Fairytale Diplomacy: From a State Visit to Celebrating Veterans, the Royals Bestowed Their Best Selves on Both Sides of the Pond
Catherine, Princess of Wales, wearing the Queen Mother’s Strathmore Rose Tiara ahead of the State Banquet at Buckingham Palace earlier this week. It was the first time the tiara had been seen in public in almost 90 years. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire/Getty Images
This week the the royal family has been doing what it does best: duty carried out with grace. In Britain, King Charles, supported by his wife and heir, hosted a state visit, delivering on the pomp and circumstance. In Vancouver, Prince Harry served up warmth and style in a pre-Invictus Games visit. The royals on each side of the pond ignored the attempted drama of the new Omid Scobie book, Endgame, and presented their peak professional selves, so to speak. That meant there was also no drama.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex were in Vancouver in connection with the upcoming Invictus Games, set to take place in the city in 2025. On Monday night, they attended the Canucks game, where Harry dropped the puck for the match-up against the San Jose Sharks. This was a neat bit of rhyming theatre, as the Queen dropped the puck at a game with the same teams back during her Golden Jubilee tour of Canada in 2002.
Even after stepping down from his official duties to the Crown in 2020, Harry will always be royal; it is in his blood. He is the son of Charles and Diana, and sixth in line to the throne. The Invictus Games are his signature cause and legacy achievement from his royal service, and Monday night was a reminder of the fact that he intends philanthropy to always be at the centre of his life’s work and legacy. He has been spotted in the audience in a number of VIP suites at major superstar concerts recently, but a hockey game in a Commonwealth country — especially one to which he and Meghan has such strong and sentimental ties — was a nice, wholesome grounding moment.
There is more rhyming of a history of positive public service here: the couple had a great success as Harry presided over the Invictus Games in Germany this past summer. The Toronto Invictus Games of 2017 was Meghan’s debut as a royal girlfriend, and the attention their budding romance drew helped boost awareness for the initiative. Vancouver is also where the couple retreated in the prelude and postlude of their royal step-down, so the city has personal resonance for the Sussexes as well.
While in town, Meghan also underlined a cause close to her heart when she took the opportunity to check in on a charity she has previously supported, Justice for Girls, whose goal is equality for teen girls in poverty in Canada and around the world. Empowerment for girls has been a lifelong passion for the Duchess, who has spoken at the UN on the subject in the past.
Meanwhile, back in Britain, King Charles hosted a state visit, welcoming South Korean president Yoon Suk Yeol and wife Kim Keon-hee. All the bells and whistles were pulled out, with the Prince and Princess of Wales accompanying the Korean delegation from their hotel to Whitehall for the Horse Guards Parade, where they met the King and Queen and key U.K. politicians.
Kate stood out in a dramatic red candy apple cape coatdress by Catherine Walker with a large angled bow at the neck, which matched the red of the South Korean flag. A wide hat worn at an angle balanced the look. As she passed the sovereign, her deep curtsey drew plaudits. This high impact outfit was a switch from the monochromatic suits she has been wearing all fall for engagements, as well as a twist on the usual slim coatdresses she usually wears to formal occasions. William coordinated with Kate with a red tie.
That night, to dwell on Kate’s fashion a little longer — it is the most effective communications tool the royals have, pushing photos of any event viral — the Princess of Wales donned a sharp-shouldered Jenny Packham white gown with gilded embroidery on the sleeves, completed with dramatic long white opera gloves. She managed to make waves with her headpiece choice: the Queen Mother’s Strathmore Rose Tiara, which bears her family name and was given to her 100 years ago by her father on the occasion of her marriage to the Duke of York, who later became George VI when his brother abdicated. As the tiara had not been seen since she wore it to George VI’s coronation in 1937, for crown jewellery fans this was a big moment.
Queen Camilla took up the red in the flag for the evening State Banquet, in a velvet evening gown by one of her favoured designers, Fiona Clare. With this, she wore the Burmese Ruby tiara, a favourite headpiece of the late Queen Elizabeth. This was a masterful bookending by royal stylists, with the dazzling young Princess of Wales taking a quieter sartorial back seat so the Queen would stand out at the formal affair. Red suits Camilla, and the gown was a flattering cut with fitted bodice, slightly puffed sleeves (an uncharacteristic nod to a current trend) and a subtly pleated skirt for fullness.
Though she generally has not pursued status as a fashion plate, per se, Camilla has notably stepped up her style game since the coronation, and this is a prime example of her starting to set her senior style into focus. It is a nice followup to the Louis Vuitton cape she wore on the state visit to France in September, holding her own with the always chic First Lady Brigitte Macron.
We are seeing more of the Crown Jewels than we have in many years. Back in the 80s, Diana, as the Princess of Wales, was loaned some incredible pieces from Queen Elizabeth’s vault. Now that Charles is king, the jewellery is his to loan. He clearly wants to bedeck his wife in glorious pieces. And it suits, as Camilla is known to love and enjoy wearing jewellery.
But as throughout her royal life, Kate as been restrained in her jewellery, this is only her third tiara style since her marriage, making it the fashion news of the state banquet. Wearing big gems are tricky these days: provenance is one issue, if the jewels are colonially sourced; so too is an ostentatious show of wealth. But re-wearing sentimental pieces, especially ones that throw back to fond memories of the Queen and the Queen Mum, mitigate the criticism.
Charles, meanwhile, scored big pop culture points by bringing BLACKPINK into the mix. He awarded the four-woman band with honorary MBEs to recognize their advocacy of environmental issues at the COP26 summit in Glasgow. Charles also spoke Korean to the president and guests at the banquet, which BLACKPINK attended, and made reference to other South Korean cultural juggernauts such as BTS and Squid Games and Bong Joon-ho, the director of the Oscar-winning film Parasite.
This was Charles at his best, as well. He has always been a good speaker, and works at cultural (and intergenerational) references. He even made a Gangnam-style throwback joke. (The band of the Coldstream Guards later played the tune by Psy in the forecourt of Buckingham Palace.)
This is the force of British pomp and circumstance at its best. The modern role of the Royal Family is to raise awareness of issues, and to use all the carriages and fancy mounted horses and gowns and tiaras and signalling the colours of the flag with your dress to further larger goals.
There is an elegance to this castle and fairytale diplomacy. It is a soft power that can resonate in the most formal reception rooms of Buckingham Palace, or the stands of a hockey game in Canada.