Balancing career and family is a struggle for anyone. Royalty is no exception. Prince William and Kate, both 31, are embarking on a new and very different phase of their lives. They just had their first child, Prince George, and William recently left the military to become a full-time working royal. They want to be good parents while also forging meaningful careers. Nothing unusual there. But while they have access to extraordinary privileges, they are also facing some big challenges.
In September, William announced that he was ending his career in the military after more than 7 years. This came as a surprise to some royal observers. William’s tour of duty as a helicopter pilot on the remote British island of Anglesey was already scheduled to end, but he could have taken another posting elsewhere. Being a military couple afforded William and Kate some immunity from criticism. As full-time royalty, they will be scrutinized much more closely.
William and Kate’s new path offers opportunities. They can devote themselves to developing their public roles. “Being a full-time member of the royal family is a serious job. William needs to be able to put his own stamp on his role. There are limits to how much you can do next to a full-time military job,” says Robert Jobson, royalty editor of the London Evening Standard and author of The New Royal Family: Prince George, William and Kate, the Next Generation.
For most young families, “supporting elderly relatives” means making decisions about care and nursing homes. For William and Kate, it means helping Queen Elizabeth II by taking over some of her royal duties. The Queen has been indefatigable for decades, but now aged 87 she is starting to slow down. As next in line to the throne, Prince Charles is taking on most of the work. But William and Kate are stepping up, too. Next spring, they will undertake a lengthy official visit to Australia and New Zealand—with baby George in tow.
Their star power is an asset to the monarchy and their country. “They are the most famous couple in the world,” says Jobson. “Today, everything is about branding. To have this young couple as your ambassadors is a great boost to the global brand of Great Britain.”
Up to now, that star power has been largely kept hidden. William and Kate’s wedding on April 29, 2011 was watched by an estimated 3 billion people. Since then, however, the two have kept a low profile, with William focusing on his work as a search-and-rescue helicopter pilot. During his three-and-a-half years in Anglesey, he undertook a total of 156 operations, resulting in 149 people being rescued. British newspapers regularly carried interviews with people who were amazed that the daring pilot who helped rescue them was, in fact, their future king.
William and Kate’s day-to-day life during those years was similar to many military families. They lived in a rented farm house with a view of the beach. They attended parties on the base. They enjoyed jogging and walking their dog. Kate prepared meals for William when he came home from his shifts. She did her own grocery shopping. The owner of one shop she frequented, told the British media, “She liked a bit of salmon fillet or cod loin. She always asked what was fresh that day, and always about the price. I got the impression that she was quite careful with her money.”
This type of coverage is central to William and Kate’ astronomical popularity. They’re college sweethearts enjoying quiet domestic bliss on Anglesey—with the occasional glamorous outing for a royal event.
William had fond words for Anglesey in a speech he gave in September. “This island has been our first home together, and it will always be an immensely special place for us both. Catherine and I look forward to returning again and again over the coming years with our family,” he said.
Their second home together will be a very different one. They are moving into a 4-story apartment in Kensington Palace. The British media have been buzzing about its opulence—reports regularly describe it as having over 50 rooms. In fact, the apartment only has 21 rooms. And that is not particularly luxurious when you consider that the offices for William and Kate’s support staff will also be located there.
The apartment underwent over $1.5 million worth of renovations—all at taxpayer expense. The cost is mostly for asbestos removal and repairing the roof. The apartment hasn’t been renovated since the early 1960s. Also, Kensington Palace belongs to the state, not William and Kate—they can’t sell the apartment or leave it to their children. But that usually gets ignored in the media din about extravagant spending in this time of economic crisis.
When William and Kate lived in Anglesey, media reports about them centered on the wonder of their simple, thrifty lifestyle. Now that they live in a palace, the media will focus more on their royal opulence and how different they are from the rest of us.
William and Kate suffered an embarrassment almost as soon as they left Anglesey. Two police dogs that had helped guard their farm house were put down. The police made this decision because they had no further use for them. Ironically, that same week, CNN aired a documentary showing William tearing up watching footage of poached rhinos dying in Africa. His new life leaves him vulnerable to this type of negative coverage.
William has a passion for conservation and protecting endangered species. “The wildlife is incredibly vulnerable and I feel a real protective instinct, more so now that I am a father, which is why I get emotional about it,” he told CNN. “You want to stand up for what is very vulnerable and needs protecting.” He will likely use his expanded role to devote more time to this area. But he should be careful to also work on issues that resonate with the average Briton. His brother Prince Harry is active in supporting wounded veterans. Last year, he joined a 200-mile walk to the South Pole to raise funds for the charity “Walking with the Wounded.” He plans to complete the walk again next month. His obvious concern for wounded veterans has helped Harry maintain his popularity during several recent scandals.
If William focuses too much on conservation, he runs the risk of becoming like his father. Charles has devoted much of his life to promoting sustainable design and environmental awareness. He has recently started winning respect and appreciation for his ideas. But, for several decades, he was a figure of ridicule.
William and Kate have excellent advisors and they also seem to have good natural instincts about PR. They flew a budget airline to the high-profile wedding of William’s cousin Zara Phillips. When Kate became an official patron of UK Scouting (a combination of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts), she insisted on undergoing a background check, as all the other Scouting leaders are required to.
One of William and Kate’s biggest assets is their newborn son Prince George. Sweet photos of the doting parents and their child will go a long way to gloss over any future scandals. Millions around the world followed George’s birth. Media outlets covered Kate’s labor like a breaking news story. In the nine days after George was photographed being carried out of the hospital, the baby blanket in which he’d been wrapped sold 7,000 times. Some British churches are reporting heightened interest in baptism after George was baptized in October.
The birth of his first child undoubtedly played a major role in William’s decision to leave the military. He will now have a predictable work schedule, not the long irregular shifts of a helicopter pilot. Also, the family won’t have to relocate to a new military base every few years. William and Kate have the same goals as any loving parents—to raise a happy, well-adjusted child. They have the additional responsibility of preparing George to become King of England one day. They want to grant him as normal of a childhood as possible. The stability of their new life is an important part of that.
William has announced that he is taking a year to adjust to his new role. Some critics are calling it a one-year vacation. Though Jobson predicts that William will be taking on a full-load of royal duties in a matter of months. “William is well prepared. It won’t be too hard for him to adjust,” he says. “They’ve got a whole life-time of royal duties ahead of them so they need to pick the right things. They should think carefully through their choices. They shouldn’t just dive in.”
That’s good advice for anyone trying to balance career and family—royalty and the rest of us.