Prince William steps it up on the world stage as Catherine makes a long-awaited appearance

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Among the 13 Canadian veterans of the Second World War who were in France last week to mark the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings was retired private Charles Davis.

Eight decades earlier, a 22-year-old Davis had hauled ammunition ashore for days after the initial assault by Allied forces, in a military action that marked the beginning of the end of the bitter conflict.  

Now 102, Davis was back for a solemn commemoration in Normandy that drew world leaders, veterans and those of much younger generations to reflect on the realities of war then and now.

Davis’s favourite moment from the ceremony, the CBC’s Margaret Evans reported, came when he had the chance to meet Prince William.

“He said: ‘What did you do when you landed on the beach?'” I said: ‘I got the hell off as quick as possible.'”

WATCH | Shadow of global tension hangs over D-Day commemorations

D-Day 80th anniversary marked in shadow of global tensions

Thirteen Canadian veterans came to Normandy, France, to mark 80 years since they stormed the beaches there on D-Day. Looming over the day was a sense that the institutions and freedoms forged from victories on those beaches are facing increasing challenges.

In a speech to the crowd gathered for the commemoration, William honoured the Canadians who stood “shoulder to shoulder” with British troops “to ensure fascism was conquered.”

“Standing here today, in peaceful silence, it is almost impossible to grasp the courage it would have taken to run into the fury of battle that very day.”

Along with his father, King Charles, William was in France for the D-Day commemorations, in one of his highest-profile appearances yet on the world stage, and one that sent signals both for William personally and the House of Windsor more broadly.

“We see William stepping into that role as a future sovereign and very much setting the tone for the next reign,” Toronto-based royal author and historian Carolyn Harris said in an interview.

For much of his life, William, who turns 42 next Friday, has been balancing royal life with having “as ordinary a life as possible under the circumstances,” Harris said. 

Not anymore.

Three people walk down a path between sand dunes.
French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, left, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Prince William walk past sand dunes during the Canadian commemorative ceremony marking the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings, at the Juno Beach Centre near Courseulles-sur-Mer, Normandy, on June 6. (Lou Benoist/The Associated Press)

“Now we’re seeing some very high-profile events where it’s clear that just as during the last decade of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, we’re seeing a period of transition, as King Charles III is in his 70s and has been battling cancer,” Harris said.

The moments with the Canadian veterans, and William’s speech to the Canadian commemoration, contained their own message.

There has been speculation over the years about whether William will have the same commitment to the Commonwealth as Elizabeth and Charles. Will William perhaps focus on other priorities?

“Certainly this engagement with Canadian veterans was a very strong sign that he’s not only the future King of the United Kingdom, but the future King of Canada, and is recognizing the importance of these historic ties between monarchy and military, not just in Britain, but in Canada as well,” said Harris.

Still, as William settles into his role as the heir to the throne and Prince of Wales, there is also the sense that he is blazing his own trail at home and abroad.

“I think what comes across clearly is that he is not going to slip into any preordained conception of what and who a Prince of Wales is based on the idea of his father having been one for so long,” said Chandrika Kaul, a professor of modern history at the University of St. Andrew’s in Scotland, in an interview.

“It’s quite clear that William is going to be his own man.”

A person speaks from a podium, with a microphone in front of their face.
Prince William speaks during a commemorative event for the 80th anniversary of D-Day in Portsmouth, England, on June 5. (Dylan Martinez/The Associated Press)

William hasn’t, for example, retreated from any of his interests or charities. 

“He’s always been, you know, outspoken about … what’s happening in the Middle East, for instance, within the limits that is possible of … a humanitarian response,” said Kaul. “He has not changed his tune. That was quite noticeable from the start of the conflict in Gaza.”

William’s call for an end to the fighting in Gaza and peace in the region earlier this year garnered widespread comment.

“That will be a very long and complex process and there was debate about whether, even with the blessing of the British government, William should be weighing into that,” said Harris.

William’s international trips have included the first official royal visit to Israel, in 2018. He has also visited Jordan and China.

