The royal family is famously parsimonious: The Queen uses a $53 bar heater at Windsor Castle rather than cranking up the central heating; William and Kate, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, have repeatedly been seen flying budget airlines with their family, not to mention that they regularly dress their kids in $9 H&M T-shirts.
(All rise for the Duke and Duchess of the Deal!)
After all, why waste too much of that lovely dosh with Gan Gan’s face on it?
However, today has seen the release of the annual Sovereign Grant report detailing how the palace has spent the $158 million they receive to keep the monarchical ship afloat and there is one particularly expensive clanger that proves that the Cambridges do, at times, have a taste for the finer things in life.
Very, very costly things indeed.
(Just quickly: The Sovereign Grant is the allowance given to the palace to pay for the official travel, staff costs and upkeep of Crown properties. The Grant comes from a 25 per cent cut of revenue from the vast Crown Estate, which the Queen doesn’t personally own with the remaining 75 per cent of revenue going into the Treasury’s coffers.)
Rewind to December last year when Kensington Palace decided that what a weary Britain needed was a spirit-rousing quickie tour for William and Kate so they could jolly up a beleaguered nation. Pip pip, hooray!
And what better way to travel the length of Great Britain than via the Royal Train, the nine-carriage quasi palace-on-wheels that is alleged to have once played host to an amorous Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer before their wedding?
Only problem, Scotland, where William and Kate were starting their trip was less-than-thrilled by the prospect of a royal visit and it later emerged that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had warned the couple their quick tour could contravene pandemic-related restrictions. (They circumvented that rule by it being deemed a work trip, which was allowed.)
Now we know that not only was the Cambridges’ Royal Train jaunt controversial but it was also very costly too, coming with a $94,400 price tag for just three nights.
(By contrast, for that sort of cash, the couple could have enjoyed three nights in the vast Royal Suite at the Savoy hotel, which comes replete with a gold private bar and they wouldn’t have had to worry about their bath water sloshing all about the place.)
While the figure pales next to the $108,000 it cost to shuttle Prince Charles to and from Kuwait in October so he could pay his respects after the death of the country’s 91-year-old Sheikh, it still amounts to William and Kate costing $29,500-per-night for a foray no one, save for their aides, seemed to particularly want.
What makes this such an interesting revelation is not just their willingness to zip around the nation in suitably grand style but the fact that this news will most likely fail to really register or to make much of an impression.
But, just for a moment imagine the self-righteous clamour this news would have sparked if instead it had been Harry and Meghan, Duke and Duchess of Sussex, on board choo-chooing their way across the UK.
Certain elements in the British press would have had a field day revelling in the supposed profligate ways of the couple, using this pricey tour as a new cudgel with which to browbeat the duo.
How. Dare. They!
The headlines would have been all outrage and massive fonts; someone would have put out a poll to see if public approval for them had fallen; and there would be no end of starchy commentators willing to castigate Harry and Meghan on the airwaves.
William and Kate are highly, highly unlikely to face even a slim percentage of that ire or indignation.
While the Sussexes have demonstrated a penchant for private travel (their four private jet flights in 11 days in 2019; that they arrived in LA on-board Tyler Perry’s $200 million Gulfstream) never have, there is still a world of difference in the way this news would have been treated had it been the rebellious duo.
There is no question that when it comes to the Cambridges and the Sussexes, there is a double standard – but there was always going to be no matter who Harry ultimately married.
What this sorry situation really exposes though is a fundamental – and uncomfortable – truth that underlies the William and Harry story: Despite being brought up side-by-side they were always going to have vastly different lives.
The boys didn’t just both inherit Windsor baldness but also a certain genetic inequity: William was always destined to ascend to the throne and his place in the history books, while Harry was always destined for inglorious spare status.
As last year’s sympathetic Sussex biography Finding Freedom argued, the Sussexes chafed at having to accept a lower place on the palace totem pole. The book’s authors Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand write that in the lead up to Megxit: “Increasingly Harry had grown frustrated that he and Meghan often took a back seat to other family members.
“While they both respected the hierarchy of the institution, it was difficult when they wanted to focus on a project and were told that a more senior ranking family member, be it Prince William or Prince Charles, had an initiative or tour being announced at the same time – so they would just have to wait.”
Then there’s the money side of things.
If Harry and Meghan hadn’t upped sticks and absconded to California to make podcasts (scratch that – podcast in the singular thus far) they would have faced a life of comparative penury to William and Kate.
One day the elder Wales will inherit the Duchy of Cornwall which is valued at around $1.8 billion; and the younger, should he receive a similar allowance to what Princes Andrew and Edward get now, would have to subsist on under $500,000-a-year.
Factor in too here that having played the game so assiduously and having cemented such a rock solid base of support for their modernising version of the monarchy, in instances such as this, William and Kate get free passes. Harry and Meghan, by contrast, having been at the epicentre of a seemingly never-ending parade of crises, enjoy no such latitude.
Good princes get expensive train rides; naughty ones who imprudently go on Oprah and air their family’s dirty laundry in prime time only get raked over the coals.
All’s fair in love and war, or so the saying goes, but clearly that never, ever applies when it comes to royalty.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and a writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.
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