By Catherine Ostler

While Kate was on one of her first major charity engagements and Prince William had had a sleepless night after working a long shift as a search-and-rescue helicopter pilot, the appearance of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at a children’s cancer ward on Thursday looked anything but strained.

Indeed, it would take a heart of stone not to be charmed by the spontaneity and relaxed goodwill that emanated from the young royals.

Kate wore her long hair loose, and in her simple, unshowy dress seemed approachable and relaxed; William took off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves up as soon as he could, and bent down to the children’s eye level.

High-profile: Kate and William at the Royal Marsden last week

Kate was seen patting her husband on the back when he joked about being tired; he made the children laugh.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge present an irresistible mix of empathy and glamour — just as Diana did.

And as with Diana, there’s also no doubting the couple’s genuine interest in meeting people such as the young patients at the Royal Marsden Hospital in South London. The visit ran on much longer than scheduled.

William took the presidency of the Royal Marsden over from his mother, and on Thursday it was impossible not to see her legacy in both him and his new wife.

Emanating goodwill: In her simple, unshowy dressy, Kate seemed approachable and relaxed; William took off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves as soon as he could

But behind the obvious success of such a visit lies a real dilemma for the Royal Family. As all their advisers are acutely aware, Britain’s new golden couple are currently walking a tightrope between trying to maintain the privacy and normality of their daily lives while having become dazzling uber-celebrities.

William has told the Queen that he is desperate not to be considered as a senior Royal quite yet; that he wants to keep up his real-world job as a search-and-rescue pilot, with all the flexibility that necessitates.

For the moment, the RAF, rather than his Royal future, is the focus. In a rare interview with the Mail’s Robert Hardman last week, the 29-year-old Flight Lieutenant seemed happy not to consider any new Royal role for the moment.

‘As I’m flying in my helicopter through the mountains of Wales,’ he said, ‘I try desperately hard not to think about it. That can wait until I’m a bit older.

Legacy: William took the presidency of the Royal Marsden over from his mother Diana, seen here visiting the hospital in 1993

He is seeking to be promoted to Captain, but is also unable, and unwilling, to forgo all his Royal duties and the accompanying media fanfare. Anyway, it is too late for that.

For Kate’s part, although she has no other job to juggle with her Royal duties, she feels the split just as keenly. But most of the time, for now, she can play at not being royal.

She can be a military housewife in windy Anglesey, waiting for William to return from RAF missions; she can be her old shopping self in West London, mooching around Topshop in Kensington High Street and going to her favourite hairdresser, Richard Ward, in Sloane Square. At weekends, she can go to Sloaney weddings with her sister Pippa.

But at some point, she will be expected to do more.

This weekend, it was reported that Kate, a History of Art graduate, is to become a patron of the arts in the not-too-distant future.

Last week, she was given a private tour of the National Gallery by curators, where she would have been able to swot up on her knowledge of Britain’s artistic heritage.

In coming months, she’s expected to attend meetings with directors and curators at museums and galleries across the country.

Out of the spotlight: After a quick tour of Canada and California, the new Duchess was promptly withdrawn from the public gaze. Here William and Kate hug each other after competing on opposite sides in a dragon boat race on their tour of Canada

As for charities, having made a series of secret visits to some, she has been advised to take until the New Year before deciding which ones to get involved with. She wants to be selective and well-informed about the charities who are clamouring to have her as a patron.

Most importantly, she has been having ‘princess lessons’ at St James’s Palace. How enlightening it would be to see details from this How To Be A Princess Manual.

Let us hope that these tutorials do not involve sitting for hours with some expert shipped in from outside the palace, sharing the benefit of his wisdom about constitutional niceties, arts funding, the evils of the British media, or current affairs subjects such as the future of the Eurozone.

Such an ordeal might well be intolerable even for the patient, smiley Kate.

It is an oddity that could only happen with our Royal Family, so hidebound by convention, that the new Duchess should be unveiled to the world as Britain’s glamorous new princess — and then, after that quick tour of Canada and California, promptly withdrawn from the public gaze.

The truth is that there is an insatiable appetite for the new Royal star.

Kate’s face is ubiquitous on magazine covers all over the world, and an editor recently revealed that any image of her has the ‘Diana effect’ on sales (be it Grazia, Hello!, US Weekly, Newsweek, People magazine etc).

As the couple shied away from the public eye after their hit American tour, speculation, which began in the States, filled the news vacuum. Was Kate pregnant, with twins? Denied. Was she so lonely that her sister Pippa had been asked to move into Nottingham Cottage, their bijoux new home at Kensington Palace? Denied.

Endless questions were asked along the lines of ‘If Kate isn’t on display, what is she actually going to do all day?” and ‘Is she happy; or bored and lonely?’

It is not just her and William’s perfectly understandable desire for a quiet life that dictates Kate’s predicament. Their popularity is actually a delicate matter for the whole family.

As William is not next-in-line to the throne, Palace officials are well aware that the dazzling effect the couple have on the public necessarily puts Charles and Camilla in a rather awkward position.

The more high profile that William and Kate are, the more the other members of the Royal Family are put in the shade. The more at ease the newlyweds are, the stiffer and more antiquated the others appear.

And then, of course, there is the spectre of Diana’s misery, because the flipside of her common touch was her isolation. Her complaints that she was never shown the ropes of palace life prompted the crash course in royalty that is now being assembled for Kate.

Although the Duchess of Cambridge is nearly 30 and a university graduate, her tutorials in how to be a princess are clearly the result of lessons from what happened to a 19-year-old former kindergarten teacher 30 years ago. (Although one can assume that Diana’s emotional fragility, a result of her parent’s divorce and her own unhappy marriage, was responsible for defeating her spirits as much as any lack of preparation.)

Kate and William’s visit to the Royal Marsden Hospital was a triumph, and follows the sell-out success of the exhibition of Kate’s wedding dress at Buckingham Palace.

Newlyweds: The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge present an irresistible mix of empathy and glamour

By the time it ends today, 600,000 people — more visitors than Buckingham Palace has ever attracted before for the summer season — will have paid £17.50 each for the pleasure of being ushered through 19 state rooms at break-neck speed.

The public appetite is clear; and is backed up by hard cash, with more than £10 million being added to the coffers of the Royal Collection as a result of the exhibition.

And yet what a half-hearted display it is. The overwhelming impression is that it was staged on a budget and in a hurry.

The curator described the aim of the exhibition as ‘grand but modest’ — an awkward description based on the belief that although they are obviously Royal, the couple are not seen as frontline royals.

What’s more, the Queen — who toured the exhibition with Kate and is keen to get to know her granddaughter-in-law better — thought the way the wedding dress was displayed was ‘horrid’. It is said she found the headless dress ‘creepy’.

Meanwhile, the veil covers what is surely the most eye-catching part — the bustle — and the imitation bouquet, a plastic bunch of lily-of-the-valley, looks naff. The William & Kate Roadshow deserves better.

Of course the couple have a role to play — one that balances their global superstar status with their need for privacy. But their royal advisers need to ensure that they use the utmost preparation and polish at every turn.

These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages.
  • Digg
  • Sphinn
  • Facebook
  • Mixx
  • Google
  • Furl
  • Reddit
  • Spurl
  • StumbleUpon
  • Technorati

Leave a comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.