As the Duke of Cambridge turns 40 and enters a new phase of his life, one question remains the same: Why do so many people prefer the idea of him taking the throne in his father’s place? In polls undertaken by Ipsos earlier in the year, 42 per cent of respondents felt that Prince Charles should stand aside and allow his son to become the next monarch. This was highest in the youngest age group, and gradually tapered off to 34 per cent in the eldest. Given that nearly half of those surveyed believed that Charles will do a good job as monarch, the desire to instead see William take the throne is still surprisingly strong.
Perhaps it’s due to the ease to William’s manner that his father does not always seem to possess. When giving their respective speeches at the Party at the Palace during the jubilee weekend, this contrast was clear. William’s showed the signs of a natural orator: confident and with an instinctive rhythm that left room for the reactions of the crowd. Charles, on the other hand, faltered a little more and his speech, whilst mostly well received, was not quite as smooth. During his engagements, the Duke of Cambridge comes across as incredibly personable: his recent work selling The Big Issue on the streets of London is a great example of this.
His likeability is a trait he shares with both his brother Prince Harry and his late mother Diana. Her ability to genuinely connect with people and undertake a charm offensive certainly made her incredibly beloved amongst the public. It seems some of this popularity has rubbed off on William. He has been more open about how much he misses his mother in recent years, and during his recent interview with The Big Issue, he explained how much of inspiration she is in his philanthropic endeavours. This kind of openness only endears him more to the public. In some ways, he possesses the best traits of both his parents: he has inherited Charles’ seriousness and dedication and his mother’s likeability and personal flair.
His marriage also arguably plays a role for those who would prefer him to take the throne over Charles. It has compounded a sense of consistency and steadiness that is reminiscent of the Queen and Prince Philip. William and Kate, after meeting at the University of St. Andrews, enjoyed what was, in many ways, a relatively normal relationship timeline. Despite the goldfish bowl that it took place under, many of the landmarks they passed were much the same as so many other couples around the country. Where Charles and Diana’s marriage was marred with scandal and infidelity, William and Kate’s has provided a stable and fixed backdrop for William to take on more and more royal duties.
William might be entering his forties, but even now at the very beginning of his middle age he still represents the more youthful side of the monarchy. During the final balcony appearance of the jubilee celebrations, joined by his young children, the Cambridges seemed like an attractive family still at the beginning of things. There is an appeal to this alone. If tradition were to be bypassed and William made King directly after his grandmother, he and his family would grow into the role alongside the public. As it stands, when it is finally William’s turn to take the crown, he will in all likelihood be a relatively old man.
It can be presumed that moving up the line of succession is not something he would really look forward to at all — given it is contingent on the death of a loved one. With the current line of succession as it is, the United Kingdom will not again see a younger monarch for many decades, if at all. No one who supports William being made King would be eager for catastrophe to strike his family and change his destiny with an untimely death, which may be why the thought of Charles choosing to hand the reins over to William himself seems so appealing to many. While the Duke of Cambridge still has the flexibility and energy of a young man, it would be interesting to see what he would be able to make of the role.
However, despite those that would prefer it, it’s unlikely this break with tradition would ever take place, especially given the lifetime of preparation Charles has dedicated himself to as Prince of Wales. Instead it will be an older and perhaps therefore wiser William who will eventually take his turn — even if some of the sparkle and charisma he possesses now might have slipped away in the intervening years. This might be an inevitability with years of parenting teenagers ahead of him. There’s also the possibility of redundancy altogether: Young people aged between 18-24 are almost equally split on whether the monarchy should be abolished or continue in the latest YouGov poll.
In many ways, tradition is at the heart of a constitutional monarchy. Without it, the symbolism and associated magical thinking required to give it function seems altogether less sane. If the traditional line of succession were to be disrupted for a more popular figure every time a monarch approached the end of their reign, having a royal family at all might all start to seem a little ridiculous. If it is going to be a popularity contest, then it might be time to simply call a presidential election.
However, with more people than ever before leaning towards republicanism at home and abroad in the Commonwealth, it is clear that some traditions will have to be broken for the firm to survive. William’s time will come, but will he still have the vision and capability to carry the monarchy forward when it does?