Canada Day: William and Kate make their international married debut

By Anita Elash

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, popularly known as William and Kate, arrive in Canada on their first international visit today with two goals: to ease the prince and his commoner bride into their public lives as a married couple and to convince their subjects the monarchy is relevant and worth saving.

The first should be easy. Canada has strong ties to the British monarchy and is considered a friendly place for the royal family to visit.

The second will be harder, but not nearly as difficult as it would have been a year ago. The latest polls show the royals have surged in popularity in Canada compared with a year ago, largely because people are just as smitten with William and Kate as the two seem to be with each other.

“The popularity of this couple is global,” says Sean Simpson, author of a new Ipsos Public Affairs poll on Canadian attitudes toward the royals. “They are clearly in love and people can see that and that is telling them there is a secure future for the monarchy down the road.”

The poll results do not show overwhelming support. Forty-eight percent of Canadians still think the monarchy should be abolished. But that is 10 percent fewer than a year ago, when William’s grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, visited Canada. Mr. Simpson says it is a significant change in a country where the royal family’s popularity has been steadily waning.

“Canadians have been pretty fickle on the monarchy,” he says. “Basically, we’ve got other things to think about.”

Is there a place for fairy tales today?

The royal family’s popularity has waned in Canada since the massive immigration from outside Europe started in the 1960s. Although references to the monarchy are woven into every aspect of Canadian life – from rose gardens and freeways named after Queen Elizabeth II to the fact that new legislation must get royal assent before it becomes law – it has little real influence on everyday lives.

Most Canadians are not sure what role the monarch or her representative, the governor general, play in Canada. Younger people and a growing population of immigrants simply cannot relate, says royal expert Carolyn Harris.

Concerns about whether Prince Charles, who is considered too outspoken and old-fashioned, is fit to be king have also eroded the monarchy’s popularity, says Ms. Harris.

Like many Canadians, James Levergood, a tattoo artist from Toronto, says he thinks the royals are quaint but unnecessary.

“I think having a king and queen is the stuff of fairy tales, so it’s kind of cool. It’s like a blast from the past. But I don’t see how they are relevant,” he says.

Trying to appear 'normal'

It’s people like Levergood that William and Kate will try to win over during their nine-day tour. Their itinerary is heavily focused on youth and emphasizes some of the couple’s personal interests. It includes a stop in Prince Edward Island, to visit the location where one of Kate's favorite books, Anne of Green Gables, is set. They will also visit a facility for young cancer patients and a cooking school in Quebec, attend dragon boat races and other “beach activities” in Prince Edward Island, and meet with aboriginal youth in the Northwest Territories. There is speculation that William, known for his spontaneity, may play street hockey.

The couple also hopes to appear as “normal” as possible. They are known to do their own shopping, cooking, and washing up when they are at home. They are bringing a reduced staff of seven people on their Canadian tour. Unlike other royal women, including her famous mother-in-law, Princess Diana, Kate has declined to bring along a dresser to look after her wardrobe.

Harris says the pair will inevitably be compared to William’s parents. Prince Charles and Diana visited Canada four times, and during their first visit two years after their marriage, Diana’s glamour and warmth attracted frenzied attention.

“It will be interesting to see if William and Kate operate like the queen and Prince Philip, where both bring their own strengths to a tour, or more like Charles and Diana, where Diana and her fashion choices tended to upstage Charles no matter what he did,” she says.

But ultimately, Harris says, their task will be to show that they are “in touch with modern society and the way ordinary people live.”

IN PICTURES: Royal wedding day

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