Was the royal tour of Jamaica a ‘PR disaster’?
Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s eight-day Caribbean trip was anything but a triumph
“The royal tour has been a staple of the British royal family playbook for as long as the mass-media age has existed,” said James Ball in the New Statesman. They’re usually a hit, but the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s recent eight-day tour of the Caribbean was anything but a triumph. It will be remembered for protests and calls for slavery reparations; for the Jamaican prime minister telling the royal couple that his country was “moving on” by dropping the Queen as head of state; and for some truly cringeworthy photos.
The worst of these showed William and Kate clasping the hands of Jamaican children corralled behind a chain-link fence. The images were innocent enough in origin: the royal couple had been attending a football match and were greeting spectators on their way out. But shorn of their context, the pictures – with their white-saviour connotations – looked “dire”.
Almost as excruciating, said Jan Moir in the Daily Mail, were the photos of William standing in the back of a Land Rover in full military regalia, his wife in a hat by his side. “Dear God, it couldn’t have been more colonial if he had worn a pith helmet and driven a tank through the streets of Kingston.” Royal aides complain that you can’t judge a tour on the basis of a few photo opportunities, but “what is a royal tour except a symbolic progression of photo opportunities and strategic meet’n’greets”? The mortifying PR disaster of this particular tour raises questions about the future of both the Commonwealth and the monarchy.
You can’t blame the Cambridges, said Sean O’Grady on The Independent. They were “following the usual template” for royal tours. The template just doesn’t work any more. Even keen royalists like me “can sense – sadly – that people are tiring of this stuff”, said Clare Foges in The Times. To secure a long-term future for the monarchy after the death of the Queen, the Prince of Wales will need to “steal a march on his critics” by introducing some truly radical reforms.
It won’t be enough simply to slim down the monarchy; he also needs to axe the outdated etiquette and titles, vacate royal residences, consider repatriating royal spoils such as the Koh-i-Noor diamond and voluntarily stand down as head of state of the remaining Commonwealth realms. This needn’t mean a full Scandinavian-style “bicycling monarchy”. That would bore the British, who will always “desire occasional orgies of flag-waving and fairy-tale carriages”. But it’s clear that tinkering with the status quo will no longer suffice.