It seems like simple advice for the Earl and Countess of Wessex’s Caribbean tour: avoid taking references from Netflix drama The Crown, ditch anything that smacks of 1950s colonialism and instead try to create a modern monarchy handbook to swerve the PR pitfalls that befell the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s recent controversial visit to the region.
But with Grenada dropped from the itinerary with no explanation the day before the tour started on Friday, and an open letter on slave trade reparations awaiting them in Antigua and Barbuda, the spotlight is already on Edward and Sophie’s platinum jubilee tour of Antigua and Barbuda, St Lucia, and St Vincent and the Grenadines.
Buckingham Palace will be desperate to avoid the PR missteps suffered by William and Kate, with its unfortunate images of the couple greeting children in Jamaica through wire fencing.
If there were ever plans for the Wessexes to recreate the Queen and Prince Philip waving from an open-top Land Rover, as William and Kate did in images criticised as a relic of a past colonial era, they should have been shelved immediately, said PR expert Mark Borkowski.
The Land Rover shots of the couple “looked straight out of the 1950s. Like somehow they were taking references from The Crown rather than the modern handbook of how to look contemporary and future-thinking and not being anachronistic,” he added.
“If they [the royal family] start repeating these errors, there is clearly something at the heart that is broken of what has been a very controlling royal media machine.”
But, despite royal aides’ detailed scrutiny of the Wessexes’ itinerary, the potential for backlash exists in a region where some island nations have made clear their intentions to sever links with the crown.
During their tour of Belize, Jamaica and the Bahamas, the Cambridges faced protests against slavery, calls for reparations and public apologies, and the Jamaican prime minister’s uncomfortable on-camera warning that the country will ditch the monarchy.
Now, the Antigua and Barbuda Reparations Support Commission has warned the Wessexes, in an open letter, against the “phoney sanctimony” of “members of the royal family and representatives of the government of Britain” coming to the region to “lament that slavery was an ‘appalling atrocity’, that it was ‘abhorrent’, that it should not have happened”.
“For us, they are the source of genocide and of continuing deep international injury, injustice and racism. We hope you will respect us by not repeating the mantra. We are not simpletons,” it reads.
An apology for slavery and reparations are still needed, said the commission chair, Dorbrene O’Marde, who has described William and Kate’s tour as a “horrible, horrible exposition of archaic colonial behaviour”.
He told local radio the letter followed concerns raised by others including over the absence of “an apology from the crown both as a family and as an institution for their role in the enslavement of African people”.
O’Marde has also claimed the last-minute cancellation of the Grenada leg of the Wessexes’ tour was because of recent revelations that the Bank of England owned 599 slaves from Grenada in the late 18th century. Buckingham Palace has not elaborated on the reasons for the postponement.
The Wessexes are “hostages to misfortune,” said Borkowski, and are straitjacketed by traditional protocol. “They are forced to do these things which still have a throwback to a time where the royal family were loved, back in the 50s”.
“But it’s 60 years on. A lot of water has passed under the bridge.”
The recent royal focus on the Caribbean may be a kind of scoping exercise for a royal family testing where it might be when Charles, then William, ascend the throne, he said.
In December, Antigua and Barbuda’s tourism minister, Charles “Max” Fernandez, and an editorial in the Antigua Observer, said it was time to follow Barbados and become a republic. In St Lucia, the former prime minister Dr Kenny Anthony has said his government should follow suit. An editorial in the Vincentian newspaper of St Vincent and the Grenadines said Barbados had shown it could be “easily accomplished”.
It is against this backdrop that the Wessexes arrive. Aides should be checking and rechecking photographers’ positions, said Borkowski, in light of the Cambridges’ fence pictures.
“They usually are very careful. The royal rota for years has been about stopping the unexpected shot from filtering into the mainstream. So it’s a surprise they were caught out.”
His advice: “[The Wessexes] should avoid cliches, think very carefully about every photo op and not go off-piste. Don’t extemporise. Keep to the plan, and make sure the plan has been thought through with great military precision.”