An adult holds out a hand as they are surrounded by children.
Prince William talks to Palestinian children during a visit to Jerusalem’s Old City on June 28, 2018. (Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)

“We’ve seen him undertaking some very high-profile visits that are not the expected round of Commonwealth tours that we expect to see members of the Royal Family making,” Harris said.

Kaul said she thinks William seems to have “fitted in really rather well” to his emerging role on the world stage.

“I think this transition, you know, from just becoming the Prince of Wales to actually beginning to really fulfil what is expected of someone who is next in line, you know, a future king, I think that’s been more seamless than many people would have assumed.”

Kaul suspects that is also to some extent a result of current circumstances — that both his father, and his wife, Catherine, Princess of Wales, have been diagnosed with cancer, and the media hasn’t been as critical of William as they might have been because of that.

“He’s risen to the challenge, but also I think the media is giving him a slightly easier ride into his role.”

William will be back in Europe next week, in a visit that reflects another of his longstanding interests. 

He will travel to Germany on Thursday to watch England play Denmark in the Euro 2024 soccer championships.

Two adults talk with children on a soccer pitch.
Prince William, right, is flanked by Harry Kane, captain of England’s men’s soccer team, during a visit to St. George’s Park in Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire, to meet with the team ahead of the UEFA Euro 2024 campaign on Monday. (Paul Cooper/The Associated Press)

An avid soccer fan, William visited the England team ahead of their departure for the tournament this week (passing on, to considerable media attention, son Prince Louis’s advice that the players eat twice as much as they usually do).

In William’s interest in sport, along with his interest in youth becoming involved in athletic activities, Harris sees echoes of interests of his grandfather, Prince Philip, and of King George V, the monarch from 1910 to 1936 who attended football matches at a time when that was seen as a working-class pastime. 

“William being there at those various sports matches, it’s not just an opportunity to cheer on Britain and to spend some quality time with his children as well, but also an opportunity to connect with sports fans from all walks of life,” Harris said.

‘Making good progress’ and returning to the public eye

Princess Catherine.
Catherine, Princess of Wales, takes part in the procession for Trooping the Colour on Saturday, June 15, 2024, in London. (Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

Nearly three months after announcing she had been diagnosed with cancer, the Princess of Wales says she’s “making good progress” with her treatment.

In a message released by Kensington Palace Friday afternoon, Catherine also signalled she would be taking part in Trooping the Colour on Saturday — and she was spotted arriving the morning of the pageantry, making her first appearance in public since Christmas.

“I am making good progress, but as anyone going through chemotherapy will know, there are good days and bad days,” she said in the message.

“On those bad days, you feel weak, tired and you have to give in to your body resting. But on the good days, when you feel stronger, you want to make the most of feeling well.”

Catherine, 42, said she was looking forward to attending Trooping the Colour with her family, and hopes to join a few public engagements over the summer, “but equally knowing I am not out of the woods yet.”

Her return to public duties at Trooping the Colour is “highly significant,” Harris said via email.

“The ceremony is the monarch’s official birthday in the United Kingdom and her regiment will be taking the salute,” Harris said. 

“Catherine is returning to royal duties after a six-month absence at one of the most high-profile occasions on the royal calendar.”

Still, Harris noted, Catherine has been careful to manage public expectations.

“Trooping the Colour may be the beginning of a gradual return to royal duties rather than an immediate return to a full schedule.”

The announcement is “very positive news” and will be welcomed by her fans, Kaul said via email. 

“It is a sure sign that her health is improving and a mark of respect for the occasion that she has made it her comeback event, as it were.”

Kaul said she thinks Catherine chose this moment for her return “because it was a family event, so the focus would not be solely on her.”

“I think she will feel supported by the fact that she will be surrounded by her loved ones.”

The announcement of Catherine’s participation in Trooping the Colour is also highly significant, Harris said, because there had been widespread speculation that she wouldn’t be there, given that she had missed a rehearsal.

“This event marks the return of the full complement of senior members of the Royal Family to public life.”

King Charles has also returned to public duties after being diagnosed with an undisclosed form of cancer earlier this year. 

