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William slopes into trouble

The Duke of Cambridge is facing more criticism after going ski-ing and missing the Commonwealth Day service in London
(photo By British Embassy Tokyo / Alfie GoodrichUK in Japan- FCO - Duke of Cambridge visits Japan | Flickr - Photo Sharing!, CC BY 2.0, Link)

Well, this is slightly awkward. William and Kate were probably hoping that their appearances on the front of this week's papers would involve big smiles, shamrocks and Paris. Instead, many of them this morning are filled with photos of the Duke of Cambridge ski-ing and questions about his sense of duty. That follows on from yesterday where several papers broke the story of William missing Commonwealth Day because of a winter holiday with his mates. After photos of the second in line to the throne drinking while his grandparents were working started the row, a video of dad dancing has done nothing to put a smile on anyone's faces. William sloped off for an ill judged winter break and has given himself a PR mountain to climb.

Because whichever way you look at it, this break is ill judged. Attendance at the Commonwealth Day service isn't compulsory but as William approaches 35 and states, again, that he wants to take on more royal responsibility, his absence more than raised eyebrows. It's led to plenty of people raising all sorts of questions about how seriously he is taking his role. After the revelation of why he missed the ceremony, come the fuller details and a focus in some papers on how many days William has worked this year (13 compared to 24 by the Queen who was still recovering from a serious cold as 2017 got under way) and all kinds of editorials querying why this prince chose to party on Commonwealth Day.

No one is saying William can't have holidays. While we might want our royals to work and be seen to be working, we do get that they will take time off. But of all the good weekends in the year to choose, this one is a cracker. Why head off to the ski slopes just before such a big day in the royal calendar? The Commonwealth Day service and the receptions afterwards are  milestones in the regal year. They matter. Right now, it seems like the only person who couldn't work that out was William.

On Tuesday morning, the slot for royal photo of the day should have been a shoe in for the Queen who carried out two engagements on Commonwealth Day. The image of the Head of the Commonwealth supporting celebrations for the organisation and promoting its message of unity is a good one for the royals and for all of us. Instead, that positive moment was jostling cheek by jowl for attention with the revelation that the great big hole in the front row of Westminster Abbey marked William and Kate had been caused by the duke's ski-ing holiday.  The fact that many senior members of the Royal Family were there only made the absence more glaring. And it's not like William didn't know when Commonwealth Day was. A bit like Christmas, it comes round at the same time every year. William's PR problem keeps on snowballing.

The snowy break has also turned what should have been a triumphant week for the Cambridges into a potential nightmare. Last year, there were all kinds of criticisms when Kate didn't go to the annual St Patrick's Day parade. Both the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are going this year but rather than that being a positive affirmation of royal duty, it's now the first outing since the PR mess that was the ski-ing trip. Likewise, the big visit to Paris at the end of the week. Touted as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge promoting their country, it's now got every chance of being a spotlight on 'workshy' William.  An appearance at the Commonwealth Day service followed by these two big events could have made a stand out week for the Cambridges as they promise to take on a bigger royal role. It's now got handle with care written all over it and William only has himself to blame.

This row will pass, they always do. But what will remain, until disproved, are the worries raised by what is an error of judgement by William. Just about everyone else can see that missing a big royal event for a ski-ing holiday is bad PR.  The question that remains now is why William didn't work that out and, if he did, why he still carried on with the holiday in Verbier.

Royalty has always been about image. Since the first William conquered England almost a thousand years ago, how the ruling house looked to others has mattered and it always will. Royalty through the ages has crafted an image, through grand portraits, through magnificent palaces and now, in the 21st century, from an emphasis on family and duty, on being a bit more like everyone else.  This whole holiday feels very old fashioned in the royal stakes, more 1910s than 2010s, more leave me alone to do as I wish rather than we're all in this together. Maybe that's why it feels so disappointing. One day, the whole future of the monarchy will rest on William's shoulders.  Heading to 35, the years of youthful mistakes are passing. Maybe it's time to take a break from the fun on the slopes and swap it for a more stately game like Scrabble - put the letters in the right place and 'duty' can score big.


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