The Queen set the tone in her Platinum Jubilee message, expressing the hope that “the coming days will provide an opportunity to reflect on all that has been achieved during the last 70 years as we look to the future with confidence and enthusiasm”.
From the pomp and pageantry of Trooping the Colour to Paddington Bear’s unexpected appearance at Windsor Castle, the monarch has ensured that the celebrations to mark her 70 years on the throne have had a distinctly forward-looking feel.
Central to this progressive presentation of modern monarchy have been the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their children, eight-year-old Prince George, Princess Charlotte, seven, and four-year-old Prince Louis, the undisputed star of the Buckingham Palace balcony and the Pageant Royal Box.
Children have always been an integral part of major royal occasions, with Prince William making his first appearance at Trooping in 1984, just before his second birthday.
Back then, he was sharing the limelight with the likes of Peter and Zara Phillips, and later Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie and the Wessexes’ children, Lady Louise and James, Viscount Severn. The Queen’s four children were all working royals – and their own families collectively played a high-profile, top flight role.
Yet this weekend, as a distinction has been so clearly drawn between the royals who work for The Firm and those who do not, William and Kate and their brood have found themselves front and centre.
Had the Duke and Duchess of Sussex not stepped down from public duties in March 2020, they and their children Archie, aged three, and one-year-old Lilibet, would have shared the spotlight with the Cambridges.
But their departure to the US means they are no longer considered front row royals – as witnessed when they took a back seat at both Trooping and Friday’s service of thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral.
Also absent from Saturday night’s Party at the Palace and Sunday’s Pageant, Harry and Meghan have been pushed down the pecking order by the Cambridge children (William’s brother is now sixth in line to the throne), as well as being relegated by their own behaviour.
It is not a coincidence that there has been no interaction whatsoever between the once close royal brothers this weekend. The Sussexes’ outspoken Oprah Winfrey interview, in which they accused the Royals of racism, is still perceived to have crossed a line – not least when there has still been no acknowledgement of the hurt it caused, let alone an apology.
As one aide put it at the start of the four-day festivities: “The media might try to make them prominent, but in reality they are not going to be playing a prominent role. A line has been drawn.”
Conversely, the Cambridges could not have been more conspicuous – a deliberate development that has been designed not just by Kensington Palace but also with the 96-year-old monarch’s careful oversight.
By carrying out their first official royal engagement with their children in Cardiff on Saturday, William and Kate were sending a clear message with the Queen’s blessing – we are the future.
And that is not to disrespect the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, who have grown closer to the Cambridges in the wake of “Megxit”, as demonstrated by the warmth between the couples at St Paul’s, when Charles blew Kate an affectionate kiss before the royal procession, and the touching moment during the pageant when Prince Louis sat on his grandfather’s lap.
It’s simply about reassuring the public that there is not one but three generations of monarchy determined to continue the Queen’s illustrious legacy.
The environment section of Saturday night’s concert, when the Queen praised both her son and grandson for continuing the Duke of Edinburgh’s work, was a conscious effort to show the instrumental role that both Charles and William can now play on the world stage.
Both couples were apparently “heartened” and “touched” by the outpouring of goodwill towards them during the two and a half-hour musical extravaganza, when they were regularly cheered by the crowds.
As is ever the case with jobs involving their offspring, William and Kate took a last-minute decision on bringing George and Charlotte, who excitedly waved Union flags and sang along to Rod Stewart’s rendition of Sweet Caroline, which became the England football team’s anthem at last year’s European Championship.
“The children have been having a great weekend,” said a royal source. “They were really enjoying themselves, so they went to the concert because it was clear they wanted to.
“They take those calls at the last minute because they don’t want to ramp up a hype and not be able to deliver on it. Everyone knows what kids are like – they might suddenly decide they don’t want to go to stuff – but they have thoroughly enjoyed this weekend.”
Similar care was taken over the planning of the trip to Wales, when the children made a surprise appearance at Cardiff Castle, undertaking a rare walkabout.
Louis did not join the family for the 90-minute engagement after his star balcony turn on Thursday, prompting William to joke that the little boy would have done “anything” in the excitement, including lying down on the floor. But he was back with his big brother and sister for the pageant, delighting the watching world once again with his cheekiness.
According to an insider who knows the couple well, they will have “loved” the front page images of their youngest stealing the show by covering his ears during the flypast.
“It wasn’t as if he was being naughty or anything. They were just kids being kids. Of course, as parents they love to see all the photographs the next day,” the insider said.
“It would be different if they didn’t enjoy it, but what they are trying to do is slowly acclimatise the children to the life they are going to lead. It’s a careful balance – they want to get them used to that world but not make it too intense or make them feel like they’re different.”
The source added that the children were as shocked to see Paddington taking tea with their great-grandmother, who they call “Gan Gan”, as the rest of the country.
Referencing the moment the Queen parachuted into the London Olympics opening ceremony in 2012, they added: “It was the same with Bond – no one knew it was happening until it happened.”
These are busy months for the Cambridges, with the children’s birthdays all falling between April and July, necessitating more exposure than usual. The canny Duchess, a keen photographer, has put the paparazzi out of business by taking her own snaps of her children and releasing them to the press.
Conscious not to see history repeated, William has managed to insulate his family from some of the intrusion he, Harry and his mother suffered when they were growing up.
But it is a fine balance, and the couple are accurately aware that the public doesn’t just want to see pictures of the future king and his siblings – in the Instagram era, they have come to expect it (hence the photos released on Sunday showing George, Charlotte and Louis baking street party cakes).
The family will once again be in the spotlight when William turns 40 on June 21, before taking a lower profile for the rest of the summer.
But as they reflect on a weekend that has won hearts and minds after a turbulent few years for the monarchy, the Cambridges can surely conclude that the Queen was right to look to the future with “confidence and enthusiasm”.