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Will Prince George and Princess Charlotte come to Canada? The pressures of taking the royal children on a trip

When word spread about the upcoming visit to Canada by Prince William and Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, one detail was conspicuously absent: would their children come, too?

Son and daughter of Prince William and Kate have not often been seen in public

Prince William and Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, are coming to Canada this fall, but it has not been announced whether their children, Prince George and Princess Charlotte, will accompany them on the visit to British Columbia and Yukon. (Chris Jackson, Samir Hussein/Getty Images)

When word spread about the upcoming visit to Canada by Prince William and Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, one detail was conspicuously absent: would their children come, too?

So far, there's been no public indication whether Prince George, 3, and Princess Charlotte, 1, will be on the tour in British Columbia and Yukon this fall. 

But it's hardly an idle question. For a House of Windsor that casts such a careful eye towards its image — and two parents who have put such a high priority on their children's privacy — the trip could present something of a conundrum.

Bring the photogenic children along and there's an excellent opportunity to bolster the monarchy's image — here in a Commonwealth country and back home in the United Kingdom.

But then again, George and Charlotte are just little kids who have been kept out of the public eye to a large extent by protective parents, and maybe traipsing around on a tour might be too much and throw them off their routine.

Prince George and Princess Charlotte aren't seen a lot in public, but they were with their parents and other members of the Royal Family on the balcony of Buckingham Palace on June 11, 2016, during official celebrations for the 90th birthday of their great-grandmother, Queen Elizabeth. (Toby Melville/Reuters)

London-based royal biographer Katie Nicholl says she is "almost certain" William and Kate will bring George and Charlotte to Canada, especially given that they took their son to Australia and New Zealand when he was eight months old.

Plus, she says, William and Kate's trip to Canada in 2011, two months after their high-profile wedding, was a "huge success" for them.

'Republican slayer'

"The Canadians adored the newly married couple and I can just see this being the trip to top all others if the children are there," Nicholl says.

"William and Kate and their advisers know this as well. There is no better way to promote a bright, new optimistic future for the Royal Family overseas than this gorgeous, telegenic foursome."

When George went Down Under with William and Kate in 2014, the tot who is third in line to the throne was nicknamed "republican slayer." A few events were tailored to him, whether he was meeting a bilby at the zoo in Sydney or having a play date with other little ones in Wellington, New Zealand.

Prince George gets in on the action during a play group at Government House in Wellington, New Zealand, on April 9, 2014. (Marty Melville/ Reuters)

Then again, there are precedents for young royal children staying at home. A one-year-old William wasn't with his parents Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales, when they came to Canada more than three decades ago, and George and Charlotte stayed behind when William and Kate went to India and Bhutan earlier this year.

"Charles and Diana made a visit to Canada in 1983 … and the tour schedule was too busy to allow William to accompany them," says Toronto-based royal historian and author Carolyn Harris.

"Throughout the tour Charles and Diana were given all sorts of gifts for William but he was home over his first birthday."

Whether George and Charlotte come to Canada or not, there's little doubt the public impression of them has been tightly controlled, and plays a key role in the image the House of Windsor wants to project.

Carefully chosen pictures have been released on milestones such as birthdays, but otherwise the public sightings of the children have been next to nil.

'Blighted by the paparazzi'

"William and Kate have deliberately and very successfully kept their children out of the media spotlight," says Nicholl, author of Kate: The Future Queen.

"William feels that much of his childhood was blighted by the paparazzi and so he has, understandably, been reluctant to expose his children to the same upbringing."

Even if the children don't come, there's a good chance they will be the focus of some attention, particularly when Kate and William do their walkabouts.

"When the children are not present at public engagements … often the questions from the public are about their children," says Harris, noting answers the royals give often find their way into the media. (Last month, William reportedly said George is "far too spoilt" when he was asked what his son got for his recent birthday.)

Prince George beckons for his mother, Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, after being lifted out of a helicopter similar to the one his father Prince William trained on as he visits the Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford on July 8, 2016. (Richard Pohle/Reuters)

Still, George has been seen a bit more in public lately, turning up at an air show with his parents in July.

And both children were on the balcony at Buckingham Palace in June during official celebrations of the 90th birthday of their great-grandmother, Queen Elizabeth.

But royal children in other royal families seem to be seen out and about more often.

"We're starting to see George and Charlotte more often but they are still kept out of the public eye to a large degree compared to for instance Princess Estelle in Sweden, who's just a little older than George," says Harris, whose third book, Raising Royalty: 1,000 Years of Royal Parenting, will be published in April 2017.

Not what they expected

Sometimes, however, the carefully controlled public image doesn't turn out as the House of Windsor might have intended.

For George's third birthday last month, pictures were released showing him at the family's country home. Among the shots was one of him giving ice cream to the family cocker spaniel, Lupo — an image that Harris notes is in the same spirit as portraits going back centuries showing royal children with pets.

In a photo released to mark Prince George's third birthday, he offers an ice cream to the family dog Lupo. (Matt Porteous/EPA)

But this modern version didn't go over so well with the RSPCA animal welfare group and others who said feeding ice cream to a dog isn't such a good idea.

"Really, William and Kate should have known this would prompt a controversy," says Nicholl. "Britain is an animal-loving nation and as dog lovers they should know better. They also pay so much attention to detail — this was an occasion where their attention slipped."

And, suggests Harris, "royal children always end up at the intersection of wider debates about parenting and society, how children are raised and the decisions their parents make."

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge wave from their plane before departing on the last day of their cross-Canada tour in Calgary, Alta., on July 8, 2011. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

If George and Charlotte do come to Canada, it's fair to assume there will be considerable attention to detail planning the trip and the impact it could have. 

"It will of course be on the couple's terms, tightly controlled, and a very good PR move," says Nicholl. "I know the Royal Family is very popular in Canada, but one suspects a trip like this will secure their popularity for many years to come."

That popularity would matter for a monarchy that has weathered periods of controversy within the past two or three decades and has seen longstanding debate from some quarters over its usefulness and future role.

Harris sees George and Charlotte offering a "tremendous sense of continuity" for the House of Windsor.

"If George matches the longevity of his great-grandmother, he may be the monarch that leads the monarchy into the 22nd century."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Janet Davison is a CBC senior writer and editor based in Toronto.

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