As Prince William celebrates his 40th birthday, the man who will likely become King William V may indeed look back on the legacy of his grandmother and will hopefully follow her example to “never complain, never explain.” It has stood her, and indeed all of us, in good stead.
The success of the 70-year reign of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has been built on her discretion, her discernment and skill in knowing when to speak and when to say nothing at all. The British monarch is actively apolitical, never expressing publicly an opinion and leaving the day-to-day running of the country to her prime minister and elected government.
Because politics are left to the government of the day, the queen is a living symbol of the British state; and her role, and that of her family, is to represent each and every one of us.
While widely known the world over, the queen is not a celebrity. The difference between celebrity and public servant is striking. Earlier this year to mark the 70th anniversary of her reign, Her Majesty ended a remarkable letter to her people signed: Your Servant, Elizabeth R. Her careful choice of words said so much about the way she has lived out her position as head of state. Hers has been a life of duty and sacrifice.
Rarely have we heard any of her personal views or opinions. The queen has never granted an interview. Even “The Queen’s Speech” to parliament does not present her own thoughts, but those supplied by her elected government.
It is generally accepted by the royal family that staying silent is usually best and airing one’s dirty laundry especially as a member of this family never turns out well.
Many difficulties for the recent monarchy have come about either because of an unsuccessful interview or the publishing of a personal memoir. We have seen this to be the case during the past few years with the personal feelings shared by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and the extraordinary interview given by the Duke of York.
Both unfortunate moments created more questions than answers and in the case of Harry and Meghan I felt it unfair, as other members of the family were unable to contradict or even to reply to what was said. For William, the interview by his brother was likely a difficult thing to observe, and he must have found it challenging not to intervene by expressing his own opinions, likely quite different to those stated by his brother.
As William celebrates his 40th birthday, we continue to see his own interests and passion projects coming through. Like his father, he cares deeply about protecting the environment. Like his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, he is a keen supporter of homeless charities including Centrepoint. Additionally, he has been vocal about wildlife conservation and tireless on the the importance of mental health.
His views on the above topics are well-known, yet to date, he has done a fine job of expressing these opinions while not becoming political.
For William the key to his strengths will come in his ability to be true to himself by supporting the causes he passionately cares about, while understanding his role is one of all-embracing neutrality as he prepares to one day be king of the United Kingdom.
As we come towards the end what by any standard has been an exceptional reign, the key for William and indeed his father will be to continue the example of Queen Elizabeth II: to be a symbol of all, to know when, where and how to use words to encourage, celebrate, and unite the people of the United Kingdom. And when to say nothing at all.
Andrew Lannerd is a tour director, curator and historian, specialising in the history and workings of the British monarchy. The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.