It was 1983 when Prince Charles and Diana set off on the grand tour, amid public aspiration and private squabbling. For William and Kate, there has never been any question that Prince George would be left behind. But 31 years ago things were different, as one veteran of the 1983 tour, who wishes not to be named, recalls: “It was a six-week stint. The inclusion of William had gone down badly among older members of the Royal family, and even more so among senior staff.
“They pointed out the many occasions the Queen had gone on tour, leaving Charles and Anne at home – ‘the right and proper place’ for them. In the teeth of heavyweight opposition, Diana won the battle but, as Charles pointed out, and correctly, it didn’t work.”
Diana, Charles and William arriving at Alice Springs in 1983
Back in 1983, the tour managers decided to do the trip the other way round – Australia as the warm-up for New Zealand. It wasn’t a particularly bright idea, and the evidence suggests that not much thought had gone into that sequencing, nor the presence of Prince William – who, at nine months old, was almost exactly the same age as Prince George will be when he arrives Down Under.
From touchdown, there were difficulties. The royal parents found they had to travel much more than would otherwise have been necessary because William was based at a farm at Woomargama in New South Wales. This meant returning there every three or four days, often by air, increasing not only their mileage but the wear and tear on themselves and their staff.
“Charles enjoyed these breaks, but thought his son’s presence was distracting them from the real job, which was persuading the people of Australia that continuing to have a Royal family was a good thing,” recalls one participant in the tour.
“By the end of it, Diana, too, had doubts about having her baby there, though at that time her maternal instincts took precedence over all else. There can be no question that, the way things were organised, the boy slowed the tour down and diffused its focus.”
An additional problem was that each royal tour is built on a template of the previous one. The Australasia visit of 1983 lasted six long weeks, based upon the more leisurely days of the past, when getting to the Southern Hemisphere took longer and required days of downtime to recover. Now, with jet travel and easier access between cities, the same itinerary could have been covered in half the time. Everybody agreed they’d been away too long.
Lessons were learnt. Part of a royal private secretary’s job is to write up a report after the event, detailing the highs and lows. And though the report may gather dust for decades, it is worth its weight in gold when the time comes for a return trip.
How much Edward Adeane – then the Prince’s private secretary – confessed, as he wrote out his notes, to having driven the royal couple too hard, we shall probably never know. But one individual who accompanied the Prince and Princess on the tour recalls: “It was exceptionally gruelling and exhausted them both. The itinerary was largely drawn up by Adeane, who appeared to think his master had been slacking in his duties and had better make up for it.”
There may have been another reason for Adeane’s assiduity. While working on the preparations for the Australian leg, he was shocked to discover that the Princess could not name the capital city of the country she was about to visit.
Meanwhile, official engagements offered a dull similarity for Charles. “The protocol departments that arrange these things always pull out the same file – you might as well do everything blindfold,” the Prince wrote later to his friend, Nicholas Soames, MP. “Not only that but the actual protocol here is so stultifying and rigid. They do stupid things like putting sticky tape in a line along a carpet at a reception and making everyone stand behind the line while we walk along between rows of nervous, drinkless people. They treat the tape line as though it was a 24,000-volt cable!”
The irony was not lost on the Prince – that although the crowds outside exulted in the presence of the royal couple, indoors it was a different matter, as the great and good jockeyed for an introduction. “The trouble with this kind of formality here is that it rubs many Australians up the wrong way and makes them extra-anti and determined to mock the whole thing,” he added.
Charles wrote from bitter experience. A vocal minority had taken to deriding the tour, and the Prince himself. “The fatuous remarks and insults that are made to me; rude things shouted out, gestures made, plastic [Spitting Image-style] masks waved about, unnecessary things written in the papers about me,” he complained.
Inevitably, what separates the two high-pressure tours is not only 31 years and a vast cultural shift, but the difference in the relationship between the principal characters.While William and Kate have been soul-mates for over a decade, sharing everything as equals, by the time Charles and Diana hit Australasia they had been married for only 20 months. There was also a 13-year age gap between them.
The Cambridges in the Far East last September
“The relationship [at that time], though companionable, was not a meeting of equals. He did not discuss affairs of state with her and at difficult moments he would turn to others, not his wife,” wrote the veteran royal correspondent James Whitaker in his book Diana v Charles. With the stress the couple were enduring, it’s remarkable things went as well as they did. But then came the media attention.
As the Princess’s biographer, Sarah Bradford, observes: “It was the beginning of worldwide ‘Di-mania’. Instead of seven photographers being there, there were 70. Before, there’d been one from each newspaper and a couple of freelances. Now they were coming from France, Germany, America and Japan.” The crowds were turning out in their hundreds of thousands, and everyone in the royal party was having to learn on their feet.
“He couldn’t understand that people wanted to see her,” a member of royal household told Bradford. “He couldn’t understand that they wanted to see a beautiful woman, rather than a man in a suit. And that was really sad. It was so unnecessary because together they were absolute dynamite. But one was just aware of a sort of petulance in him and she, I think, found it very difficult, finding how to cope with that. And she was quite emotional at that time, there were tears, she didn’t understand and it was all very stressful.”
Bradford all but points to the tour as the break-point in the Prince and Princess’s relationship. She quotes the staff member as saying: “Things were to go from bad to worse, and Charles’s resentment at his wife’s popularity began to poison their relationship. His puzzlement at people’s reaction to her was palpable – as he once said to a friend, ‘Why do they love her so much? All she ever did was say ‘Yes’ to me…’ ”
Though, inevitably, there will be repetition in the style and shape of the 2014 tour, there the similarities will end. The team behind the Duke and Duchess, led by private secretaries Miguel Head and Rebecca Deacon, are young, media-savvy, and have already distinguished themselves by simultaneously promoting and protecting their charges.
In addition, the dusty notes from Edward Adeane’s day will have offered clues as to where the elephant-traps lie. Prince George will be travelling more to keep up with his parents, staying in three locations. There is also less likely to be a disproportion in interest between William and his bride since, long ago, they worked out a routine that successfully draws attention to both. Inevitably there will be pressures, but the couple know how to face things together. And last but by no means least, they’ll be home, no doubt victorious, in three weeks. Excerpted Telegraph by Christopher Wilson