I’m going to make an argument that might make you scoff: To be born a prince or princess in
the British royal family would be a rotten fate.
Oh yes, I know about the castles, the family’s $645 million wealth and the just under $3 billion trusts which only some members hav access to, not to mention the indescribably vast collection of jewels including questionable Romanov pieces, rubies the size of quail’s eggs and that their Gan Gan owns the world’s largest private collection.
To live life, from your first squalling breath, as an HRH means nearly unthinkable privilege, far too much venison and always getting to board a RyanAir flight first.
But, it would still be a rubbish life.
Exhibit A) the video released by William and Kate, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s Instagram and Twitter accounts on Sunday night ahead of England’s Lioness soccer team playing in the Euro 2022 final. There the duke sat in some bucolic garden somewhere in England of the sort that Beatrix Potter would have given her best bonnet to sketch. On his knee he sat Princess Charlotte, age seven-years-old, with what looked like a plastered-on, slightly forced smile.
You can see her eyes dart off to the side, possibly to her mother the duchess who, as we know, is a dab hand with a camera. William wishes the team luck before Charlotte gets to deliver her line from Ella at the end, saying “Good luck, I hope you win, bye,” and offering a cheery wave.
It’s short, sweet and should be nothing more than a source of a few million more likes.
Except that, watching the video, something occurred to me. Here we have the future king delivering his lines with genuine warmth and enthusiasm and a small child staring down the barrel of a totally new sort of royal childhood, one where she and brothers Prince George and Prince Louis won’t just be obliged to occasionally appear. in public but will be required to help churn out the social content needed to keep the monarchy afloat.
Sure, all royal kidlets, including a cherubic Queen in the 1920s, have been rolled out to charm and delight the masses, tiny curiosities, waving gamely, that the press could slap on their front pages with glee abandon.
However, what sets the youngest Cambridges totally apart is that they are now also required to help their parents keep the pipeline of photos and videos for social media purposes coming.
Not only are George, Charlotte and Louis already expected to take part in key ceremonial family moments but on top of that, their childhoods are going to be intruded upon in an unprecedented way in the royal annals all in the name of likes, retweets and views .
You can already, clearly, see this pattern emerging if you contrast William and Charlotte at seven.
The year the prince was that age, he took part in the carriage procession for Trooping the Color and the later Buckingham Palace balcony waving session, appeared at the Beating Retreat military parade, and was photographed attending two weddings (his uncle, now the Earl Spencer , and that of the Duke of Hussey’s daughter) and alongside his brother Prince Harry on the younger boy’s first day at school.
Contrast that with the 12-months to date for Charlotte. In August last year she appeared in a Duke and Duchess of Cambridge Instagram post about a conservation effort called the Big Butterfly Count; there was the family’s Christmas card image, snapped during a private holiday to Jordan, that was shared widely; she attended the memorial service for her de ella Great Grandfather Prince Philip in March and the royal easter service in April, before the usual birthday shots of her were released in May.
Come June, Charlotte and her siblings took part in their first Trooping the Colour, did the balcony waving thing, undertook her first official engagement with her parents and George in Cardiff where she participated in an official walkabout, before taking center stage with her family during the Platinum Jubilee Pageant, along with filming a video baking cakes with Kate, George and Louis.
Also in June, the Cambridge Three appeared in a sweet family shot, taken in Jordan, that was posted to mark UK Father’s Day.
Sure, the young Cambridges may never know the hell of being chased by the paparazzi, but often in the coming months and years we are very likely only going to more regularly see their small faces popping up on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook feeds. (A gambling woman would put money on William and Kate making a foray onto TikTok soon too.)
For the duke and duchess, being on most of the major platforms means they have agreed to a post-industrialist Faustian bargain. They can plug their brand of royalty – an accessible, warm and relatable one – directly to Britons via the most powerful marketing platforms ever created. The cost? They have to energetically and regularly generate the sort of personal and intimate photos and videos that are expected in these environments, that is, they are going to have to serve up their children at times.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, about 160 years ago, had the canny idea of remaking the monarchy’s image by marketing their own family unit (and all nine children). This they did by releasing photos of what had hitherto been entirely personal moments such as christenings and the family on holiday. (In the 1860s, tens of thousands of copies of souvenir photos called carte-de-visites of the family were sold in the UK.)
This is a very similar strategy to the one that William and Kate are pursuing now, with their Happy Normal Family routine one of the building blocks of Cambridge Inc.
Cast your mind back to April last year when the duo released a totally unexpected departure of a video of the family gambolling on a beach, playing in a pristine garden and roasting marshmallows, to mark the duke and duchess’ tenth wedding anniversary.
The whole thing looked and felt like a commercial for a luxury station wagon, complete with atmospheric guitar music.
That was not an accident because fundamentally, William and Kate’s job comes down to the same thing a German car brand does: selling. In their case, selling the UK on a hereditary monarchy again and again to ensure it survives well into the 21st and 22nd centuries.
And, while every generation of royal parents have made their children accessible to the world via whatever the new technology of the day is, before now there was at least some sort of line between their private and public selves.
What sets George, Charlotte and Louis apart is that that distinction, that line, has quietly blurred in the last couple of years. We have seen content shot during family holidays, while ensconced on their private estates and after school in the Kensington Palace garden, shared on social media by their parents.
Obviously William and Kate are deeply protective of their children but they also have a responsibility to the monarchy too and that means embracing whatever new marketing weapons they can add to their arsenal.
Social media is a beast that must be fed and in recent years William and Kate have seriously upped their game on this front, hiring David Wakins, who formerly ran the Sussex Royal social media accounts, and launching a YouTube channel with a charming sizzle reel of sorts.
We are now served up, via the various Cambridge accounts, made-for-social content to promote their good works or news, such as when Kate was named as the Patron of the Rugby Football League and Rugby Football Union in February, with Kensington Palace putting out a sweet 30 second video starring the duchess amongst others.
These days it is hours, at the very most, after they attend any sort of engagement or event that videos and/or multiple images taken by the Cambridge team are posted, chirpily informing the world of what they have been up to and increasingly offering behind -the-scenes access.
Take their recent, somewhat disastrous tour of the Caribbean where they paid for their own photographer Matt Porteous to record their trip and where the couple’s digital team put out daily videos and photo montages.
A video of them scuba diving, shot by Porteous, to view marine conservation work was an interesting first – an official engagement conducted while the credentialed press pack were nowhere in sight and which was exclusively shared with the world via social media.
Clearly, William and Kate are devoting time, energy and budgetary resources to building up their social media presence as they inch ever closer to the throne but that is a path that involves their kids, whether any of them like it or not. (I’d wager it’s the latter.)
To be seven-years-old and on school holidays, and yet to be expected to take a break from your childhood to record a video in service of an ancient, stultifying institution? I’m not sure there are enough emeralds in the world to make up for that.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and a writer with more than 15 years’ experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.