Prince William let down his guard during Canadian tour
Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, makes a speech during a welcome ceremony in Yellowknife, on Tuesday, July 5, 2011. (AP / Charlie Riedel)
Published Saturday, July 9, 2011 8:24AM EDT
For someone who has guarded his privacy intensely over the years, is it possible that Prince William chose Canada to finally reveal a bit more of his true self?
Until now, many of us didn't know much about the prince -- which was how he preferred it. Sure, we witnessed him growing up, we noted his on-again, off-again relationship with Kate. And then of course, we watched his spectacular wedding at the end of April.
But how many of us had ever heard William speak (beyond wedding vows)? How many of us had seen him interact with regular folks? Perhaps a few people in rural Wales where they lived quietly as a couple before marrying. But during this tour to Canada, Prince William finally let down a bit of his guard.
And it seems that we approved. The royal couple's tour was deemed a success almost from the first day.
"This tour has really been amazing," Tim Ewart a royal correspondent for ITV News, told CTV News Channel.
"There haven't been any glitches, there have been no hiccups, all the images have been good. Everything has gone absolutely according to plan. And I think that was one of the reasons why Canada was chosen for the debut for William and Kate: because you're used to handling royal visits."
Much of the success was due in large part to a great deal of behind-the-scenes planning. But William's most captivating moments came not during the official appearances and speeches. It was more often when he and Kate broke away from the formality. It was in the walkabouts, the meetings with young people, the canoe rides and races that we finally got a glimpse of what might be the "real" prince.
Yes, many of those meetings and moments were orchestrated too, but we'd like to think William played a role in those arrangements. It was the prince, of course, who asked for the most unscripted moment of all: the chance to try "waterbirding" in a Sea King helicopter.
One can't imagine another royal, like William's father, Prince Charles, asking to pilot a helicopter while on a royal visit, just so he could try out a new flying maneuver. But it's said that one of the first requests William placed for his tour of Canada was the chance to try to land a Sea King on the water.
Even among the tour's many scripted moments were unexpected ones – like the small fuss caused by "the hug." It happened right after William beat Kate in a dragon boat race on P.E.I., when he walked over to her, said something in her ear and hugged her around her waist. For anyone else, the gesture would have seemed natural after a friendly race. But for a member of the royal family, it was a brief but rarely witnessed display of public affection that was almost stunning in its intimacy.
William took other small chances during the tour, speaking to chefs in Quebec in French and saying thank-you in Yellowknife in the local Dene and Inuvialuit dialects.
He also revealed his athletic side, with the dragon boat races, the road hockey games, the foosball game at the shelter for street kids. Sure, his attire sometimes looked a little out of place, paddling as he did in a dress shirt or shooting pucks in a suit and tie. But even dressed formally, William rarely looked uncomfortable.
Those who got the chance to meet the prince said he showed more warmth than they expected.
Reporters described how instead of moving through an event quickly, delivering handshakes and pleasantries, William and Kate often took the time to make personal connections, frequently falling behind schedule just to finish a conversation.
And it might well be that Canada contains a few more royal lovers now than it did just two weeks ago. While most of us wouldn't admit to full monarchist conversions, we might be willing to concede we were a little more entranced with the newlyweds than we thought we'd be.
Much of what draws us to William and Kate, of course, is pure celebrity. The couple couldn't get much more A-list than they are right now. The fact that both Kate and William take a great photo and are easy on the eyes can't hurt either.
But their appeal is also about the two of them as a couple.
It's clear that William and Kate are in love. But they also appear to be great friends who were having a lot more fun together than we ever saw between William's parents.
"I feel we got a real glimpse into how they are together, how they interact together," royal correspondent Victoria Arbiter told CTV's Canada AM on the royal couple's final day in Canada.
"The trip has been an enormous success across the board. They set a very high bar for future tours."
Some of us might feel a twinge of relief to see Prince William happy because we remember when he once was anything but.
The shocking death of William's mother, Diana, in 1997 elicited an outpouring of sympathy for the young royal, who was just 15 at the time. Who can forget the envelope on Diana's casket at her funeral with the heartbreaking "Mummy" scrawled across? We felt William's pain then and perhaps, we want to see now that he "turned out all right," that he's happy, and that he carries himself with the grace and quiet glamour that his mother was known for.
It's pretty hard not to be reminded of Princess Diana every time we look at William. Not only is the resemblance unmistakable, he has some of her mannerisms too, most notably: her shy smile.
But he's also inherited a bit of what made Diana "the people's princess": her seeming ability to engage easily with ordinary people.
And it's that that Canadians will remember most.