William and Kate's Sweden visit could 'sweeten relations'

By Nicholas Witchell
Royal correspondent

Image source, PA
Image caption,
The Cambridges take tea at Haga Palace, Stockholm, with Crown Princess Victoria and Prince Daniel

William and Catherine in Scandinavia: a royal tour and, as ever, the consequential tension between style and substance and the need, greater than ever in this age of social media, to separate verified fact from utter tosh.

This is not to say that "style" in the context of a royal visit is unimportant. To take the most obvious example, the outfits worn by the Duchess of Cambridge, there are a good many people to whom it does matter what she wears.

And for sure their curiosity is well served by elements of the media whose news editors expect reports on every detail of the hat, coat, shoes, handbag, earrings etc, etc, that's she's chosen for a particular engagement. For the fashion label that is chosen, it can mean an immediate sales bonanza.

Readers are interested, just as they are in snippets of overheard royal conversation: so on this visit we've learnt that the Cambridges have some IKEA furniture and that William was delighted with a new device to clean his dog's paws.

The small stuff helps to maintain interest and project the impression of a down-to-earth couple whose lives, for all their privileged position, nevertheless has recognisable aspects to it.

But there is more to a royal visit than that. William and Catherine are visiting Sweden and Norway at the request of the British Foreign Office. It is the latest instalment in the deployment of the royal family to sweeten relations with those all-important European friends and allies.

It's a role to which the royals are suited. For one thing, capital P Politics are firmly disallowed: but the arrival of senior members of the British royal family unfailingly forces both nations, the host and the visitor, to reflect on what makes the relationship between the two countries special. Historical ties are recalled: contemporary links celebrated.

It won't transform difficult political negotiations but it can sometimes, say diplomats with experience of these things, soften some of the tougher edges.

Finally then to the need to root the reporting of royal tours in fact rather than in fantasy.

According to a tweet from one news outlet William and Kate have been welcomed by "huge crowds" in Stockholm.

Just one problem. They haven't. What's more the news organisation which published this tweet does not have anyone in Sweden covering the visit.

The crowds have been decent but no more. On the main public walk out in Stockholm, in the square outside the Nobel Museum, there were perhaps 1,000 people.

The facts are sturdy enough to speak for themselves: it's one thing to fall back on light-hearted colour in the reporting of royal visits (we've all done it); it's quite another to distort reality.