Like no other royal tour: William and Kate usher in new, more informal era

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Like no other royal tour: William and Kate usher in new, more informal era

TORONTO - Picture the Queen wearing jeans. Or Prince Charles getting sprayed in the face while gamely paddling a dragon boat.

Can't do it? No wonder. This royal tour has been like no other.

"It's been the most informal royal tour in history," said Rafal Heydel-Mankoo, a royal commentator and historian.

"It should be noted that the Royal Family isn't quite as stuffy and formal as some people may think. The problem is we have an aging Royal Family and it's been quite a long time since we've actually seen any young people visiting Canada."

William and Kate got their hands dirty making lobster souffle. William tried his hand at foosball, or tabletop soccer. They took a soaking in a dragon boat race, hiked in the Rockies, gamely donned Canadian Rangers hoodie sweatshirt and full western wear including cowboy hats and boots for the Calgary Stampede.

There have been some moments of informality on royal tours in the past. In fact, the Queen — when she was Princess Elizabeth — and Prince Philip in 1951 square danced at Rideau Hall, Heydel-Mankoo said. Philip wore jeans and a checked shirt, while the Queen wore a "country skirt" and plaid blouse.

In 1939 the Queen Mother and King George VI pioneered the royal walkabout, said royalty expert Carolyn Harris. In 1983 William's mother Diana broke with protocol and bent down to talk to children, she added.

But no other royal tour before has embraced such a degree of informality throughout, which is a very deliberate attempt to keep the monarchy relevant for younger Canadians, Heydel-Mankoo said.

"The essence of this royal tour is essentially to refashion the monarchy into a 21st-century institution in order to reconnect on a deeply personal way with the next generation of Canadians," he said.

'We're seeing a change in the whole structure of the British monarchy. The monarchy itself is becoming less formal, the monarchy that no longer is a stickler for protocol."

Hardly anyone seemed to bow or curtsy to the couple and they seemed to joke and laugh easily with the thousands of people who came out to see them. The couple fell behind the tightly regimented schedule most days as they tried to meet with as many Canadians as possible.

Throwing the staid royal tradition and rules out the window is a theme in William and Kate's lives, so it makes sense that it would carry over to their first official tour, Harris said. In their private lives they are active and independent, doing household chores themselves, she said.

"A lot of the athletic events (of the tour), like the dragon boat racing or the street hockey, really demonstrate both of them are sporty people with a great love of the outdoors," said Harris, a PhD candidate at Queen's University who specializes in royal history.

"The Queen has dropped the puck ceremonially at an NHL game, but you could never imagine her actually picking up a stick and participating."

The past two royal tours Canada has received — from the Queen and Prince Philip in 2010 and Prince Charles and Camilla in 2009 — had a much higher degree of formality. Those tours involved much more of the royals observing ceremonies rather than taking part in activities. Those tours also involved little public contact between the royal couple, which contrasts with the physical affection William and Kate showed each other on this tour.

"They're trying to put a human face on the monarchy and by engaging with people and getting into a dragon boat and having a race, by trying to cook lobster they're showing that they really aren't that different from everybody else," Heydel-Mankoo said.

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