Miriam Lord: The gloves are off as William and Kate launch charm offensive
It seems the Cambridges were well briefed on the political situation here in a non-partisan way
There’s never a dull moment on the royal beat. If it wasn’t enough having to cope with the Duchess of Cambridge wearing forty shades of green in Dublin while aerating the President’s lawn with her five-inch spindle heels, sudden news of the queen of England’s coronationvirus gloves back in Buckingham Palace threw the visiting UK reporters into a spin.
And suddenly it was never mind Dublin and Prince William’s navy overcoat and Kate’s high-necked peplum dress. What about her majesty’s sawn-off gloves?
On the press bus back from Áras an Uachtaráin, Queen Elizabeth’s white gloves (imagine, they went up higher than her wrist) shot to the top of the royal reporting agenda.
It seems she wore these gloves while giving out honours at the palace, a most unusual departure. In fairness, at age 93 it was probably wise to break the habit of a lifetime and take some sensible precautions when a rogue virus is raging about the place. She really should have worn gauntlets and a visor.
No such worries across the Irish Sea, where her grandson and his missus were shaking hands with abandon, and not a bottle of sanitiser in sight. When Áras an Uachtaráin, Government Buildings and Kensington Palace go into lockdown, don’t say we didn’t warn you.
The visiting “Cambridges” got a lovely sunny day for their diplomatic mission to Ireland. They said beforehand that they were looking forward to building a lasting friendship between Britain and Ireland. The last big royal visit here was in 2018 by “the Sussexes” – the commoner formerly known as Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, formerly the Duchess of Sussex.
Prince Charles was here last year, but he’s in the country so often these days it would hardly be a surprise if he pitched up at a citizenship ceremony in Killarney.
The first port of call for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on their three-day visit was to President Higgins and his wife Sabina. The EU flag flew above Áras an Uachtaráin alongside the presidential standard and the Tricolour. The visit is seen as significant as it is the first of its type since Brexit.
The royal couple arrived in a 10-strong motorcade, a card reading “VIP 1” on the dashboard of one of the black vehicles indicating their presence.
They were greeted by Art O’Leary, the President’s private secretary. Everybody was wearing clothes. Details were taken. There was some disappointment that the duchess wasn’t wearing a hat.
Inside they signed the visitors’ book as Michael D and Sabina looked on. The Cambridges have it handy when it comes to scratching their monikers on parchment for posterity. They don’t have to explain who they actually are or write profound messages.
Instead the king-to-be-but-one sat down at the table made especially for his granny when she visited in 2011, and, with a hint of flourish, wrote “William” in the middle of the blank page. Then his wife took over the chair, bent her head over the book and wrote “Catherine” a few lines below.
And that was the presumptuous that. No wonder they had to repair next door with Michael D and Sabina for cups of tea and lemon drizzle cake. They must have been exhausted.
They had the chats then, discussing the close ties between the people of Ireland and Britain, and the importance of continuing and deepening close relations between all of the peoples of these islands.
Lots of topics were addressed, among them “the global challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss, and the urgent need to revisit the fundamentals of how we organise our economies and societies if we are to tackle these existential threats in a meaningful way”.
Our money is on Michael D coming up with that line.
On so to the outside event – the ringing of the Peace Bell followed by the ceremonial pointing towards the large wooden acorn under a tree in the distance. The discussion indoors on the fundamentals and existential threats took so long that shivering photographers began taking root in the arboretum. But they didn’t care as they were on Bernese Mountain Dog alert.
Suddenly, Bród happily barrelled into view. “Dog!” came the happy cry from the snappers. Soon the VIPs followed down the wide gravel path, Bród keeping an eye on Michael D at all times. His partner in snacking, Sioda, was not allowed join the fun as she is nursing a sore paw.
The Higginses looked very happy. Kate sashayed along the gravel in her green suede stilettos without as much as a totter. William did that familiar, one hand splayed across the solar plexus, royal man walk.
William and Kate took hold of the gold braid rope and rang the bell three times while Bród had a good aul belly scratch in front of them. The President and his wife applauded everyone’s efforts. Bród went behind the rope to the media and posed for photographs with UK journalists.
It went very well and the Higginses waved off the Cambridges, who left for a ceremony in the Garden of Remembrance.
From there they headed the short distance to Merrion Street and Government Buildings, where Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and his partner Matt Barrett were waiting to greet the royal couple.
A large number of staff watched from the windows and more gathered at the staircase and first-floor landing. No offence to Leo and Matt, but they wanted to see William and Kate – how they are in the flesh, what they were wearing.
The Taoiseach and his partner escorted them to his office. Leo explained the Irish headings in the visitors’ book – name, address and so on.
Prince William made a joke. “Would you like an address?”
Leo shot back – “What’s the postcode for Kensington Palace?”
The visitor signed. Just William.
Then the Taoiseach asked Matt if he wanted to sign the visitors’ book.
They all settled in beneath a portrait of Michael Collins for what turned out to be a long chat. Matt, who is a fluent Irish speaker and wears a Fáinne in his lapel, explained the legend of the Children of Lír to the visitors. They had seen Oisín Kelly’s majestic sculpture in the Garden of Remembrance, and a smaller version by the sculptor is outside the Taoiseach’s office.
The also talked about Wales and the revival of the Welsh language. The Taoiseach told them about Farmleigh House, their lodgings for the night and its connection with the Guinness family. It was a wide-ranging chat. William talked about helicopters. Rugby and horse racing was mentioned, and Brexit also figures.
It seems the Cambridges were well briefed on the political situation in Ireland in a non-partisan way.
After the meeting the couple chatted with staff members before they left. They were intensely scrutinised by onlookers as they were waved off by Leo and Matt.
“What size would you say she is? Size eight?”
“Ah jayzus no. A size six. She’s tiny. He’s very thin too. All them royals are very thin.”
When a Range Rover drew up to the steps, an Army officer opened the door for the duchess. She smiled and mouthed “thank you” before getting in.
It was noticed on the sidelines.
“Oooh. That’s very good. It’s like thanking the bus driver when you’re getting off, you know that kind of way? We like her.”