Catherine underwent abdominal surgery in January. Frenzied speculation about her health mounted before her announcement on March 22 that after the operation, cancer had been found to be present. The form of cancer has not been disclosed.

WATCH | Catherine’s announcement of her cancer diagnosis: 

Princess of Wales says she’s receiving cancer treatment

Catherine, the Princess of Wales, says in a video released to her social media pages that tests after her surgery revealed ‘cancer had been present,’ and that she is in the early stages of preventive chemotherapy.

In Friday’s message, Catherine said she has “been blown away by all the kind messages of support and encouragement over the last couple of months.”

“It really has made the world of difference to William and me and has helped us both through some of the harder times.”

Catherine said her treatment will be ongoing for a few more months.

“On the days I feel well enough, it is a joy to engage with school life, spend personal time on the things that give me energy and positivity, as well as starting to do a little work from home.”

She said she is “learning how to be patient, especially with uncertainty.”

“Taking each day as it comes, listening to my body, and allowing myself to take this much-needed time to heal.”

She thanked people for their “continued understanding” and those who have so “bravely shared” their stories with her.

WATCH | Londoners welcome Catherine’s return: 

Update on Princess of Wales is ‘great news to the country,’ say Londoners

Hearing that Catherine, Princess of Wales, will be making her first public appearance this weekend since announcing her cancer diagnosis has the people of London buzzing with anticipation.

Catherine’s absence from the public eye had also drawn particular attention to the role of Princess of Wales and a royal consort.

“I think that Catherine’s extended absence from public duties is really highlighting just how much royal consorts do in the public eye, that just as the public was very conscious of [Queen Elizabeth] undertaking duties herself when Prince Phillip was in hospital, we’re seeing a lot of concern about Catherine’s health,” Harris said before her return for Trooping the Colour was known.

“People William meets at public engagements either [present] him with cards or with good wishes for both his father and for Catherine.”

Almost a royal wedding

A bride and groom wave outside a cathedral.
Hugh Grosvenor, the Duke of Westminster, left, and Olivia Henson leave Chester Cathedral after their wedding on June 7. (Peter Byrne/The Associated Press)

Another event that saw members of the public trying to ask Prince William about Catherine came last weekend when he was an usher at the wedding of the Duke of Westminster.

Queries about Catherine echoed toward William from the crowd gathered outside Chester Cathedral, where Hugh Grosvenor married Olivia Henson in a society event that was as close to a royal wedding as you can get without it actually being one. 

Grosvenor, 33, is one of the richest people in the United Kingdom. He inherited an estate worth a reported nine billion pounds upon the death of his father in 2016. He studied countryside management at university and worked for a green technology company.

His royal ties are many and link him directly to the highest echelons of the House of Windsor. He’s friends with both Princes William and Harry. He’s a godson of King Charles and godfather to William’s son, Prince George. It is also thought that he is godfather to Harry’s son, Prince Archie.

“He’s as close as you can be to being royal without being royal,” said Kaul.

While there had been speculation about whether Harry would attend the wedding, particularly given his rift with William, it was widely reported ahead of the wedding that Harry had declined his invitation.

The wedding garnered headlines in major British media outlets, and saw crowds gather outside Chester Cathedral.

Three formally dressed wedding guests stand in front of a cathedral entrance surrounded by a floral arch.
Prince William, centre, leaves Chester Cathedral after the wedding of Olivia Henson and Hugh Grosvenor, the Duke of Westminster, on June 7. (Peter Byrne/The Associated Press)

“Traditionally, royalty have been known for socializing within their large extended families … so there’s a lot of public interest about … what friends they have who are outside of royal circles,” said Harris.

“Even though the Duke of Westminster is one of the wealthiest men in the United Kingdom, he is still a non-royal duke. … So that’s something that the public finds interesting … who are the friends of the heir to the throne, who is going to be giving advice or influence of some kind as they step into larger and larger public roles.”

