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Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Camilla, Kate, Sophie – and the delicate politics of the next Royal chapter

Chief among them, according to those who have viewed the family up close, is the Duchess of Cornwall, who notably refused to pull rank on Sunday and instead allowed the Duchess of Cambridge to stand in the centre of the three women, rather than substituting herself for the Queen. The Queen has always stood front and centre on the balcony overlooking the Cenotaph since the Prince of Wales took on the responsibility of laying the Sovereign’s wreath, but rather than insisting on standing in her place, the Duchess of Cornwall stood on the right, with the Duchess of Cambridge in the middle and the Countess on the left.

Royal sources suggested the arrangement was spontaneous rather than being pre-planned.

Penny Junor, who has spent much of her life observing the Royal Family for her biographies on the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall among others, believes the three women also have altruistic personalities that will safely carry the Royal brand for decades to come.

“They are all very natural women who come from solid backgrounds, who seem very comfortable in their own skin and there is no tension or conflict between them,” she says.

“Princess Diana was always in competition with her husband and the Duchess of Sussex is super-ambitious, but Camilla, Kate and Sophie all seem to get on and they don’t take themselves too seriously.”

“What you have to remember,” said one former courtier, “is that the Duchess was 57 when she became a member of the Royal Family.

“She has spent the vast majority of her life living outside the Royal Family and so she understands the differences between the two worlds. 

“She understands how strange the world of the Royal Family can be, and how the public sees that, and knows that at times her husband, the Prince of Wales, can’t see that.

“When she goes to her house in Wiltshire there is none of the apparatus of Royal life; it’s just her and the dogs, and maybe her children and other guests, so she regularly engages in a fairly ‘normal’ life, where her children will tell her how the outside world views things the Royal Family are doing. It means she is better able than almost anyone else to persuade certain members of the Royal Family of a certain point of view that they might not see otherwise.”

The Duchess of Cambridge, who was very much a “commoner” when as Kate Middleton she married Prince William, coming from a middle-class family of self-made entrepreneurs, and the Countess of Wessex, formerly PR woman Sophie Rhys-Jones, comes from even more humble beginnings, having worked for a living before Royalty beckoned.

They have the sort of real-world antennae that help them steer clear of controversy. While the Duke of York saw no problem consorting with paedophile Jeffrey Epstein (and compounded the error with his disastrous BBC interview), and where the Prince of Wales saw fit to retain the services of Michael Fawcett long after others might have let him go, none of the “commoners” on show at the weekend have been tainted by such controversies since getting married. They have the savvy to see what does and does not pass the “smell test” in the opinion of ordinary subjects. 

This desire to just get on with the job rather than expending energy on etiquette or in-fighting was very much in evidence at Sunday’s Remembrance parade. 

Indeed, the Duchess of Cornwall is “dreading” the spotlight that will be thrown on her when her husband becomes king, according to Junor. She says: “She is a normal woman who, because of her relationship with Charles, has found herself in an abnormal situation.

“I don’t think titles do it for her, and the prospect of being Queen or Princess Consort, the fuss there will be at the time, the comparisons to Diana, it will be a very difficult time for her.

“My feeling is that she will be Queen rather than Princess Consort, because Charles is so proud of her and so grateful to her and loves her so much that he would find it difficult to give her a lesser title. It would be demeaning.

“That said, public opinion will play its part, and if The Crown has just put out a new series that paints her in a bad light, or Prince Harry has just dropped some sort of bombshell, it could change things.”

Between them, the three women are able to inject the opinions and experiences of the three post-war generations into the Royal Family. The Duchess of Cornwall, a baby boomer born in 1947, is old enough to remember rationing and its effect on the national psyche; the Countess, solidly Generation X as a 1965 birth, has the work ethic of the latchkey generation, while the Duchess of Cambridge, born in 1982, is a millennial who grew up in the internet age.

If women are the glue that holds families together, Camilla, Kate and Sophie are vital to the future unity of the Royal Family.

One friend of the Prince of Wales said: “It’s often the women that make sure relationships in a family run smoothly, and both Duchesses share a vested interest in that.

“They are both married to future kings and they are in a position to make sure interpersonal relationships are as healthy as possible.”

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