What on earth was the Firm thinking?

Andrew Donaldson |

30 March 2022

Andrew Donaldson on the train smash that was the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s Caribbean tour


WHATEVER we may feel about them, royal tours are newsworthy events. Even the editor of the Die Transvaler could not avoid mention of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth’s 1947 southern African safari in the pages of his Afrikaner nationalist fish-wrap. Hendrik Verwoerd summed up the event more or less in these words: “There was a traffic jam in Cape Town when Mr and Mrs Windsor arrived from England with their family.” The newspaper published not another word about the seven-week tour.

At the more imperial end of the spectrum, there was this frothy giddiness from the pages of a children’s novel, in which a British teenager, new to Africa, recounts her emotions at seeing the royal party’s motorcade in the streets of then Salisbury: “It was like something in a fairy-tale . . . isn’t it wonderful — us being here like this, to welcome them? Seeing our King and Queen among all these people we didn’t know, a year ago? It just goes to show, England or Rhodesia — it’s all one really!” ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

Which brings us to the train smash that was the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s Caribbean tour. General consensus here in the UK is: Nice enough couple, William and Kate, but what on earth was the Firm thinking? That a time-travelling jaunt to the last century would put a stop to this republicanism taking hold in one’s former possessions?

As a public relations exercise this was a disaster. The images of the outstretched arms of Jamaican children reaching through a fence separating them from the royal couple harked back to the era of William’s grandparents. In fact, the photographs of the Cambridges touring Kingston in an open gari were almost mirror images of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh when they were trundled around the Jamaican capital in an identical vehicle almost 70 years ago. Even the “flagwear”, those diplomatically colour-coordinated outfits were practically the same.

“Why,” the columnist Camilla Long, writing in the Sunday Times, wanted to know, “continue making this benighted family do all this dismal glad-handing when we know they cannot win? What does it say about [the UK] as a nation, that we pick over their humiliation for our entertainment? After many months of hiding from a deadly virus, everyone should have known no-one is going to be up for two Sloaney honkers swanning around in an open-topped Land Rover in expensive headgear, least of all the fiery Jamaicans. What will it take to restore order? Not William grovelling about slavery.”


And, unfortunately, these tours do serve as a blunt reminder of where all that fabulous wealth came from, and how it fell into the monarchy’s hands. This may well have been at the back of Jamaican prime minister Andrew Holness’s mind when he told William and Kate that his country would like to “move on”, that it wants to independent of the realm, and that, frankly, there were a few “unresolved issues” to discuss. Which must have been a bit of a rude shock for the couple. Where was all that goodwill that they geed up by paying tribute to Bob Marley?

Back home, even as an increasingly frail Queen Elizabeth II, 96 next month, managed to attend Tuesday’s memorial service for her late husband, there is a “sense of an ending in the gilded corridors”, as Private Eye put it. The Palace press office has been doing its utmost to keep HM in the public eye but “the familiar Brenda, out and about, hatted and handbagged, is a thing of the past”. 

After the Platinum Jubilee celebrations in June, we can expect a few more Commonwealth nations to follow Barbados and Jamaica in dropping ERII as their head of state.

Royal treatment