Vulnerable Prince William reveals the future of royalty: As the Duke wins praise for discussing mental health on podcast, Princess Diana’s aide PATRICK JEPHSON hails a PR coup
As part of the quietest revolution in royal public relations, Prince William’s Time To Walk podcast avoids the usual marketing hype. It’s just a man walking alone chatting with an imaginary companion.
‘Like I’ve been on a walk with my best mate or my wife,’ says the prince, and that’s exactly what it feels like.
Nice to see the happy inclusion of Catherine, but significantly, there is no mention of any of the big royal news stories of the day.
There’s no attempt to twist our loyalties or plead for sympathy, no hint of victimhood or sly whisper of accusation, no false self-deprecation or blowhard claim of improbable expertise.
Just a man talking and trusting us to recognise the power of his vulnerability as he does so.
As part of the quietest revolution in royal public relations, Prince William’s Time To Walk podcast avoids the usual marketing hype. It’s just a man walking alone chatting with an imaginary companion
In effect, this is William’s Christmas broadcast. True, it’s for an international audience – it goes out on Apple Music 1 and Apple Fitness+, after all – and some of its soul-baring honesty is strange to British ears. But, actually, that’s part of its charm and impact.
A feel-good boost could be just what the royal family’s festivities need because merriment may be in short supply.
Across the Atlantic, Harry and Meghan’s Montecito melodrama plays incorrigibly on, just as the Ghislaine Maxwell trial luridly re-exposes Prince Andrew’s association with paedophile Jeffrey Epstein.
In a chilly message from the Commonwealth, sunny Barbados has become a republic, rejecting constitutional monarchy as a system whose time is past. Progressive opinion in Britain is gleefully likeminded.
Meanwhile, Prince Charles can’t avoid embarrassment as an inquiry finds that his trusted former valet co-ordinated with ‘fixers’ over honours for a donor to the Prince’s Foundation.
Above it all hovers the shadow of Prince Philip, whose passing has been followed by deepened concern over the monarch’s own health.
Surveying the not-very-glorious scene, even hardcore royalists might ask how much longer the Windsors will deserve their exalted place in the national shop window.
There’s no attempt to twist our loyalties or plead for sympathy, no hint of victimhood or sly whisper of accusation, no false self-deprecation or blowhard claim of improbable expertise
Rescue may be at hand, courtesy of Apple. The most significant and persuasive piece of royal PR in years is about to arrive in the nation’s earbuds: Prince William’s Time To Walk isn’t tourist trivia and arcane ceremonial.
It’s not a glossy charity ego-trip; nor is it a misery list of architectural carbuncles and climate-change catastrophe.
Instead, it’s a study in the healing power of vulnerability. By sharing some of his most un-royal moments, the prince paradoxically affirms his royal credentials.
Every listener will recognise a story, reminiscence or sensory cue that stirs a moment of emotional connection.
On witnessing harrowing injuries as an air ambulance pilot: ‘I wasn’t in tears, but inside, I felt something had changed … It was like someone had put a key in a lock and opened it without me giving permission to do that. I felt the whole world was dying…’
Yet there’s no self-indulgence in these revelations. What predominates is an unaffected humility.
Prince William won praise from a major mental health charity yesterday after speaking about the trauma he experienced as a result of his work as an air ambulance pilot.
Mind said his openness would encourage others to seek help.
Paul Farmer, the charity’s chief executive, said: ‘We hope that the Duke of Cambridge’s comment will help to raise awareness of mental health among emergency service workers.’
The duke, 39, was speaking in a podcast for an Apple Fitness+ audio series. He described the profound impact that rescuing a child who had been hit by a car had had on him, as well as the personal moments that had shaped his life, including with his mother.
On being cajoled – to his horror – to sing on stage at a fundraiser for the charity Centrepoint, and seeing the homeless young people laugh at his embarrassment, he thinks: ‘Well, if they’re enjoying it, then the night is for them. So, sod it. I can’t be the dufus who’s going to ruin it for everyone.’
Just those last dozen words could be the ‘Dieu et mon droit’ for the 21st Century, right up there in gold leaf on the royal coat of arms.
William’s choice of the homeless charity Centrepoint story is telling. The patronage is one he inherited from his mother, a woman who in her own day pioneered the possibilities of emotionally accessible royalty.
It was she who directed me to arrange unpublicised visits to shelters for homeless people – often taking William because, as he put it, ‘she wanted to make sure that I understood that life happens very much outside of the palace walls … this is the real world’.
That understanding came not just from the charity’s formal briefings, but from spending time with those who, from all outward appearances, had least to give back. ‘And we sat there, and we listened,’ as William recalls.
A talent for listening is clearly one of the greatest gifts his mother gave William. As I saw countless times, she discovered her purpose in drawing attention to those in greatest need, especially the stigmatised and unwanted.
William has plainly taken her words to heart. For a modern royal family, there may be no more vital skill than the ability to seek out and raise up voices that otherwise go unheard.
‘We live in these little echo chambers where you’re only subjected to what you want to be subjected to. But … go looking for the viewpoints you didn’t think you wanted to hear because, if you listen, you’re empowering the other person.’
Too often, royal folk get to pick and choose what advice they want to hear, so if he really means it, William’s openness to challenge is pretty revolutionary.
The antidote to both woke psychobabble and stuffy aloofness, it’s an honourable formula for a successful future reign.
When I oversaw Princess Diana’s official duties, I had a rule of thumb to gauge whether an engagement was a success. Try it when you next see a VIP with a group of ‘ordinary people’.
A feel-good boost could be just what the royal family’s festivities need because merriment may be in short supply
The key is not to look at those waiting excitedly to meet the VIP, but at the faces of those who have just experienced the encounter. Their expressions will tell you how it’s going.
As Diana coached William at his first major public event at the age of just ten: ‘It’s only a few seconds for you, but for the people you meet it’s a lifetime’s memory.’
Take away those hundreds of thousands of lifetimes’ memories and the monarchy will surely die, not from irrelevance but neglect. This is why we should question the fashionable assumption that the Royal Family must be ‘streamlined’.
True, the system might function with just a sovereign and an heir, but few taxpayers would feel in their hearts that a threadbare palace balcony looked like better value.
You can detect in William’s words a recognition the job has the promise of something far more uplifting.
A hard-working monarchy that really believes in its future can do compassion better than politicians among society’s forgotten. ‘If you listen… you’re allowing them to feel like they matter.’
There’s no better mission statement for a future head of state. In a world drowning in communications – a deluge to which the Windsors have contributed their full share – an emphasis on the power of listening sounds like the key to their survival, long after their lectures on overpopulation, carbon emissions, town planning, and even the media are forgotten.
Surveying the not-very-glorious scene, even hardcore royalists might ask how much longer the Windsors will deserve their exalted place in the national shop window
William seems to recognise that earning a voice in these headline issues and all the worthy campaigns that may follow depends first on an ability to listen, especially to unwelcome opinions.
It’s an attractive, modest royal superpower – essential to the kind of servant leadership that the Windsors are going to need in spades very soon. You know the real thing when you hear it.
That’s incredibly rare and powerful, especially at a time when the royal tribe seems unsure of its direction, purpose and boundaries.
So, here’s a memo for future palace spin doctors: Be sure to broadcast it again on the day of his Coronation.
Patrick Jephson was equerry and private secretary to HRH The Princess of Wales 1988-96
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