As far as protests go, it was a fairly lacklustre, anaemic one. As William and Kate, the Prince and Princess of Wales entered the Grange Pavilion community centre in Cardiff on Tuesday (UK time), outside a lone woman carried a fairly feeble, small sign demanding “Houses, health and education, not photos opps.”
The royal couple was in Wales to mark Black History Month, making them the most senior members of the monarchy to have ever actually shown up anywhere to demonstrate their support for the event, founded in 1987 to mark the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the Caribbean.
For William and Kate, the away day was, by superficial measures, a bang up success with videos showing the prince’s merry doling out of hugs and joking, “I draw the line at kissing!” soon doing the rounds on social media.
But it was that single, slightly sad sign outside that actually pinpointed what was wrong with all of this: Here were William and Kate indulging in the great royal tradition of the hollow PR outing.
There might have been smiles aplenty inside the community centre but that doesn’t change the fact that the couple, and the royal family as a whole, have abjectly failed to actually do anything of substance to address the question of diversity or to engage head-on with the issue of the monarchy and race.
In March 2021, in the wake of Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s eyebrow-singeing interview and claims of what they later deemed unconscious bias, William told journalists, “We are very much not a racist family.”
Well Your Highness, what have you actually done to back that up?
Neither William or Kate has ever employed a private secretary or communications secretary who is a person of colour.
In the weeks after the great Oprah storm broke, Buckingham Palace had a crack at some damage control, with the Mail on Sunday reporting that the Palace was set “to appoint a diversity tsar to modernise the monarchy” and who would “champion reform”.
Would you be shocked to know that more than two and a half years on from then, The Firm has somehow not gotten around to actually coming good on this promise?
The monarchy’s track record on race is about as healthy as Kim Kardashian’s when it comes to marriage.
In June 2021, the Guardian discovered documents in the UK’s National Archive which revealed that “the [late] Queen’s courtiers banned ‘coloured immigrants or foreigners’ from serving in clerical roles in the royal household until at least the late 1960s.”
In April this year, the Guardian unearthed a share certificate showing King William III in 1689 accepting shares in the Royal African Company, which monopolised the trans-Atlantic slave trade. It was only in the wake of this discovery that, for the very first time ever, King Charles “signalled” he was supportive of further historical digging into the monarchy’s ties to the abhorrent trade in human beings.
Ooh wee, ‘signalling support’. Someone stop the presses.
It was only 18 months ago that William and Kate ran headfirst into the long, dark history of not only Britain but the monarchy’s former links to the trans-Atlantic slave trade during their tour of the Caribbean. What was meant to be a week of feel good moments for the cameras with the occasional embarrassing video of them trying to dance to drums, instead revived the ghosts of the UK’s colonial past.
The Prince and Princess of Wales looked totally and utterly adrift as to how to manage the snowballing situation, then and now.
Therefore, let’s all agree, not only the Crown Inc. but also the prince and princess have serious ground to make up when it comes to race, equality and royalty.
So what do William and Kate do? They pitch up in Wales to stage a well-intentioned but fundamentally empty gesture.
As the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, the couple was much more hamstrung as to how they ran their show but now that they are only one step away from the throne, they have the resources (cha-CHING!) and the latitude to do things how they want. Look no further than the fact that they are in the process of hiring a CEO to run their entire operation, an unprecedented role in any royal household.
However, why hasn’t that extended to their approach to diversity? Even if King Charles has little interest in, at least outwardly, in coming good on Her late Majesty’s diversity tsar commitment, the Prince and Princess of Wales could just go about creating this role inside their Kensington Palace office.
Over the years there have been occasions when Harry and Meghan have been accused of talking the talk on certain issues and then failing to back that up with any sort of demonstrable, meaningful action. Here we have William and Kate falling victim to the same thing and yet as far as I have seen, there has not been a peep out of Fleet Street.
Why isn’t the UK press holding them to account? Or asking why they have done diddly squat in a practical sense since their return from their Caribbean disaster? (If ever there was a trip where I imagine they needed to stock up on duty-free the minute they landed back in the UK, this was it.)
Race and royalty might be uncomfortable bedfellows for the HRHs left staffing the shop since the departure of the Sussexes, but this situation is only going to become more pressing and urgent in the years to come.
Polling of more than 10,000 Brits done by the Independent this week has found “almost half of young Black British people plan to leave the country amid wider concerns of societal racism”.
Just let that sink in.
In the next ten to 20 years, William will accede to the throne and as King is meant to be a unifying figure – a figure whose responsibility it will be to bring together a nation where nearly one in three people (28 per cent) are projected to be form an ethnic minority background by 2031.
The Prince and Princess of Wales, via their Early Years and Earthshot projects, have proven they have the tenacity and budget to pursue lofty, large-scale work. It’s time they applied that same seriousness and focus to putting the royal family on the right foot and on the right side of history when it comes to race and diversity.
Hugs are great, but how about some action, hmmm?
Daniela Elser is a writer, editor and a royal commentator with more than 15 years’ experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.