Baby Prince George off on first royal tour to Australia, N.Z.
Third-in-line to throne follows dad's similar 'baby tour' 31 years ago
Prince George may not have official diplomatic credentials, but when he pops up Down Under with his parents, the third-in-line to the throne could be as powerful a public relations force as the House of Windsor might possibly deploy.
The eight-month-old son of Prince William and Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, arrives with them in New Zealand on Monday (7:45 p.m. ET Sunday, special coverage on CBC News Network).
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The chubby-cheeked baby who has rarely been seen since his arrival amid a media circus last summer doesn’t have a very rigorous public schedule over the next three weeks. But he is expected to make his official public debut on April 9, crawling about with a few other babies in New Zealand. Later in the trip, he's expected to visit a zoo in Sydney, Australia.
"George really hasn't been seen in the public eye very much since he was born, so there's going to be a tremendous amount of public interest in George's appearances on the trip," says Toronto-based royal historian Carolyn Harris.
But his presence on a tour that seems to deliberately mirror the one a nine-month-old William did with his parents Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales, 31 years ago will be more than just a chance to see how George has grown.
It will be a prime example of how the House of Windsor works its own form of diplomatic relations in a bid to ensure relevancy at home and abroad.
Less is more
Royal visits to Australia tend to be eventful, says royal historian Carolyn Harris.
The first one, by Queen Victoria's son, Prince Alfred, in 1868 resulted in an assassination attempt while picnicking in Sydney. A bullet fired by a man who was rumoured to have Fenian connections narrowly missed Alfred's spine. He recovered after a few months and continued on the tour.
In 1920, the future King Edward VIII was visiting when his railway carriage overturned near Bridgetown in Western Australia.
"He emerged from the wreck with his papers and cocktail shaker and was just very nonchalant about that situation," says Harris.
Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip were met by wildly enthusiastic crowds when they visited for the first time in 1954.
"It's said that something like 75 per cent of the Australian population saw the Queen at least once on that tour," says Harris.
"The Royal Family have come to understand that in protecting their brand, less is more," says CBC royal commentator Bonnie Brownlee, who likens what the royals are doing to "soft diplomacy."
"With George, their not-so-secret weapon, the photos that will emerge from this royal tour should only enhance and further interest in the Royal Family."
It's a brand that's been on an upswing of late after years mired in tawdry tabloid controversy.
"The Windsor brand of the royal household have really thought about a long-term strategy to keep the monarchy alive because it's proved to be very useful for the image of Britain," says Mark Borkowski, a British public relations expert who has worked with everyone from Michael Jackson and Joan Rivers to Cirque du Soleil and Mikhail Gorbachev.
"I think there's a real sense of how to continue the relevance because it was irrelevant, it was totally and utterly irrelevant as an institution post-Diana and it's become very relevant and very potent for this country."
Key to that potency has been the younger, fresher image surrounding William, Kate, George and William's younger brother, Prince Harry.
"They are very much … the perfect brand," says Borkowski.
"They have global recognition. They are wanted at the moment. They're young. They're fresh. They have a different perspective. They have a more popular front and they have international reach."
Potential for protest
No matter the popularity, however, William, Kate and their royal advisers know they are landing in a part of the world that has also flirted with republicanism, even if it appears to be at a lower ebb at the moment.
"Royal tours in recent years have been quite successful," says Harris. Prince Harry was mobbed by fans in Sydney last October, and Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip were well-received in Australia in 2011.
Still, there is, as Brownlee says, the potential "everywhere, anywhere" for a protest to pop up during the visit, as happened with Charles and Diana in 1983.
"That's part of a royal tour," she says, noting the royals will be well-prepared for any such eventuality.
And in baby Prince George, they may have a secret weapon.
"What must be striking terror into the republican movements of the two countries is the prospect of achingly cute pictures of the infant in the same frame as a wallaby, kangaroo or bilby," the Daily Telegraph noted in a recent report.
"A single image of the baby prince with a koala could set their cause back 20 years."
This trip may also offer an opportunity to continue a subtle image reset for Kate, who has been the subject of some U.K. tabloid sniping recently over everything from the length of her skirts to her fly-away hair.
"Now you're seeing Kate wear a lot more jewellery that comes from the Tower [of London]," says Brownlee. "That's new, that's an approach to the regalness of what her role is. So I think they're trying to counter their youthfulness a little bit with a sense of the weight of the monarchy as well."
But the trip is much more than what Kate will be wearing on any given day (although, for those keeping track of such things, Brownlee expects she'll need at least 30 outfits for the 48 engagements they are involved in during the tour).
"It's not just about going and looking fabulous. You need to know the politics of where you're going, not only from today but basically since the beginning of time," says Brownlee.
"You've got to be fully briefed on all of those issues. The aboriginal issues within New Zealand and Australia are as difficult as what we face here in Canada."
Indeed, New Zealand's Maori king has declined to meet with William because he felt the 90-minute period time allotted for him was not enough.
The royal visit to Australia and New Zealand will likely have much in common with the tour William and Kate did in Canada shortly after their 2011 marriage.
There was a casualness to it — like William and Kate in opposing dragon boats — that will likely be on display again during a tour that will also focus on common themes the royals like to address, like support for military families.
But there will also be a celebrity glow to the tour, something Borkowksi likens to the red carpet at the Cannes film festival.
"It will have all the best of a film premiere junket," he suggests, with well-crafted speeches that don't get political and "very human moments" when William and Kate meet members of the public.
"It's an A-list celebrity visit without the sort of ego … but with a keen sense of their future relationship" with the Commonwealth countries they are visiting.
For Canadians looking for a similar chance to see William, Kate and George, Brownlee expects there might be an opportunity within the next two years.
"Australia, New Zealand and Canada [are] important realms within the Commonwealth. These are three countries that need the most attention from the Royal Family."
And if George comes along, they're bound to get a lot of attention in return.