Why Duchess wore red in Wellington

By Gordon Rayner

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge with Prince George disembarking from the RNZAF jet after arriving at Wellington Airport. Photo / Mark Mitchell
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge with Prince George disembarking from the RNZAF jet after arriving at Wellington Airport. Photo / Mark Mitchell

In the opinion of Tony Abbott, the Australian Prime Minister, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's visit was one of the all-time great royal tours, and no one who witnessed the adoring crowds and the country's love-in with Prince George would disagree with him.

But the success of royal tours is not mere chance. They are planned, plotted and reconnoitred for up to a year in advance, and they stand or fall not on the royal family's skills, but on those of an unheralded team of back-room staff who fret over every detail, right down to the position of the sun in the sky.

Take, for example, the Duke and Duchess's visit to Uluru (Ayers Rock) last Tuesday. Kensington Palace knew that photographers would want an image of the couple posing in front of the rock, bathed in red light from the setting sun. The planning for that photograph began last year, when Australia's Cabinet Office, responsible for VIP visits, included the country's most famous natural landmark on the couple's itinerary.

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Having agreed on a date, civil servants checked the time for sunset (6.25pm) and began organising a programme in the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park that would build to the couple's arrival in the sunset viewing car park at exactly the right time. Decisions were to be made about where the photograph would be taken, where the media would stand and how many of them there would be room for, and how to get scores of journalists to the centre of Australia, make sure they all had hotel rooms, and bus them to the right place at the right time.

Then there was the question of what the Duchess would wear, something which would not make her disappear against the red sandstone of Uluru. She chose a favourite white patterned dress from Hobbs, when she and her aides went over every engagement of the tour weeks before leaving London to consider every eventuality. Where white was essential in Uluru, it would have been a disaster in Wellington; the Duchess was getting off a grey aircraft standing under a cloud-filled sky, but her bright red coat and hat filled every frame with colour. The choice was no fluke.

Leaving the media aside, tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of people greeted the Duke and Duchess across Australia and New Zealand. Police forces had to be prepared, making sure there were enough metal barriers to line the couple's route, deciding on road closures and bringing in dogs to patrol for guns and explosives.

Gallery: Royal visit: Our favourite photos

For the host nations, a royal visit not only helps to showcase tourist destinations, but raises the profile of individual good causes they visit. Palace staff tend to gauge the success of royal tours by coverage in the local media, because a charity that needs a boost in New Zealand will raise its money from the Kiwi audience, rather than the British one.

Royal tours have become far more slick over time and, with the exception of the Uluru sunset picture, rarely look as stage-managed as they are.

Compare, for example, the photo opportunity with Prince William in 1983, when he was produced for the cameras on a rug in the grounds of Auckland's Government House, with the equivalent moment for Prince George, when he joined a playgroup with other babies, resulting in delightfully natural photographs and footage.

Yet an irony of this tour is that perhaps the best pictures are ones which have not been printed by the British media at the request of Kensington Palace. They were taken by the Australian media last Monday, when the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were enjoying a rest day at Government House in Canberra, playing in the grounds with George.

The Duchess was seen carrying George on her shoulders, playing row, row, row your boat with him on the lawn and taking family snapshots.

On the same day, Australian TV crews filmed the Duke and Duchess going for a stroll, hand in hand, so happy that at one point the Duchess jumped up and tried to click her heels together in the air like Charlie Chaplin. Kensington Palace argued that the photographs, taken with zoom lenses, were an invasion of the couple's privacy, hence the request not to use them in the UK.

Invasive they may have been, but they showed the Duke and Duchess at their best: playful, loving and human, proving that stage management can only get you so far.

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- Daily Telegraph UK

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