The occasion was a visit to my school in Bermuda where he was attending a Board Meeting for the Duke of Edinburgh Awards. There is no question but that, as a school, we put on our best face. We raked, polished, painted and planned. Parents scrubbed faces and bleached shirts. And the kids, well, they were nothing short of wonderful. Our elementary students were excited and energetic while patiently waiting (the motorcade was about 20 minutes late) and both respectful and gregarious when the Prince arrived and chatted with them. Our middle school students greeted our visitors with respect and enthusiasm, but they were open and chatty and keen to share in their love and pride for their school.
So, what of all the pomp and circumstance? Well, to be honest, there wasn’t much. The Earl of Wessex proved to be a charming, down to earth, very genuine individual who drove his schedule-obsessed “handlers” crazy because all he seemed to want to do was to spend time talking with our students. He joked with them, probed them about their courses, their interests, their athletic pursuits, and made them, and all of us, perfectly at ease as he worked his way systematically through the student “gauntlet” that had been laid out in front of him. Interestingly, our youngest children—the ones who had been anticipating the visit the most– were probably a tad disappointed. (“Where’s his crown?” “Where’s his horse?” and after he had gone upstairs, “Who was that man? When does the Prince get here?”). By contrast, our older students had exhibited the usual teenaged feigned indifference to the visit prior to his arrival. Once he was there however, they were the most engaged and charmed. Most of them realized that they were actually speaking with someone famous on the world stage, and that he was genuinely interested in what they had to say.
When I was growing up there was a common joke that in the twenty-first century there would be only five kings left in the world: Clubs, Diamonds, Hearts, Spades, and England’s! And, as a Canadian, I have always had a casual and slightly indifferent acceptance of the monarchy. The Queen represented a symbolic link to a thousand years of parliamentary tradition and, the best part was, her salary was paid by someone else! Edward’s grandfather (recently lionized in the outstanding film “The King’s Speech”) died when I was one year old. I grew up alongside Charles, Anne, Andrew and Edward (although they never once called me for a play-date) but they were always more like characters in a book than real people. However, that day in Bermuda, I thought, you know, it is kind of nice that there are some people in the world that are above politics, not visiting schools as a photo-op but rather out of a genuine interest in children. People who can take time to speak and listen to kids and give each one the attention they so richly deserve.
I promise that I am not a closet monarchist! But Edward’s interaction with my students on that day was a tangible definition of the concept of “prince”.