I wonder if Kate, sorry Catherine, Middleton has the faintest idea how tough her first royal tour will be.
When newlywed William and his wife fly off to Canada at the end of June, the new Princess will have experienced only a handful of official royal engagements here at home. To date she has done one evening job in Norfolk just before Christmas and has two more lined up this week in remote Anglesey and St.Andrews.
So she has yet to find out what its like to have a wildly enthusiastic reception in a big city like London or Birmingham.
But within a few weeks of her wedding she will be traipsing across a vast country, hopping across time zones, wide open plains and mountain ranges. Her ten day trip will take her from the smallest province, postcard-pretty Prince Edward Island to the vast Northwest Territories, the cowboy country of Alberta and sophisticated cities like Quebec and the capital Ottawa.
It’s a daunting schedule for a novice royal, although no doubt William has given her lots of advice, perhaps telling her all about the screaming hordes who greeted him in Auckland and Sydney a year ago.
I well remember feeling sorry for Will in the sticky summer heat as I watched hundreds of girls almost wrench his arms off, so keen were they to shake hands with their future king as he went on walkabouts. Not to mention the over-exhuberant ones who planted endless smackers on his red face.
Last July I followed the Queen across Canada as she arrived on the Atlantic coast at Halifax, which was hit by Monsoon-like rain and freezing temperatures. We then moved on to Ottawa, Winnipeg and Toronto, where enormous crowds turned out everywhere she and Prince Philip appeared.
By the end of the trip the early cool, wet weather had changed to sweltering heat but, after 60 years touring the world, our Queen took it in her stride. I hope Kate can do the same despite her lack of experience meeting crowds of excited people.
Sometimes the best-laid plans of palace aides and government tour officials go awry.
In Toronto the royal couple stayed in the grand Royal York hotel, which shortly before a big banquet, was hit by a power cut which left us all in the dark.
A similar power cut once hit Prince Andrew and his wife Sarah while they were in the shower preparing for a big dinner in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. The Prince later made a speech with a lot of jokes about what went on when the electricity went off in the bathroom.
On Princess Diana’s first tour of Australia in 1983 record crowds thronged the streets of Brisbane, pressing so close to the royal visitors, that the new Princess was completely overwhelmed. She had to be whisked away to a quiet room in the town hall where she could rest and be revived with a drink of water.
My advice to Catherine as she plans her first overseas tour is to read the Duchess of York’s autobiography ‘My Story’. She called her first tour of Canada ‘ten gruelling days… my dress requirements alone would have sent a saner woman screaming for the nearest exit’.
She describes the lack of time to dress for evening dinners, explaining Andrew got ready in half an hour so had time to rest, while she and her hairdresser wrestled for ninety minutes trying to stop a heavy tiara falling over her nose. In any spare time she was running through her next speech, ‘working all the time, not a moment to rest.’
By the end she wanted nothing more than to collapse on a beach but Andrew took her on a camping trip through the mosquito-and-bug-ridden Northwest Territories which no-softie Sarah called ‘the greatest endurance test of my life.’ She kept a diary which Princess Margaret once dipped into then quickly shut saying, “I don’t want to read more. It’s too gruesome.’
Well, Good Luck on your first tour abroad, Catherine. I suspect you’ll need it.