Kate Middleton faces tough Christmas Day after Meghan and Harry accusations, Queen’s death

For 364 days a year, St Mary Magdalene church goes unnoticed. But it gets its brief annual close-up when the royal family arrives on Christmas Day.

Sure, the Windsors would probably rather be sitting next to a crackling fire inside the Sandringham drawing room waiting for Princess Anne to finish with the Quality Street but, hey; with great titles comes great responsibility to get up early on December 25.

For three long years now, Mary Magdalene – which dates back to the 16th century – has largely been devoid of royal bottoms on pews thanks to Covid lockdowns. (Princess Beatrice wed hottie property developer Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi there in 2020.)

But this Christmas, Mary’s BACK!

For the first time since 2019, the royal family has returned to the hulking, bruiser of their Norfolk weekender for annual cheer – gag gifts, Tindalls-a-plenty, the York girls and the walking Tatler cliches they married, and Fergie (I’m assuming) manning the eggnog.

However, the version of the royals that will leave St Mary Magdalene this weekend will have indelibly changed since their last Christmas visit, the terrain of the monarchy having undergone a tectonic shift with two deaths, one sacking, the convulsive exit of two star players along with accusations of racism and of an institution focused on self-preservation no matter the individual cost.

And there is one person in particular who will end up paying the price for much of this tumult and change: Kate, the now Princess of Wales.

I know the woman never steps out in public without the broadest of smiles and the most perfectly coiffured hair but the pressure on her since those Chrissy 2019 photos would have been ratcheted up considerably. (Look, if she was smart, right about now she would be urging Fergie to add a few more slugs of Courvoisier to the ‘nog. Woman needs a break.)

With 2023 on the horizon, the responsibility of keeping the royal show on the road will basically fall to the world’s newest blazer convert.

This is firstly true for Kate in a practical sense.

When the Windsors arrived at Christmas mass in 2019, the number of working members was notably higher. Not only were Kate and her husband, future profile on the one pound coin, on the scene but little brother and sister-in-law Harry and Meghan were also signed up to the royal roster.

Sure, that whole Fab Four dream had slinked off to die quietly, proving to be as unworkable as the prose in a Fergie Mills & Boon novel (she writes those now), but hey, things would work themselves out! Those Sussexes were over in Canada having a much-needed break and would be back to the business of waving the flag for Queen and country in no time!

What no one outside of Vancouver Island knew was that by that point, in late 2019, Harry and Meghan had decided they’d had enough of their royal indenture and wanted out.

Explaining their thinking at the time, Harry says in the Sussexes’ Netflix series: “The emotional toll that it was having on both of us, but especially my wife … How are we gonna change our relationship with the institution, but in a way that protects us and our mental health and our wellbeing as well?”

The loss of the Sussexes from the royal fold dealt the royal family not only a serious reputational blow but a hands-on one too.

The Duke and Duchesses’ patronages and his military roles can be added to those that Prince Andrew was forced to officially relinquish earlier this year, including such prestigious posts as Colonel of the Grenadier Guards. Factor in too here the more than 50 organisations, including Royal Ballet and the London Symphony Orchestra, who boasted the late Queen as their patron.

The question isn’t who will take these over but who can feasibly find time to take them on?

Today, of the remaining working members of the royal family, nearly two-thirds are over the age of 70, with the remaining ‘staffers’ being Edward and Sophie, Earl and Countess of Wessex (58 and 57 respectively), and William and Kate, who are both 40.

This ageing, reduced working royal family will be expected to shoulder the same sort of workload – all the shaking of hands and planting commemorative trees – as they always have. After all, the British people expect value for the $157 million they shell out annually by virtue of the Sovereign Grant.

Bottom line, the remaining HRHs are going to be stretched ever thinner.

Look a little further into the future and the picture gets even gloomier.

King Charles and Queen Camilla have only about a decade of international tours left in them, leaving only William and Kate to carry the can for the crown on the world stage. Meanwhile, at home in the UK, by the 2030s, aside from the King and Queen, the Waleses and the Wessexes, the only other remaining name on the official working roster will be the indomitable Princess Anne.

All this will be going on while the Waleses are busy trying to focus on their legacy, big-picture projects, William’s Earthshot Prize and Kate’s Early Years Foundation. How the dickens are they going to be able to fit it all in and occasionally sleep?

And this is before we have gotten to the Waleses’ George, Charlotte and Louis conundrum. Since their first bebe arrived in 2013, ‘normal’ has reportedly been their parenting byword, with them trying to give their children the least-skewed, minimally-abnormal childhoods as possible.

You know the drill here – the Prince and Princess doing school drop-offs and turning up to soccer games and chugging around Waitrose doing the weekly shop. (George will be the first sovereign in British history to have grown up using the self-checkout.)

However these lofty notions of protecting their kids and trying to shield them from the demands and scrutiny that come with their surname will at some point crash headlong into the reality of the monarchy’s dwindling pool of HRHs.

While William and Harry were given the space to gradually ease into working royal life (the elder only took up full-time duties in 2017, having been allowed to work as a helicopter ambulance pilot up until then) that is a luxury that George, Charlotte and Louis might not be afforded.

Basically, aside from those three, there is no one else; no other working members of the royal family in the offing who will one day learn the best way to elegantly hold a spade at a tree-planting. What’s more, the trio will be crucial to injecting some youthful verve into the royal family’s image.

The pressure on William and Kate as conflicted parents (are you a mother or a princess first?) is going to be constantly dialled up.

(As it is, Prince Louis, 4, will very possibly make his church debut this year.)

On top of all this, Kate will have to do a disproportionate amount of the heavy lifting when it comes to upholding the royal brand, which has obviously taken more than a few blows in recent years, the biggest and most damaging of which is the accusation of institutional racism.

Maintaining the acquiescence of the British people for a hereditary monarchy requires the continued support and respect of the masses. Basically, the people have to believe in and like what the royal family represents; its symbolic value if you will.

Never has that looked more at risk than in the last few years with the Prince Andrew debacle and the rise of wide social conversions about royalty, racism and the crown’s colonial past; not only the accusations made by Harry and Meghan, but also the Waleses’ disastrous Caribbean tour and the recent ousting of Lady Susan Hussey after the longtime lady-in-waiting made racist comments to charity boss Ngozi Fulani at a Palace function.

While they are clearly trying – in late December, Lady Hussey apologised in person to Fulani at Buckingham Palace – this in no way truly counters the ‘royal family is racist’ narrative which has gained traction in recent years. (Polling done last year post-Oprah, found that ethnic minority Brits think the royal family is racist.)

Will we ever see the day when William apologises for the royal family’s historic role in the slave trade? The Royal African Company – really note that second word there – “shipped more enslaved African men, women, and children to the Americas than any other single institution during the entire period of the transatlantic slave trade,” according to the Smithsonian Museum.

These heinous crimes against humanity might have been committed hundreds of years ago but when he is King, it will be to his eternal shame if he does not shoulder the moral responsibility of the role and formally apologise.

And it is eternally popular Kate who is the royal family’s greatest and maybe only hope here. The halo effect of her in the monarchy’s midst is the palace’s biggest asset as they stare down a very dicey, not-at-all guaranteed future.

So drink up Kate. Be a devil and go to town with the brandy butter. While you’re at it, how about a third mince tart? Which is to say, enjoy the lovely bits of royalty while you can because the job is only about to become much, much harder.

Daniela Elser is a writer and a royal commentator with more than 15 years’ experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.

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