Princess Anne returns to Canada

A person looking straight ahead smiles.
Princess Anne smiles after unveiling a plaque to commemorate her late mother Queen Elizabeth and planting of a red flowering current tree following a ceremony in the garden at Government House in Victoria on May 5. Anne will make another visit to Canada at the end of June. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press)

Less than two months after she was in British Columbia, Princess Anne is coming back for another short visit in Canada, this time on the other side of the country.

King Charles’s sister will arrive in St. John’s on June 30, ahead of a ceremony the next day to mark the entombing of an unknown soldier from the First World War. She will also help commemorate the centennial anniversary of the Newfoundland National War Memorial.

“Her Royal Highness’s presence will be especially symbolic as we gather to pay tribute to an unknown First World War soldier from this province…. Soldiers from our province fought so bravely in the storied battlefields of the First World War that their regiment earned the honour of ‘Royal’ in its name,” Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey said in a statement Thursday. 

Anne’s last visit to the province came in 2016 and marked the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Beaumont-Hamel, which took such a devastating toll on the Royal Newfoundland Regiment.

WATCH | Princess Anne speaks with CBC in 2016 about the Royal Newfoundland Regiment

Princess Anne speaks with the CBC’s Chris O’Neill Yates on the Battle of Beaumont-Hamel

Since the accession of King Charles, Harris noted, Princess Anne is the member of the Royal Family who has spent the most time in Canada.

“The majority of these visits have been concerned with her military and naval patronages in Canada, as she has strong links to the Canadian Forces,” Harris said

“King Charles III and Princess Anne both have a personal relationship with Canada that dates back to 1970 when they accompanied their parents on a historic tour of Manitoba and the Northwest Territories, touring communities on the Arctic circle that had never before received a royal visit.”

Royally quotable

“The statue unveiled today will forever tell the story of loyalty, of bravery and of duty. I also hope it will remind future generations to never forget the sacrifice and determination of the Regina Rifles.”

— Princess Anne, colonel-in-chief of the Royal Regina Rifles, at a ceremony to unveil a statue of a Royal Regina Rifleman and mark the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings, at Bretteville, Normandy.

A person walks beside a statue of a soldier holding a rifle.
Princess Anne, colonel-in-chief of the Royal Regina Rifles, unveils a statue of a Second World War Royal Regina Rifleman to mark the 80th anniversary of D-Day, at Place des Canadiens in Bretteville-l’Orgueilleuse, Normandy, France, on June 5. (Aaron Chown/The Associated Press)

Royal reads 

  1. The anti-monarchy campaign group Republic has accused London’s Metropolitan police of seeking to use human rights legislation to block protests at this weekend’s Trooping the Colour. [The Guardian]

  2. Animal rights activists have defaced the first official portrait of King Charles with a cut-out face of a cartoon character at a gallery in London. [CBC]

  3. King Charles is “doing fine” but “won’t slow down and won’t do what he’s told,” says Queen Camilla. [ITV]

  4. Prince Harry will be able to appeal against a court ruling that dismissed his challenge over a decision to downgrade his level of personal security when he visits the U.K. [BBC]

  5. King Charles has launched a new set of awards celebrating living in harmony with nature, and was joined at a prize-giving ceremony by glitzy guests including David Beckham. The ex-England captain traded beekeeping tips with Charles when they met ahead of him being named a King’s Foundation ambassador. [BBC, The Independent]

  6. It’s been a strange year for artistic representations of British royalty. In May, Jonathan Yeo’s official portrait of King Charles sparked online discussion with its arresting red background. And a portrait of Catherine, Princess of Wales, commissioned by Tatler from Zambian-British artist Hannah Uzor, is provoking yet more debate with its questionable degree of likeness. In fact, British monarchs have grappled with issues of representation, accuracy and flattery in portraits since the Middle Ages. [The Conversation]

  7. In the spring of 1944, when two million Allied troops were amassing in southern England ahead of the D-Day invasion, King Charles’s grandfather, King George VI, was on a different mission: To fool Adolf Hitler. [ITV]

Two people facing one another speak to each other as another person looks on.
King Charles, left, speaks with former footballer David Beckham, right as they attend the inaugural King’s Foundation charity awards at St. James’s Palace in London on Tuesday. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/The Associated Press)

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