Last month a member of the Royal Family took on an extensive 19-engagement, six-day official visit to the United States. From glamorous gala dinners and time at NASA’s Space Center in Texas, to charity visits and a tour of The Met museum in New York, it was an itinerary filled with picture-perfect moments that usually make royal trips to America so special.
But you’d be forgiven for knowing nothing about this one. You see, there was no trailing media, and virtually zero press coverage (unless you count 309 words in the New York Daily News and one lone tweet on the @RoyalFamily Twitter account). Unlike headline-making US visits of the past, this one was carried out by a member of The Firm that few outside of the royalist bubble would recognise — the Duke of Gloucester.
As 30th in line to the throne, the late Queen Elizabeth II’s first cousin has been a full time working royal his entire adult life, carrying out hundreds of engagements in the UK and overseas every year. Hard working and uninterested in courting popularity, he’s made of the stuff expected from working royals—and perfect for picking up the less exciting duties senior members have no time for. Though the Duke, 78, is the most senior male-line descendant of Queen Victoria (and was once born fifth in line), show his picture to anyone on the street and they would struggle to identify him.
His US trip that got me wondering why there wasn’t anyone else to cover it? I’ve no doubt the Duke did a fine job (those who have worked with him tell me he’s good fun to be around) and he does have one patronage in the States (New York's St. George's Society), but given the work of the Royal Family is part funded by the government and tax payer, surely profertability must play a role here too. Part of the royals’ value is their popularity on the world stage. In America, people can’t get enough of them. So spending all that money on a near week-long visit that no one paid attention to seems like, dare I say it, a bit of a waste.
With Countess Sophie travelling around Africa for nearly two weeks at the time of the Duke’s US trip, King Charles and Camilla, Queen Consort ploughing through the packed diaries of their new roles, the Wales’ off work for British school holidays (and preparing for a visit to Boston later this month), and Princess Anne having already been to New York for four low-key engagements just weeks earlier, our current slimmed down lineup left few working royals to take on a visit like this.
And this is the downside to King Charles’ pared down monarchy — a vision he first put forward in the mid-1990s when the Queen and other senior royals established a committee called the “Way Ahead Group” to deal with the increased criticism of the Royal Family (during a time of scandals, divorce and criticism about spending). His suggestion was to focus the future of the family business on his sons and their families.
Of course, a lot has happened since then. One of those sons is no longer a working royal and happily living a new life in California. And Prince Andrew, once part of that leaner lineup, was forced to retire due to to the shame of underage sexual assault allegations and his close relationships with paedophile Jeffrey Epstein and sex trafficker Ghislaine Maxwell. It's resulted in a small group of working royals not quite big enough to carry out the present model of engagements.
And it doesn’t need to be this way. In previous years both Princess Beatrice and Princess Eugenie had expressed interest in undertaking occasional duties on behalf of the Crown, only to be pushed back each time. Their presence didn’t fit in with King Charles’ vision, but perhaps it’s time to revisit that?
Because not only is there an increasingly smaller pool of working royals, there’s also a serious lack of youth. Aside from Lady Louise Windsor (who has only just started a four year university degree), there are no other royal adults under the age of 40. And it’s not like the York Princesses aren’t capable of the work.
Unlike many other family members, Beatrice and Eugenie (9th and 11th in line to the throne, respectively) have not been handed everything on a silver platter. Their rejection from royal work and funding saw them venture out into the real world and build their own careers (Beatrice, 34, is currently the Vice President of Partnerships & Strategy for software company Afiniti and Eugenie, 32, is a director at London art gallery Hauser & Wirth). Their experience of life outside of the royal bubble has made them more grounded and, ever-so-slightly, more relatable.
And despite not being given roles, the dedication to service they witnessed in their grandmother has lived on in their private lives today. Both are patrons of a number of charities and organisations, with Eugenie co-founding The Anti-Slavery Collective—a non-profit working against modern slavery around the world—and Beatrice working closely with social impact initiative Big Change and the Helen Arkell Dyslexia Charity. Just this week the pair chose to mark Armistice Day by visiting the Royal British Legion Industries, a charity providing care, welfare and employment services to veterans of the British Armed Forces. All of this is alongside juggling motherhood and, unlike a number of other royals, keeping well out of any drama.
Since Charles became King there has already been talk of a time when the princesses may see their titles downgraded as the monarch looks at culling the number of title holders in the family. But it feels like he’s missing a trick here.
While neither have an interest in becoming full time working royals (or even changing their present lives), utilising Beatrice and Eugenie’s likability seems like a no-brainer to me (especially with so many patronages without homes following the deaths of Prince Philip and the Queen). They have a lot to offer but have been overlooked for so long. Imagine if one, or even both of them, had carried out that US visit? The coverage would have been radically different. After all, princesses are always going to get way more clicks than men in suits ever could.
Watch: Did Prince Charles really want the Queen to abdicate?