One of my favourite stories about the royal family and their work goes like this.
While Diana, Princess of Wales, is revered for her work supporting AIDS victims in the 80s, Princess Margaret's efforts on this front generally get overlooked. In fact, Margaret first got involved with London Lighthouse, a centre and hospice for AIDS sufferers, in 1987, offering what was later referred to as "unstinting support" for the cause.
It would be easy to assume that her commitment did not extend beyond turning up every now and then, trailing quivering minions and the whiff of cigarettes and hairspray, to perfunctorily open something.
Not at all. Instead, she would pop in for spontaneous visits such that they kept a bottle of Famous Grouse whisky and Highland Spring mineral water permanently on hand. ("It might be 11 in the morning or four in the afternoon," one staff member later explained. "If you didn't serve Famous Grouse, she could identify exactly what was in its place.")
A lot has changed since those days and it is nothing short of hilarious to imagine William and Kate, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's faces if they turned up at one of their chosen charities and were presented with a stiff drink. (Though do, just for a minute. Entertaining, no?)
In 2021, royal work is pursued with the professionalism and vigour of any corporate outfit and in recent years, the Cambridges' Royal Foundation has only gone from strength to strength, including financially.
However, something very curious has emerged about the Foundation's fortunes: They made £9.4 million more in the year after Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, left.
A quick history lesson here. In 2009, Princes William and Harry started their very own Royal Foundation to act as an umbrella body to look after all their various philanthropic interests. When William turned an art history graduate and part-time accessories buyer into his future Queen, Kate came on board too. Ditto when Harry married Suits star Meghan Markle.
From just over a year after their wedding, the body was known as The Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Quite the mouthful.
Here's hoping they didn't order too much new stationery with that name on it because that particular iteration of the Foundation only lasted 13 months until June of 2019 when Harry and Meghan charged off to set up their own household, office and to launch Sussex Royal. (And that entity of course, didn't even hit its first year anniversary with the Sussexes demobbing from royal life in January 2021.)
Which brings us to the Foundation's accounts. As a registered charity they are required to release annual financial reports, a riot-a-minute to read if you enjoy wading through page-after-page of torpor-inducing beaucrate-ese.
But it's the numbers we are interested in. See, in 2019, when Harry and Meghan were still in the mix, the Foundation raised $12.3 million.
But in 2020? With the Sussexes having left the historic building to lead impactful lives and commit other crimes against the English language? That figure skyrocketed and nearly doubled to $21.7 million. That, in case you were wondering, amounted to an increase of nearly 77 per cent which is staggering given that other major British charities faced significant downturns in their fundraising during the pandemic. (That said, corporate giving was up by 5 per cent in the US thanks to a booming stock market.)
Still. An increase of just short of $10 million in the bank? That's nearly unheard of.
(And for any pedants out there, the Foundation's expenditure was actually less in 2020 than in 2019 – $16.9 million versus $17.1 million. And of that 2020 sum, $15.2 million was spent on charitable activities and not buying William and Kate monogrammed pens and an office Nespresso machine.)
This financial state of play is a huge turn up for the books, because in the wake of Harry and Meghan's exit from the Royal Foundation in 2019, the picture looked markedly less cheery.
Back then, the glittering Sussexes' exodus looked like a body blow for the Foundation and for William and Kate. It was the younger Prince and his wife who were the major drawcards, the sparkly, exciting duo who were energising and invigorating the image of the monarchy.
The assumption was, back when we were so young and the world had no idea where Montecito was, that the big cheques, the press and the public interest would follow the couple, leaving William and Kate to be thoroughly eclipsed.
That very well might have come to pass if Harry and Meghan hadn't chosen to testily drop out of royal working life less than a year later in January 2020, at which point the Queen put her tiny size six foot down and denied them their hope of pursuing both official, occasional work on behalf of the crown and commercial ventures.
(That would have been a bit like if the Prime Minister or the Pope announced they were only going to do their jobs on some days and on the others wanted to churn out YouTube content to make money. Don't forget to hit like and subscribe!)
What the benefit of hindsight shows is that what looked like a body blow for the Royal Foundation back in 2019 now seems to have been the making of William and Kate's work.
Like a contemporary Aesop's fable, the Cambridges have emerged as a dynamic, money-making and philanthropic tour de force.
Since then, they have both launched the biggest standalone projects of their careers (the Earthshot Prize and the Early Years project), which have earned William and Kate nothing but an outpouring of praise and public support. Both are highly ambitious initiatives with the aim of creating very tangible and significant real world change. Not bad for a couple who, for a long time, could most generously be described as 'inoffensive'.
While their taste in mid-priced sweaters might not have changed, their images and their objectives have both scaled up dramatically.
Confirming the breadth of the couple's aspirations was the news this week that the Foundation's Chairman, Lord Hague of Richmond is vacating his seat in the House of Lords to focus on his work with the royal couple.
Likewise, on Monday it was announced that next year's Earthshot Prize will be held in the United States.
Given that this year's attendants were asked not to fly in for the event, it would therefore make sense that the Cambridges would attend the 'Eco Oscars' off the back of a North American tour, setting the stage for a Wales brother face-off on US soil. (Quick, someone hide the nuclear codes!)
The thing about that extra $9.4 million in the Foundation coffers isn't just that it will give them significantly more dosh and resources to pursue their work but that it represents such a clear-cut vote of confidence in the couple's long-term plans and objectives.
If there is one thing we can confidently say about William and Kate these days is that they have become the Couple Most Likely to exceed our expectations, which somehow in this topsy-turvy, hurly-burly new world this makes a certain amount of sense. Even more impressive, this they have managed without any bottles of whiskey stashed around the office. Princess Margaret would most certainly not approve.
• Daniela Elser is a royal expert and a writer with more than 15 years' experience working with a number of Australia's leading media titles.