Editor’s Note: Victoria Arbiter is CNN’s royal commentator. Follow her on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely hers.
Duke and Duchess of Cambridge start three-week visit to New Zealand and Australia
Princess Diana credited with insisting on taking Prince William on tour in 1983, says Victoria Arbiter
But she says Queen was the one who really allowed that to happen, and deserves credit
William and Kate will only be parted from George for a couple of nights, Arbiter says
Britain’s Duke and Duchess of Cambridge leave Britain on their three-week visit to New Zealand and Australia this weekend with their baby son Prince George. A “hub and spoke” system has been put in place allowing for the new parents to travel to engagements during the day and return to their son in the evening, much like parents the world over who trudge off to work in the morning only to dash home in the evening to catch baby before bedtime. Granted most parents in the workforce don’t get to enjoy legions of adoring fans waving flags, parading “We love u!” banners and requesting royal selfies, but perhaps this will give William and Kate a taste of their much-longed-for opportunity to feel “normal.”
It comes as no surprise that George is joining the royal roadshow, but it is Prince William’s late mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, who is being credited, yet again, with paving the way for her son and grandson. Pundits promptly took to their columns comparing the cold, unfeeling Queen Elizabeth – who left her children behind as she took off on a six-month tour – to Diana who defied convention and broke with tradition by insisting on taking a then nine-month-old Prince William to Australia and New Zealand in 1983.
In order to do a fair comparison, however, surely we must look at the big picture. A full 30 years had passed between royal tours, during which time advances in modern aviation made travel much speedier. People’s attitudes towards royalty had shifted, and as popular as she was, Diana was merely a princess … not the Queen. Aussie hysteria may have made Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s trip Down Under look like quite the rock star tour, but when the Queen and Prince Philip set off in 1953, the world was on the cusp of global hysteria. In Bermuda alone, all 38,000 residents of the island nation rolled out to get a glimpse of their new queen. In the days before Internet, social media, 24-hour TV news – when most families still gathered around the wireless to hear the day’s events – theirs was the biggest show in town.
The royal couple embarked on the six-month tour of the Commonwealth just five months after her coronation. They were to travel across five continents on the most ambitious royal tour ever undertaken. The countries to be visited included Canada, Jamaica, Panama, Fiji, Tonga, Sri Lanka, Uganda, Libya, Australia and New Zealand – most of which had never seen a reigning British monarch set foot on its soil. Over the course of the trip the Queen covered 43,618 miles by land, air and sea. She was pulled in every direction, and so strenuous was the tour that there were concerns for her health.
The decision had been made to leave Prince Charles and his sister Anne at home. Modern child-rearing experts might say the best place for a child is with its parents, but anyone who has flown 23 hours with an infant might beg to differ.
Imagine if you will flying 17 hours to Bermuda on a four-engine prop with two toddlers in tow and not a Nintendo or iPad to be seen. You’d have gotten drunk twice and still landed sober. Relief on landing would be instantly mitigated by marching bands and a slew of dignitaries waiting to greet your fried and frazzled self. Picture then a five-year-old Prince Charles face down on the tarmac, kicking his little hands and feet at having to wear long white socks as his three-year-old sister Anne, a veritable shade of puce, screams, “I want my pony!”
No doubt the royal spawn would have been much more mild-mannered, but you can see how quickly things could head south in a haze of Governors, Honor Guards, Tribal Chiefs and jet lag … and that’s only the first leg. A thoroughly miserable experience for parents and tots alike. On a personal level, it must have been a horrendous decision for the Queen to leave her children behind, but it’s not as if they were left in a Dickensian workhouse. Rather, they were left in the loving care of a doting grandmother and a nanny whom they adored.
Jumping ahead 30 years, Diana did indeed insist on taking William on her six-week tour of Australia and New Zealand. While not exactly a short hop, the family did enjoy the benefits of jet propulsion and first class. On landing in Alice Springs there was not a marching band or honor guard to be seen, simply a few local officials who frankly were more interested in seeing baby William. After a brief photo call, William and his nanny were whisked away to Woomargama, a working sheep and cattle ranch in southern Australia. William was to stay there throughout the trip, and his parents had made plans to visit nine times.
William and Kate are taking things a step further next month by only being parted from George for a couple of nights during their three-week inaugural tour as a family. Revolutionary as Diana was, it is due to the Queen’s forward thinking that the monarchy has continued to adapt and evolve, and that William and Kate are now able to reap the benefits. In hindsight, it is easy to criticize the Queen for being a bad mother and abandoning her children, but had she stayed home and abandoned her royal duties, the critics would have screamed even louder.
Nothing happens without the Queen’s approval. Yes, Diana was permitted to take William on tour, but you can bet it was as a result of having to leave her own children behind that the Queen gave the go-ahead. Diana should be credited for many of the positive changes within the monarchy, but it is the Queen who should be given the credit this time around.