Daniela Elser: Photo that proves Prince William is winning in PR battle against Harry


There is mystery afoot in the royal world, a real puzzler that demands immediate and forensic attention: Just how in the world did Prince William become … hot?

This week a photo was released by Kensington Palace of the royal getting his Covid jab and right there dominating the otherwise predictable shot was one very buff, very impressive arm.

Social media had a deliciously lascivious field day.

Sure, back in his youth William was a golden harried doppelganger of his iconic mother, his dashing good looks gracing a trove of magazine covers and ruffling many a teenage heart. Then adulthood, marriage and those irrepressible Windsor genes took effect, and thus his image devolved from dishy idol to balding Dad-dom.

And yet somehow, without anyone quite realising it, a new William has emerged of late, not only a bloke with impressive forearms but a man who is looking more and more like a King.

A man who has somehow largely protected the royal brand from his younger brother’s campaign of antimonarchy agitprop. A man who has come out on top.

For proof, look no further than two of the key images of the princes which have dominated the British press this week.

On Friday, it was a shot of William taken from his powerful video statement condemning the deceitful tactics that BBC journalist Martin Bashir used to secure his infamous interview with their mother. He came across as forceful, steely, and passionate.

And then on Saturday it was Harry’s turn, using a shot of him taken from his new mental health docuseries The Me You Can’t See undergoing EMDR (eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing) to treat unresolved anxiety around the death of Diana.

The contrast could not be more pronounced: One a man increasingly defined by both his suffering and his unfathomable and relentless campaign of anti-royal rhetoric while the other has started to look – and sound – more and more like a genuine statesman and leader.

What is starting to become clear is that two painful episodes, namely the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s public divorce from the royal family and the Covid pandemic, have actually proven to be the making of future king.

When lockdowns suddenly and brutally became part of the global vernacular last year, William and his wife Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, embraced the new, daunting circumstances with a certain Blitz-esque vim and vigour.

They called a bingo game, took part in a charity TV sketch and endlessly thanked health workers. Weekly, one or both of the Cambridges undertook some sort of video engagement with frontline staff or those affected by the virus’ global march.

It was heartening, cheering stuff and it was the absolute making of them.

If Britain might have been a bit lukewarm, a bit tepid, prior about these former holiday-loving sunseekers before, then the pandemic wholly transformed their public image into a couple hearteningly committed to the nation.

While in the past William and Kate came under fire for appearing to be lackadaisical HRHs, what the pandemic offered the couple was an opportunity to put the royal house’s charitable ethos into very clear cut, readily identifiable action.

Over very roughly the same period of time they obviously also endured another crisis, though this one restricted to affecting gilded denizens of the royal family – Megxit. If the acrimonious departure of Harry and Meghan didn’t do damage to the royal family image then came the Sussexes’ recent series of media appearances during which they have repeatedly assailed the house of Windsor.

It was William who in the wake of the couple’s claims of racism in the royal ranks spoke out publicly, telling reporters “We are very much not a racist family,” the only member of the royal family to publicly do so.

In fact, one of the most interesting shifts over the last year and a bit has been William and Kate stepping into the leadership void of the royal house. The Queen, at now 95 years of age, can hardly be expected to be front and centre while Prince Charles is hardly widely viewed with unerring respect.

That responsibility to be the face of the monarchy during such a period of tumult has fallen squarely to the Cambridges, who have run with it.

Playing a part in the emergence of William the Great has been the fact that the more Harry has fallen in the estimation of the British public, the better the elder prince has looked by comparison.

In the wake of the drama and tumult of Covid and Megxit, the Cambridges’ brand of predictable plodding has started to look less insipid and more like dependability; their steadfast approach has looked less tedious unoriginality and more like blessed stability

Every time his younger brother lobbed a fresh round of criticism at the palace William’s steadfastness and commitment to the monarchy looked that much more impressive.

This weekend, William and Kate are in Scotland where he is representing the Queen as the Lord High Commissioner at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, an appointment which represents a very big tick of approval from Her Majesty. (William was originally slated to assume the role last year before the pandemic hit.)

Photos of William taken yesterday showing him in Scotland have only reinforced his reinvigorated image of him as an impressive doyen.

While the father of three is enjoying this new-found moment in the sun, his younger brother’s popularity in the UK is in free fall. Late last month, Harry and Meghan’s approval ratings fell to the lowest ever with even more Brits having a negative view of the couple (and fewer saying they had a positive view) than even after polling done in the wake of their Oprah outpouring). Meanwhile, 44 per cent of Britons surveyed last week said they thought the couple should lose their titles.

Rewind to the years before Harry tied the knot and he was fun third-wheel to the staid Cambridges, the cheeky boy who always looked like he was having a marvellous time while William and Kate appeared more and more like the human personification of a grey woollen jumper – unexciting and just uninteresting.

What recent events have taught is not only was the merry Harry persona just that, a mask of sorts to hide his suffering, but that during a crisis, during a time of uncertainty and fear, people don’t need leaders who look like the sort of bloke you could have a pint with; they want dependability and a certain public display of strength.

Basically, William was made for this particular moment in history.

Still, it’s not all adoring Instagram fans hot under the collar and waving Union Jacks waiting for King William V when he ascends to the throne.

The palace faces a rough trot in the years to come with younger Britons turning their backs in droves on the idea of a hereditary monarchy with fewer than one in three 18 to 24-year-olds thinking the nation should stick with a Windsor as a head of state.

William’s regal forebears have survived assassination attempts, civil war, Machiavellian court manoeuvring, Oliver Cromwell and the advent of the camera in their fight to keep the monarchy afloat.

One day the prince, like the 62 men and women who will have come before, will face the same uphill battle to ensure the royal house survives, somehow.

Long may William and his buff bicep reign.

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