On the seat there was a sign. HRH Prince of Wales.
Prince William, not his father, is now taking that place, but in his first speech as next in line to the throne there were distinct similarities with what we saw from the former heir.
William reaffirming his dedication to an environmental cause, this time the “war” against the illegal wildlife trade, in memory of his grandmother.
It felt like he was firmly setting out that he won’t be keeping quiet about what matters to him, in fact it’s only going to step up a gear.
Those who’ve worked with them tell me you don’t get a sense of a hard relaunch for brand Prince and Princess of Wales, they have a well laid out thematic agenda for their work and they are sticking to it.
This week has really been a showcase for where they want to make a difference; engagements focusing on mental health, early years development, football and the environment.
Of course King Charles as heir was criticised for being too political, with suggestions he’d end up a “meddling monarch”.
It is a label that William and his team are likely to wary of, but there are suggestions we may now actually hear more from him rather than less.
Lord William Hague, who’s worked with the prince for eight years and is now the chair of William and Kate’s charity, told me: “Certainly in the royal foundation, we’re not changing tone, you know, if anything, we’re going up another gear with a tone that’s well established of how to help with certain issues of some of society’s deepest problems where we need to bring people together to work on… There will be other issues to come in the future. So I think you will find for the Prince and Princess of Wales that work very much goes on and if anything, goes up another gear.”
Talking about the potential to stray into the political, he added: “We’re always careful, the royal foundation is non-political of course and it’s global. So of course we have to take great care with the issues that we work on. But there is no shortage of those issues. It’s absolutely right for a royal family that’s engaged with the world and wants to help people and serve people to get involved with.”
I’m told doing more to help the homeless is one area where we could see more work, especially now he has the network of land and businesses associated with the Duchy of Cornwall to play with as heir.
We wait to see if William’s wider popularity, and the fact he’s younger, make it more palatable for him to share his views compared to his father’s experience; the prince like others in the family will also inevitably be watching and reading to see how the change of reign and what they’re doing is being received.
The royals don’t do their own opinion rating polls but members of some households have been reading other polling since the Queen died to see how their messaging has been playing out.
A source observed that “their strength has come in continuity. The household hierarchy means Buckingham Palace leads, so there are guard rails in place to stick to”.
Too constraining potentially for a power couple with global appeal? We know how Harry and Meghan felt about it, but William and Kate appear happy to remain important supporters for the King and Queen Consort, who will benefit from the backing and reflected popularity of his son and daughter-in-law.
Of course they want to do things differently from the past. Kate is aware of the heavy weight that comes with being a new Princess of Wales and following Diana, and as we saw this week, on her visit to a maternity ward in Guildford, she wants to make her own impact through getting more support for families with young children.
Ultimately they both see themselves as parents first, a former member of royal staff said that being good parents is their “north star”, and we know they want to try to give their children a relatively normal life. But they’re both aware that doing what they want to do can bring criticism.
Back in 2016 William was accused of being work-shy, a position taken by The Sun newspaper when he was doing fewer royal engagements and flying the air ambulance in East Anglia. The journalist who wrote it was Emily Andrews and William wanted a word.
“To be fair, he took it on the chin at least publicly with me. And he said that it was fair enough, but there were a lot of things we hadn’t seen behind the scenes. And actually fast forward to 2019/2020 and we heard a bit more about the stuff that he’d been doing with the air ambulance, the children’s lives he’d been saving,” Emily said.
“I think that’s the point about William. I think he has been on a journey with the press and his public persona. He cares very much about how he’s portrayed in the press. Make no mistake, even if he gives off the impression that he doesn’t.”
On one visit to Northern Ireland in 2020 we both spotted the editor of The Sun shadowing the prince for the day.
Around that time she wasn’t the only newspaper editor who’d been invited to spend time getting to know his work better.
I am told that both William and Kate pay a very active interest in how their events are covered, a lot of prep work goes into how it’s going to be perceived, how it looks.
As they step up it does feel like a missed opportunity that more context and background on the work going on behind the scenes hasn’t always been briefed, and often that’s been put down to it being a small and young team.
There is a sense that approach may be changing, not just to counter potentially negative headlines, or because their roles have changed, but ultimately because what they can deliver is incredibly powerful; a global platform to get messages out to a huge audience, and an unrivalled ability to convene on issues like the illegal wildlife trade.
Lord Hague told me it’s something the Americans are very envious of.
He said: “The US government said to me, no government in the world could do what you’re doing in the royal foundation, what Prince William is doing on this issue. Because you see we have Chinese airlines, departments of the Chinese government working in the same grouping as the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and companies from across the Western world, with no political mistrust or suspicion about a government organising it. So what Prince William has shown with this, with the royal foundation, on wildlife is really that there’s this tremendous convening power.”
From conversations I’ve had you don’t get the sense that the couple want to dramatically shake things up with a shiny new strategy when it comes to the institution.
During the Queen’s reign change was often subtle and never sudden. From everything we’re seeing that now appears to be a tradition her family are keen to preserve, if the more questioning world they now operate in will allow it.