Despite Prince Philip's age - he will celebrate his 96th birthday next month - the news somehow very much surprised me. The Queen has described her husband as her "strength and stay", their enduring partnership has seen him by Her Majesty's side for almost seven decades throughout the joys and sorrows of her reign. Through vast change in Britain, guiding the monarchy for decades, to painful times which saw the loss of family members, to the Queen's 'annus horribilis' of 1992 when tensions between Charles and Diana were at an all time high followed by both Prince Andrew and Princess Anne announcing their divorces, he has been by her side. He is the longest-serving royal spouse in ten centuries. They will mark their 70th wedding anniversary in November. 70 years of marriage is an incredible milestone and is perhaps, ahead of such a landmark event in their life together, a time for reflection and a carefully considered decision on the next realistic move, which would not only be sensible but inevitable. Although the Queen intends to continue "a full programme of royal duties supported by members of the Royal family", it is abundantly clear neither HM nor Prince Philip could continue to carry out such a vigorous programme of duties. Ones which can involve long periods of travel, likely became heavily taxing. According to various reports, the decision came after many conversations with the Queen and other members of the Royal family, their children and grandchildren.
His indomitable and often unapologetic wit and sense of humour has sometimes garnered unforgiving press coverage, however, almost everyone who has met him came away with a fantastic story to tell! Under regular circumstances he would be enjoying three decades of retirement, but his unwavering sense of duty simply wouldn't have allowed for that. Throughout the course of his royal career he has carried out over 22,000 royal engagements, 637 solo overseas visits and hundreds more with Her Majesty. I think we can all agree, Philip is enormously deserving of retirement, and we wholeheartedly thank him for his decades of service. The announcement was very much a bittersweet one, as although the Queen plans to continue as she has for as long as she can, it heralds the end of an era for the monarchy... A sentence I write with more than a tinge of sadness.
In classic Prince Philip style, at an Order of Merit service at the Chapel Royal in St James's Palace, one of the guests was filmed saying to Prince Philip: "I’m sorry to hear you’re standing down." He replied with a smile: "Well I can’t stand up much longer." We wouldn't have expected anything less from him. :)
Prince Philip gives a guest a witty reply to why he's standing down from royal duties https://t.co/J2EQ1VusWV pic.twitter.com/4AVuxFSAAF— ITV News (@itvnews) May 4, 2017
The fact is the news signals a period of change, adjustment and refocusing for the Royal family - and for none more so than the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Unbeknownst to the public, preparations have been underway for some months. In January, Kensington Palace confirmed Prince William would not be renewing his contract with the East Anglian Air Ambulance: "Their Royal Highnesses have loved their time in Norfolk and it will continue to be their home. From this autumn, however, the Duke and Duchess will increasingly base their family at Kensington Palace. As they have in recent years, Their Royal Highnesses are keen to continue to increase their official work on behalf of the Queen and for the charities and causes they support, which will require greater time spent in London." The statement was vague to say the least offering little insight into specific plans - for Kate's role in particular. A statement on the Cambridges moving to London later this summer was vaguely worded, too and said the "Duke and Duchess will increasingly base their family at Kensington Palace" stressing Anmer Hall "would continue to be their home".
The Sunday Times reports:
'The House of Windsor knows it is heading for a watershed moment in royal history when the Queen’s record-breaking reign must be replaced by something new — something that will not necessarily be greeted with unanimous acclaim.
"I don’t think this announcement is the end of the story, more the beginning," said a senior royal source. "There may be more changes afoot." It is already clear that not all members of the Royal family may be happy with what comes next.
Buckingham Palace seeks agreement on the question: "What is the modern monarchy for?" Is it about dashing princes adopting issues of the day and using their celebrity muscle to promote solutions? Or should the royals stick to ceremony and leave issues to the professionals? And does the public understand the sometimes contrasting dynamics of separate royal households — with the Queen at Buckingham Palace, the Prince of Wales at Clarence House and the Duke of Cambridge at Kensington Palace? "We need to operate more as the public sees us, as one family delivering for the state," said one royal source. "This change [Philip’s retirement] is the opportunity to realign the households."'
Roya Nikkahh of The Sunday Times continued: 'Royal insiders are talking of a huge shift in the monarchy’s focus, away from what one source described as "personality-led" issues towards a more traditional ceremonial role emphasising continuity and stability — "to be a focus for the nation in national and international moments". The source added: "Some people might say that the monarchy isn’t a company or a personality-led organisation. The feeling is that the duke’s retirement means everyone must step up to help the Queen and focus more on what the monarchy is there to do, not what it can achieve by dint of who the personalities are." For William and Kate, the plan is for them to 'considerably' step up not only the number of engagements but in overseas commonwealth tours representing the Queen and participation in State Events. There is very much a feeling the time to step up and take on a significant, active role has come.'
