What's really going on behind palace walls?

As much as there may be curiosity about what's really going on behind palace walls, specific insights into day-to-day machinations within the House of Windsor are rare. And Prince Philip marks his 98th birthday.

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Cameras sometimes capture members of the Royal Family inside Buckingham Palace, but gaining insights into the day-to-day machinations within the House of Windsor is not easy. (Dominic Lipinski/AFP/Getty Images)

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Are the Duchess of Cambridge and the Duchess of Sussex on better terms, after reports they weren't getting along so well? How about their husbands — Princes William and Harry? Has the reported froideur between the royal brothers warmed up a bit?

As much as there may be curiosity about what's really going on behind palace walls, specific insights into day-to-day machinations within the House of Windsor are rare.

"The public wants to know all the ins and outs of royal life and occasionally we get snippets, but the magic of the monarchy is the mystery that surrounds it and the royals try very hard — and do a very good job — of keeping that intact," royal correspondent and biographer Katie Nicholl said via email.

Still, authors like Nicholl try to peel back the curtain. And sometimes, they've found, it's easier than others.

Nicholl, author of the recently published Harry and Meghan: Life, Loss and Love, said over the years, she's had some "amazing access to the royals and their inner circle." But, she said, it's become much harder to get closer to some of the higher-profile royals as they have become older.

"Since Harry met Meghan, he has become a lot more private, editing his friendship circles and becoming a lot less accessible. William has always been very private and even though they are based in London now, the Cambridges manage to keep very below the radar, which is how they like it."

Biographer Sally Bedell Smith said she feels confident that through her sources and those made available to her through the royal households, she has a "deep and comprehensive view" of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles.

But that doesn't mean it was easy.

"My challenge with the Queen was to part the curtain and illuminate what she is really like behind her inscrutable facade," said Smith, author of Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch and Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life.

"For Charles, I needed to explain his sprawling life and make sense of the events and individuals — many of them little known — that influenced him," she said via email. "I needed to understand the panorama of his interests and to show the threads of his thinking, to describe how he has changed over time yet how he has stayed the same."

Glimpses inside Kensington Palace are rare, but photos were released in 2016, when U.S. President Barack Obama, right, speaking with Prince William, was in London on a visit. (Pete Souza/The White House via Getty Images)

Author Penny Junor thinks in some ways we're closer than we've ever been to understanding what's going on in the Royal Family.

"When I started writing about the royals over 35 years ago, there was a sort of brick wall around Buckingham Palace and everything royal," she said in an interview.

There were press officers, but they weren't there to offer any real assistance to anyone asking questions. "They were there to bat you away. And that has changed a lot," said Junor.

Still, when Junor first wrote about Prince Charles, she got an interview with him. "I don't think that would happen today."

She's not sure why — sometimes he does television interviews. More recently, Junor wrote a biography of his wife: The Duchess: Camilla Parker Bowles and the Love Affair That Rocked the Crown. For that, she found Camilla's staff quite helpful, although there was no interview with her. That didn't come as a complete surprise.

"If I was advising her, I would probably advise her not to," said Junor. "I suppose actually one of the reasons is because one of the first questions that anybody would ask is about her previous marriage and the relationship with Diana … and Charles.… It's just too much of a minefield."

Outside palace walls

Sophie, Countess of Wessex, left, talks to Asmaa, right, and her daughters Sidra, second from right, and Nisrine during a visit to an informal tented settlement in Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, on June 12, 2019. (Victoria Jones/Getty Images)

International travel was on the royal radar this past week — both current and future.

Sophie, Countess of Wessex, travelled to Lebanon in the first official visit by a member of the Royal Family to that country. While there, Sophie met with refugees from Syria and heard about U.K. efforts to promote women's involvement in security and peace issues in the region. Sophie has also been focusing on work to help victims of sexual assault in war zones.

A report also suggested Harry and Meghan will visit Angola and Malawi, along with South Africa, in a major trip later this year. That trip is likely to focus on issues important to the couple, and could see Harry highlight problems posed by landmines, in a continuation of work done by his late mother, Diana. And, of course, there will be much attention on whether Harry and Meghan's young son, Archie, will be along for the trip. It would come as no surprise if he is.

(For the record, there is still no public indication that any high-profile member of the Royal Family will make an official visit to Canada this year.)

Prince Philip turns 98

Prince Philip occasionally appears at royal events. He was all smiles as he left St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle on May 18, after the wedding of Lady Gabriella Windsor and Thomas Kingston. (Steve Parsons/AFP/Getty Images)

He wasn't seen in public last Monday, but there were several public acknowledgments of Prince Philip's 98th birthday.

Gun salutes marked the milestone for Queen Elizabeth's husband, and as has become something of a social media tradition for the Royal Family, several members posted birthday wishes on Twitter or Instagram.

