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Canada royal tour: Will history repeat itself?

30 June 11 01:23
Duke and Duchess of Cambridge
By Peter Hunt
Royal correspondent, BBC News

Kate Middleton has married her prince, she has become a duchess (not a princess - this is Windsor reality rather than a fairytale) and now, like so many new royal entrants before her, she is being "launched" abroad.

Some of the talk in recent days has been about how this "fresh and modern" couple will break new ground as they tour parts of Canada's vastness over nine days.

The reality is that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are following in tried and tested regal footsteps - Fergie and Andrew have the cowboy hats and Prince Philip a rather fetching lumberjack shirt from the 50s to prove it.

In devising a programme for Prince William and his wife, the Canadian authorities have taken into account their youth.

There will be an emphasis on meetings with young people. One of the first of these will be with Keenan Schleyer, who will be on the tarmac at Ottawa International Airport when the royal couple touch down.

Keenan has told reporters he knows what he cannot say to his country's guests.

"No bad words, no rude stuff. But I can say, like, nice stuff."

The nine-year-old boy, who will hand Kate a bouquet of flowers, added for good measure: "I saw the royal kiss."

New experience

There will be many such encounters during a trip which will take them to Quebec, and the threat of a demonstration by those who want to form a breakaway French-speaking state.

They will also go to Prince Edward Island, where the confederation of Canada's provinces was signed in 1864 and where, 147 years later, William and Kate will race against each other in a dragon boat race.

And they will go to Calgary where, like Fergie and Andrew before them, they will wear white cowboy hats and witness the Calgary Stampede - an annual rodeo which the organisers call "the greatest outdoor show on earth".

As with much of her life these past two months, Canada for the former Kate Middleton is a completely new experience. Her husband has visited before, but not on this scale.

In 1991, the young prince joined his parents, Charles and Diana, on board Britannia. In 1998, after Diana's death, he returned.

The shy teenager, who peered out from under his fringe, as his mother had sometimes done, was greeted by hordes of screaming teenagers.

Thirteen years on, their admirers' ardour has presumably cooled - he is not available, and the spotlight will be on his wife.

Intense scrutiny

People will not be talking about the cut of William's chinos or the colour of the visible handkerchief complementing his double-breasted suit.

When it happened to his father, Prince Charles struggled with the lack of attention. He felt upstaged and outshone by his first wife. If he, rather than Diana, emerged from a car next to a crowd, some people would groan.

The future king used to tell them: "I'm afraid you've got me. You'd better ask for your money back."

For 11 days - first in Canada, then in California - Kate's every move and every outfit will be subjected to intense global scrutiny. It has the potential to take its toll.

The then Princess Elizabeth first visited Canada in 1951. It became a common complaint that she was not smiling enough. An exasperated princess told an official: "My face is aching with smiling."

During a long train journey across the second largest country in the world, Prince Philip relieved the monotony by chasing his wife and future monarch down the corridor wearing a set of joke false teeth.

When Sarah Ferguson was being embraced rather than being spurned by the Royal Family back in the 80s, her first overseas tour was also to Canada.

Strength of character

Her autobiography captures the pain she experienced in private. The Duchess of York wrote how her "dress requirements alone would have sent a saner woman screaming to the nearest exit" and "after 10 days of ceaseless changing I was ready to burn the lot of them".

The hope in royal circles will be that William has the strength of character to cope with being upstaged - and that Kate has the maturity to not be damaged, as others have been before her, by a worldwide interest which can be both flattering and draining in equal measure.

So far, in public, the Duchess of Cambridge has appeared poised and self-confident.

Canada - which has had a monarchy for centuries - is a safe first stop for a royal spreading her new wings. The US is an obvious second - the country's inhabitants continue to be fascinated by an institution they rejected a long time ago.

William and Kate's time in Los Angeles will prompt inevitable comparisons with Charles and Diana's first visit to the US in 1985.

William's mother danced with John Travolta at a White House dinner, coped with President Reagan referring to her in a toast as "Princess David", and captivated the country with her glitz and glamour.

Indeed, one American television station declared there had not been so much excitement "since the British burned our capital". Is history about to repeat itself?

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