It was a sign of things to come when William accompanied the Queen last week to welcome Her Excellency Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to Buckingham Palace. We will increasingly see HM accompanied by other members of the Royal family in what has been dubbed "Team Windsor".
Back to The Sunday Times story:
What seems to be a key part of a delicate royal equation is the nature of the transition that everyone knows must lie ahead. What exactly does a realignment of the households mean? Is this a veiled signal to Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry that they have to be careful about focusing their royal time and prestige too narrowly?
At his meeting with Buckingham Palace staff, sources said Geidt emphasised that the duke’s retirement was “an opportunity to pause, reflect and refocus as a family”. The source added: “It wasn’t draconian finger-wagging, but it was about: let’s all remember what we’re here for and what we’re doing it for; let’s make sure we’re all at the Commonwealth Day service, opening tea shops, attending flood disasters — things the public expects the monarchy to be doing.”
The source went on: “Refocusing . . . means less individual royal activity than there has been in recent times . . . big things like Heads Together [the mental health campaign launched by Harry and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge] might be too much. As successful as that campaign was, it might be that soul- baring isn’t what Buckingham Palace is looking for . . . that must be secondary to the business of state.” It escaped no one that Geidt was obviously speaking with the full authority of the Queen.
A key challenge ahead lies in modernising the monarchy whilst maintaining its traditions and core values. I personally feel Heads Together, particularly in the weeks leading up to the London Marathon, is a fantastic campaign. Seeing our young royals get out there and speak openly about breaking the stigma, stamping out the shame element so many still feel when it comes to getting help and having the courage to speak about their own struggles, I felt we got to know them all much better and it was wonderful seeing them put their energies into such an important, often swept under the carpet area. For the immediate future, there are plans underway to continue and expand on Heads Together, which I think is very important. There's plenty of room and time for more traditional engagements whilst continuing very worthy campaign work. It's all about striking the balance within "the firm" and marrying it with forging their path. William, Kate and Harry showed us more of themselves throughout the campaign than we had previously seen in years - it truly resonated with the public and now, more than ever, the monarchy must connect with the public.
Camilla Tominey reports that, as she will be taking on more duties, the Duchess has been modelling herself on Prince Philip, telling aides "she want to emulate the way he supports the Queen while also championing the causes closest to his heart". A source said: "If you look at Kate’s approach you will notice that it is very much in support of William, first and foremost, but also about carving her own charitable path, as he has done with the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and his long involvement with charities like the WWF."
Camilla Tominey also reports a well placed source told her it is now unlikely the Duke and Duchess will have more children:
'The Sunday Express can also reveal that the royal couple are unlikely to have any more children now they are poised to increase their official workload on behalf of the Queen, 91, and her 95-year-old husband. I would be very surprised if they have a third child. They have got a boy and a girl – there is a sense that their family is now complete and they are moving onto the next chapter in their lives.'
The latter half of 2017 will undoubtedly be a period of significant change for the Cambridges. After William and Kate married they enjoyed relative normality in Anglesey, Wales and from there Anmer Hall offered the same privacy and country life they adore so much. During a visit to Farms for City Children, Kate revealed they have hens at home and lots of eggs in an incubator: "George and Charlotte are so excited that they come down each morning and peer inside to see if anything has happened." It paints a picture of their life in Norfolk which they will no doubt miss terribly. KP has said Anmer will remain their "home" but it will become more of a weekend bolthole than their day to day residence. Prince George will begin school at Thomas's School, Battersea in September, with Princess Charlotte expected to be enrolled at the kindergarten on the same site. The "school run" will take a good 30 minutes each way. William and Kate are reportedly planning to take the school run in turns to provide as normal a routine as possible.
On the royal front, for those of us who have been following the Cambridges for years, it's very exciting to see this transition in their royal careers. They have the potential to effect positive change and bear a spotlight on causes close to their hearts like few others. It's not unthinkable to ponder the notion William could be king not many years from now, and the intervening time will allow them to fully grow into their roles supporting the Queen, and later Charles, at home and abroad. I look forward to seeing what the future brings both for the Cambridges and the monarchy.
As for Prince Philip, while he is stepping down we will still see him occasionally at events such as Trooping the Colour. I don't know about you, but I wouldn't be entirely surprised to see him driving a head of state around again, as he did with the Obamas. :)
*By the way: there's been quite a large amount of coverage concerning Prince Harry and Meghan Markle over the past week. For those interested in following Meghan, I started a blog, 'Mad About Meghan', last month; it's been great fun thus far. Click here if you wish to pop over. :)*