On 5 June, 2012, as the celebrations marking the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee came to a rapturous conclusion, members of the Royal Family stepped out on to the balcony at Buckingham Palace to greet the masses lining the Mall below.
At times of national celebration we’ve come to expect a glimpse of the whole Windsor clan squeezed shoulder to shoulder, but as the Queen emerged flanked only by Charles, Camilla, William, Kate and Harry — Prince Philip was still in hospital for the treatment of a bladder infection — the message was clear. They, along with Prince Harry’s eventual wife, were the royal faces of the future.
Charles has made no secret of his desire for a slimmed-down modern monarchy, and his vision has been met with widespread approval. Joe Public has grown tired of perceived royal straphangers and in order to remain relevant, the remarkably forward-thinking Prince of Wales has long recognised the Royal Family is in dire need of a ceremonial cull.
While the plan hasn’t resonated well with all members of the family, Charles has remained resolute. With Harry and Meghan’s recent decision to embrace civilian life far from Britain’s shores, however, the future is looking considerably leaner.
Given the couple’s global popularity and the diversity their marriage represents, their absence leaves an irreplaceable void which rather begs the question; who, if anyone, will succeed them?
Throughout the Queen’s 68-year reign, a plethora of royals have been on hand to lend their support. From the Queen’s husband, mother and sister to her cousins, children, in-laws and grandchildren, there have been royals-a-plenty to oversee patronages, tours, openings, closings, commemorations and more. But in what has become a rapidly ageing line-up, a natural slimming down is on the horizon, quite aside from the one mandated by Charles.
On an annual basis the royals carry out engagements on behalf of the 16 Commonwealth Realms, the 53-member Commonwealth of Nations and a huge number of charities and organisations boasting royal connections. They attend in-palace events such as investitures, receptions, dinners and garden parties, and as events of national and global importance occur they fan out far and wide in order to represent the Queen.
Already down three key figures in only three months, it’s increasingly apparent that as the years progress the Windsors are going to struggle to meet all their responsibilities. Something’s going to have to give, but will it be Charles?
In terms of who should step up, Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie are the obvious choice. The only blood princesses of their generation, each is privately affiliated with a number of charities and both have travelled extensively in an effort to promote brand Britain.
Beatrice was the first royal to complete the London Marathon. She’s climbed Mont Blanc and in 2018 she took part in the Luang Prabang Half Marathon for Children in Laos. In 2010 Bea, along with six of her friends, founded Big Change, a charity aimed at encouraging young people to develop skills outside a traditional academic curriculum. The Princess has spoken often about her battles with dyslexia. And, in 2017 Beatrice helped promote the anti-bullying book Be Cool Be Nice in response to her own experiences with bullying.
As a “non-working” royal, Eugenie has an equally impressive resume and, much like her sister, many of her interests compliment the work of the current senior royals.
Patron of the European School of Osteopathy, the Teenage Cancer Trust and Elephant Family, Eugenie also supports an initiative focused on championing the work of female artists. She’s involved with a program committed to protecting the ocean from plastic pollution and, after discussing ending modern slavery at the NEXUS Global Summit at the UN in New York, Eugenie became the patron of Anti-Slavery International, the world’s oldest international human rights organisation. Both princesses also hold down full-time jobs.
Whether Beatrice or Eugenie would want to forgo their independent lives so as to join the royal ranks I couldn’t say, but on paper both ladies tick all the requisite royal boxes. Nonetheless, given their parents’ propensity for poor choices and attracting worldwide scandal, the girls’ future involvement is going to be a tough sell where Charles is concerned. Unfair? Yes, but nothing about life within the Royal Family could be considered fair.
For the time being, the Queen won’t be looking to “replace” Harry and Meghan. It’s more important that the dust be allowed to settle while the Sussexes undergo their period of transition.
The initial terms of their “resignation” will be reviewed a year from now, at which point there’ll be a better understanding of their long-term plans and the subsequent impact on the rest of the family.
In the interim, I suspect the Countess of Wessex will be the royal most likely to shoulder the extra load. Popular behind Palace walls, Sophie shares a close bond with her mother-in-law and she’s known for her can-do attitude and positive approach.
As the royal family remains in flux, the coming months represent a pivotal moment for Prince Charles. Although keen to be seen as the great moderniser, whittling the family down to four could be detrimental to the very institution of which he’ll be head.
Royal historian and noted author Hugo Vickers called Charles’ plans to reduce the working monarchy “misguided”, saying, “I think it’s most unwise because other members of the Royal Family help with a lot of things the monarch cannot do. He’ll soon find he needs to be helped.”
Ultimately the decision rests with Charles, but as the monarchy’s recent seismic changes have proven, anything can happen. In a highly pressurised environment in which the demands are great, surely it’s better to have both family and numbers on side. Life is already quite lonely at the top. Modernity for the sake of it may make things even lonelier.