Philip, the longest-serving royal consort, retired from official royal duties in 2017. He makes occasional appearances at royal events, but reportedly spends most of his time these days at Windsor Castle or Sandringham Estate in Norfolk.

Public pomp and pageantry

Prince Louis waves enthusiastically as he makes his first appearance on the Buckingham Palace balcony with his father, Prince William, mother, Kate, and Prince George and Princess Charlotte on June 8. (Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images)

June always means a significant dose of royal pomp and pageantry playing out in public, and events of the past few days saw two members of the House of Windsor make appearances that drew extra attention.

Trooping the Colour, the annual official celebration of the Queen's birthday, brought Prince Louis out for his first appearance on the Buckingham Palace balcony. The youngest child of Prince William and Kate has rarely been seen since his birth in April 2018, beyond the release of a few carefully curated family photos and some frolicking with his siblings in a garden his mom helped plan for the Chelsea Flower Show.

But Louis was something of a hit the other day, with reports suggesting he stole the show on the palace balcony with his enthusiastic waving and other antics typical of a 13-month-old, as the Royal Air Force's Red Arrows roared overhead.

The Duchess of Sussex was also on hand for Trooping the Colour, her first appearance since she and Prince Harry presented Archie to the cameras two days after his birth early last month.

Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, and Prince Harry return to Buckingham Palace after Trooping the Colour in London on June 8. (Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images)

Where Meghan is — or isn't — tends to garner considerable attention. Much comment was made on how the new mother wasn't around when U.S. President Donald Trump was mixing and mingling with the royals during his official state visit. Some reports tried to suggest it was a snub and no surprise, given how she had spoken quite unfavourably of him before her marriage to Harry. Other reports chalked her absence up to maternity leave.

How long that maternity leave will last is unclear, but there are hints Meghan has been thinking about what comes next. She'll reportedly be featured in the September issue of British Vogue.

More formal public appearances by members of the Royal Family are also expected in the next few days, with the annual Garter Day procession and service at Windsor Castle on Monday, and the Royal Ascot, the multi-day horse racing event that draws the well-heeled to a course just west of London.

Royal diplomacy on display

Queen Elizabeth and U.S. President Donald Trump participate in an event to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day, in Portsmouth, England, on June 5. (Chris Jackson/Reuters)

There has never really been any reason to doubt the Queen's masterful diplomatic skills. But the official state visit by Trump was widely seen as a triumph of Elizabeth's soft diplomacy over a U.S. president who is something of a loose cannon, and also clearly in awe of the British monarchy.

A report in the Daily Telegraph explored how "The Queen's cordial reception for Trump reaffirms her status as the world's greatest diplomat."

That's not to say Trump offered up similar diplomacy, although he was gracious and effusive in his praise of Elizabeth herself. Not so much, however, for the mayor of London or Meghan, as Trump got caught up in trying to parse whether he had said she was "nasty."

Royally quotable

"When I attended the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings, some thought it might be the last such event. But the wartime generation — my generation — is resilient, and I am delighted to be with you in Portsmouth today."

— Queen Elizabeth, at a commemoration in Portsmouth, England, to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

Royals in Canada

Diana, Princess of Wales, chats with her husband Prince Charles as they take part in an outdoor event in Ottawa on June 21, 1983. (The Canadian Press)

Thirty-six years ago, Diana-mania hit Canada. Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales, arrived in Nova Scotia on June 14, 1983, to begin an 18-day tour, their first visit to the country since their marriage nearly two years earlier.

Thousands waited for hours at their stops across the country, hoping to catch a glimpse of the royal couple, but it was really the glamorous Diana who was drawing the ecstatic crowds.

The visit took Charles and Diana from Halifax and Charlottetown to Ottawa and Edmonton, where she celebrated her 22nd birthday as the visit ended on July 1.

Charles and Diana pass by a Mountie as they tour Fort Edmonton Park in period costume on June 29, 1983. (Peter Bregg/The Canadian Press)

The couple made two more official visits to Canada — in 1986 and 1991 — before their eventual divorce in 1996. Diana died after a car crash in Paris in 1997.

  • Our friends at CBC Archives have taken a closer look at the 1983 tour, right down to the efforts to spruce up the streets in anticipation of the royal visitors.

Royal reads

  • Maybe Queen Victoria's childhood wasn't as miserable as had been thought. [Daily Telegraph] 

  • How do you navigate the potential for awkward small talk at a state banquet or a royal garden party? Carefully, and with lots of planning. [BBC] 

  • Trump — and his penchant for typos on Twitter — set off some widespread mockery when the U.S. president went on about how he'd met the Prince of Whales. [The Guardian]

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


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