The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall were in Canada last week on a four-day royal junket.
As is typical of royal tours, Charles and Camilla came and went without much fuss — a few unveilings here, a few speeches there — spending a brief few days in the Maritimes and making a pit stop in Winnipeg before heading back, no worse for wear, across the pond.
It was a fairly uneventful tour, minus a couple of awkward moments with a cross-dressing Queen Elizabeth impersonator in P.E.I. and a brief, entirely overstated diplomatic skirmish following Charles’ candid comparison of Adolf Hitler and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
All in all, though, it was an ordinary, characteristically boring few days for the royals.
“Camilla unveiled a coin designed by the Royal Canadian Mint for the (Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s) 75th anniversary,” read The Globe and Mail. Charles and Camilla “arrived in Pictou, N.S., Monday to visit the replica ship Hector,” said CBC News. “Prince Charles plays waiter to a polar bear,” read the National Post.
Captivating stuff, really.
The royals are celebrities, but you have to admit, they are celebrities of the most uninteresting kind. And despite the ostensible significance of a royal visit by the heir to the throne, it makes you wonder whether something else could have occupied newspapers’ front sections.
Still, the play-by-play of the royal visit was printed in most Canadian dailies, up and down the country. And still, Prince Charles and Camilla, whose brief visit drew small crowds and subdued public interest, attracted uninterrupted media details.
Reports from national media cited the mere dozens of people showing up to see Charles and Camilla during certain events. Meanwhile the royals were shepherded from one absurd photo-op to the next, snapping pictures with ducks, giant wooden mallets and Anne of Green Gables.
It was news, I suppose, because of who they are and what they represent within the Canadian cultural mosaic (whatever that means), but coverage of their visit felt unmistakably forced, and enough so that when there finally was a real bit of hard news, however worthless, media pounced from all sides.
When Charles made what in retrospect was a fairly underwhelming private comment comparing Vladimir Putin to Hitler (a comparison already drawn by many in the West, though perhaps not by those in the British House of Commons or U.K. diplomatic circles), it was the first real story of the tour.
Royals aren’t supposed to speak on political matters, we were reminded, especially when their remarks could bring about the type of diplomatic headaches common to hypersensitive international issues like the current civil unrest in Ukraine.
But nevertheless, from the beginning, coverage surrounding Charles’ comment seemed overblown.
Granted, British media picked up the story and it seemed to overshadow the remainder of the Canadian tour, but it was generally worthless information given the prince’s purely ceremonial role and the already souring international relations between Russia and the West.
Reporters on the royal tour, starved for interesting, off-script content — a bit of Technicolor amid all the beige — may have simply been a little overzealous.
Regardless, the ceaseless coverage of Charles and Camilla’s latest visit, even as 48 per cent of Canadians, according to a 2010 Canadian Press Decima-Harris poll, consider the monarchy “a relic of our colonial past that has no place in Canada today,” was a striking reflection of where Canada is stuck right now on the Royal Family.
Not sure how the Windsors fit into our day-to-day lives anymore, but aware of their historical significance to Canada, media made the royal visit into news and soldiered on with coverage that reflected a different time period, when thousands — not dozens — of people turned out to see the royals cut a ribbon or make a speech.
All the same, treating the couple as Canadian royalty during an unrelenting four-day media blitz, while perhaps constitutionally accurate given their status, felt dishonest. Charles and Camilla, in today’s Canada, have more of a place as celebrities than as royals, and the media should keep that in mind.
Patrick Butler, who’s from Conception Bay South, is a second-year journalism student at Carleton University. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.