There is a strange schism when it comes to the royal family and holidays: The royals love taking lengthy stretches off from the business of the monarchy… but their holiday homes are pretty grim.
Sandringham, the Queen’s Norfolk estate where Christmas is spent, looks like the setting of a gothic horror story while Balmoral, Her Majesty’s Scottish home, was partially modeled after a Bavarian schloss. All that forbidding gray stone and all those mock medieval turrets are enough to give even the bravest of young HRHs lifelong nightmares.
And yet when it comes to holidaying, the House of Windsor are nonpareils. Princess Margaret used to jet off to Mustique and crisp herself in the Caribbean sun with egregious regularity (you could probably still catch a whiff of coconut oil long after she was back demanding whiskey in the some London drawing room) while the Queen Mother promptly bought herself a holiday castle – the Castle of Mey – and would decamp there for generous stints, far away from anything so bourgeois as work.
And unfortunately this royal tradition of holidaying like it was a competitive sport is one that William and Kate, Duke and Duchess of Cambrdige, are eagerly carrying on. In the last 18 months they have taken nearly four months off and are currently in the middle of their roughly two month-long annual summer holiday.
While the duke and duchess are set to roll up to the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham this week to wave the Union Jack and prove how good they are at cheering, in a normal year, once the final Wimbledon trophy is handed over in July, it’s time to get out the Ambre Solaire, with the duo not returning to their posts until early autumn.
This year, sure June was a busy month for the Cambridges given all that Platinum Jubilee waving they had to do, but as is usually normal, in July we have only seen Kate at a charity polo match and in the Royal Box at Wimbledon, hardly a demonstration of regal elbow grease. (Any sort of ‘work’ that can be done while holding a chilled glass of Pimms hardly counts as hard graft now does it?)
August, as unusual, will see Kate disappear off the radar completely, usually only popping back up around mid-September.
Likewise, in 2021, the only official engagements that Kate undertook in July involved watching tennis and soccer, after which she proceeded to take nearly nine weeks off, meaning that from the end of June until mid-September her out-of-office was essentially on.
The same schedule also held for William, apart from two meetings about the Earthshot Prize he managed to squeeze in and one church service. Gosh, however does he manage to get so much done?
The couple have, in roughly the last year, been to France twice (for Kate’s brother’s wedding and for a skiing holiday) and to Jordan, not to mention spending time in Scotland and Norfolk.
There’s no way around it: William and Kate have a holiday problem.
And, as we all know, the first step is admitting it.
At issue here is that just because they can take months of the year off and that traditionally members of the royal family have, does not mean they should.
For years now, the couple and their team have been focused on building Brand Cambridge, that of them as a hardworking and oh-so-normal couple. Look at them, out there boldly taking the most pressing issues of the day, including mental health and climate change, and then getting home for bath time!
This is the formula that has been cooked up to try and ensure that the monarchy survives yet. The idea seems to be to let Prince Charles be, well, Prince Charles, rabbiting on about hedgerow preservation and delivering the occasional barnstorming speech about the environment and his Aston Martin that runs on white wine (really) and Britons will grudgingly tolerate him.
Meanwhile, alongside all that we have William and Kate pioneering a much pluckier, more engaged and more proactive version of royalty that also features quite the cult of personality.
Central to the nascence of Cambridge Inc. is the couple’s relatability and willingness to be vulnerable. We’ve heard Kate talk about the loneliness of new motherhood and appear on a parenting podcast while William has regularly opened up about the emotional toll that his years of him as an air ambulance pilot took on him and his grief over the loss of his mother.
These touchy-feely outings are not one-offs but a core part of their public personae, all about transforming them into the first senior members of the royal family who are viewed as genuinely human and who are in touch with the real world; who have done more than just spy the hoi polloi when peering out at the world through the window of a golden carriage. (They have one of those of course, but it’s terribly unwieldy for the school run.)
But for all the H&M dresses Kate wears, they are not a normal middle-class family, no matter how many Audi station wagons they add to their fleet and how many times young Prince George is taught how to use the self-checkout at Waitrose.
The duke and duchess can take vast swathes of time off whenever they fancy because they have complete control over their schedules, aside from key events like Trooping the Color and Remembrance Day, meaning they can spend a week on the beach, even if it is in the Cornish Isles of Scilly, rather than at their 19th century mahogany desks whenever the mood strikes.
Nor do they have, as the vast majority of the world does, have a very finite amount of leave to be carefully husbanded and can instead beetle off for some more quality time in famille, Harrods buckets and spades in tow, whenever they fancy.
But, it’s time for the Cambridges to give up this royal perk. They can’t have their nearly one hundred days of holiday per year and still go about trying to sell themselves as the Duke and Duchess of Relatability.
Every time William and Kate accidentally remind the world just how fundamentally not normal their lives are it jeopardises all the work they do the rest of the year to sell themselves as the approachable faces of the modern royal family.
There is also the fact that this pesky bad habit also serves to revive the Lazy Kate narrative that haunted her for years. Prior to their wedding, in 2008, the Daily Mail reported that the Queen thought Kate needed to get a job.
“The Queen has admitted she has no idea what Kate actually does,” a senior aide said at the time and that Her Majesty is “of the opinion that Kate should be working. She believes in a modern Monarchy and feels very strongly that the Royals should be leading by example.”
A source close to Kate said back then, “Mostly she just waits for William to come home so that they can go on another holiday.” (Ouch.)
Then there is the fact that the duo only began full-time royal duties in 2017. Diana, Princess of Wales, by contrast, was chucked in the deep end and shunted off to charm the masses in regional town centers before she had even gotten all the wedding confetti out of her hair.
What anyone worth their Walter Bagehot knows is that the British monarchy, in the coming years, is in for its greatest test since Oliver Cromwell started getting ideas. The next king is a man who garners tepid, at best, support, at a time when the royal house has suffered a series of body blows in recent years it has yet to recover from, thanks to Prince Andrew’s horrifying behavior and the seismic eruptions of Harry and Meghan, Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
Things for the Crown are not exactly looking tickety-boo, hence why so much is resting on William and Kate.
And yet, they seem willing to gamble all the gains they have made to take time off from their duties with the sort of enthusiasm that Margraret probably reserved for the arrival of every new 20-something barman at her favorite Mustique watering hole.
Of course the duke and duchess should get a holiday and of course they should not have to apply for leave from their manager (though the image of the 96-year-old Queen spending part of her day green lighting holiday requests from HRHs is fun) . But those crazy kids have to find some sort of middle ground between the extreme privilege of royalty and the image of them as hardworking, ordinary parents who just happen to have the keys to the Tower of London. (Yes, I know, they don’t actually have them but they could certainly get their hands on them they couldn’t they?)
It’s time for William and Kate to channel less Princess Margaret and more Princess Anne. And when it comes to the Princess Royal, the swimsuit industry’s loss has only been the monarchy’s gain …
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.