort of press call now.
But that tightrope of a parental balancing act, between recognising the demands that come with royaldom with trying to minimise the childrens’ exposure to the glare of the Global spotlight, is what William and Kate are trying to navigate right now.
The upcoming coronation of their grandfather King Charles is a case in point.
It has been reported that George will have some official role in the ceremony; however, there are currently ‘arguments’ going on behind-the-scenes about what exactly that might be.
(All three of the kids will take part in the official carriage procession afterwards, from Westminster Abbey and back to Buckingham Palace.)
Veteran royal biographer Tom Quinn, author of Gilded Youth, a recent book about royal childhoods, told the Express: “I’ve heard from my contacts that there is a bit of an argument going on about whether George should play a more formal role.
“I’ve heard that Kate and William are worried that it will be too much for him.”
Which is entirely understandable. The coronation is a two-hour long marathon of antiquarian pomp and pageantry and could end up being the most-watched televised event in history.
Imagine the pressure on the poor kid. An adult with a prescription for valium and a sturdy mantra would be at risk of buckling if they were forced to play a part in the august day, let alone a primary schooler who’s probably too short still to go on the good rides at Alton Towers.
But … this is also exactly the same ceremony that George, decades down the track, will have to partake in himself when he is crowned, albeit probably arriving via gold flying carriage.
William and Kate have a duty to prepare him for what lies ahead – they can’t protect him from his destiny – but he is also still a child. How do you raise a future King or a prince and princess, ready for what their royal status will demand of them and the price they will be expected to pay, while also helping them become fully-formed human beings?
I truly have no idea, and this very question must keep the Waleses up at night fretting over a warm mug of Horlicks laced heavily with a few good belts of Grandpa Philip’s leftover whiskey.
With less than 50 days to go until the coronation, they will have to find some sort of answer about George soon. And in the meantime, I’m guessing that somewhere, Louis has just gotten into a fresh pot of paint and the family’s housekeeper is readying the industrial tub of Napisan.
Daniela Elser is a writer and a royal commentator with more than 15 years’ experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.
Originally published at www.news.com.au