William is king of the photocall… by learning from Diana’s mistakes, says former media adviser to Princess of Wales
It is a key moment in our changing Monarchy, perhaps a defining one.
The world was watching when Prince William presented his wife and newborn son to a wall of microphones and lenses – and he responded with aplomb.
There were smiles, there was diffidence, even jokes, including that self-deprecating reference to his thinning hair.
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Comfortable: Prince William’s jokey demaeanour with the press was a winner outside the Lindo Wing on tuesday evening as he and the Duchess of Cambridge introduced their son to the world
Lessons: Prince William, left, has learned lessons from his late mother Princess Diana’s (right) handling of the media
Well brought up: Prince William, pictured with his mother as a baby, owes Princess Diana a debt of gratitude says Jane Atkinson
By the time he had strapped Prince George Alexander Louis into a Range Rover and departed in a lightning storm of flash bulbs, Prince William had delivered the sort of rounded performance that many film stars might struggle to achieve.
The lack of formality was striking. Prince Charles, on the same steps at St Mary’s some 30 years before, addressed the nation in a suit and tie, looking rather like a prep school housemaster.
In contrast, last week we saw a relaxed young man in jeans and an open-necked shirt (with the sleeves rolled up) – the everyday clothes of his countrymen.
The effect was completed when the Duke of Cambridge strapped Prince George into the Range Rover, and took the wheel himself.
A true Boden Dad at work.
Some have described it as a public relations exercise, but I don’t think it was. William does not have to handle the media.
He just handles himself. And in this he owes a special debt to Diana, from whom he has clearly learnt a great deal.
Fatherly: Prince William was seen to strap his son into the Range Rover outside the hospital on Tuesday
I was employed as media adviser to his mother, and saw both her strengths and weaknesses in public presentation.
Like Diana, William is confident and selfassured, dignified without being stuffy, funny without being forced, and obviously very happy at this moment in his life.
He is the first member of the Royal Family to look comfortable in denim.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that Kate, too, is highly skilled. She does not play up to the media – no artful glances to attract the camera, no dressing to steal attention.
Kate recognises that she has a job to do. She does it well. So what if she had makeup on and her hair blow-dried – wouldn’t you?
Hands on: Some dismissed Prince William driving his family home from hospital as a publicity stunt, but Jane Atkinson believes it was genuine
It is this determination to be natural that has helped turn William and Kate into global superstars, and has done much to secure fresh popularity for the Monarchy in a modern age.
In global recognition, William is a match for Tom Cruise or George Clooney.
His mother created the role – William and his brother Harry have built on it.
Diana ensured her children were aware of the power of the media in shaping public perception.
And like Diana, William is in charge. I have no doubt his advisers told him what was going on outside the hospital.
Fight: Princess Diana was wrong to think she could control the media says Jane Atkinson
They would also have talked through the options – from disappearing through the back door to the assured appearance they eventually gave. It was a recognition that their son is a public figure forever.
If they try to hide themselves away they will be chased and their motives will be misconstrued.
William has learned from Diana’s mistakes, too. Diana had to fight for her right to control her image and to create a media relationship she could manage.
Sometimes she did it well; mostly she manipulated it too far.
She learnt that you can’t be open one minute and expect to be able to withdraw the next.
She created an out-of-control media circus, particularly towards the end of her life, which she fooled herself into thinking she controlled.
It would have been fascinating to see how she coped with the proliferation of online media which is so difficult to control in any way.
Through the tragedy of his mother’s death, William has created a media relationship on his own terms and in a modern way.
He actually speaks to the media – not through formal speeches and set-pieces.
He answers questions and is very open.
Diana and Charles gave speeches and constructed interviews, but they were never encouraged to speak openly. They both made disastrous attempts at this when they were separated, but even these appearances were scripted.
They spoke to the media through spokesmen, friends and advisers.
In return for the Cambridges’ generosity and recognition of the terms in which they do their jobs and make their appearances, the media is generous in return.
William and Kate have forged a flattering public image because it is authentic.
They have learnt, as Kipling put it, ‘to walk with Kings nor lose the common touch.’
Learning: Through his mother’s death, Prince William (second left) has created a relationship with the media