What explains Prince William's successful UAE visit?

The British royal struck a refreshing tone, having chosen to make the climate fight a vehicle of hope

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Prince William’s successful visit to the UAE and Expo 2020 Dubai last week served as an important reminder of the power of language to inspire and open up positive vistas.

The trip was not only well received in the UAE. At the Expo, crowds of hundreds gathered to see the man destined one day to be king of the United Kingdom. Media coverage in his home country was also extensive and uniformly enthusiastic. The Times newspaper reported that Prince William had “pulled off” a charm offensive, as it praised his interest in tackling climate change at the “world’s greatest international show”.

The reports highlighted that the British pavilion was themed on the power of words. Prince William’s choice to highlight optimism from the stand and in his exclusive message written for The National. “Together, with a little bit of optimism, we can achieve great things,” he wrote. “Visiting the incredible pavilions at Expo 2020, I was struck by the optimistic message Dubai is sending to its millions of international visitors – that when the world comes together, we can create a better tomorrow.

“It is a vision that is shared by the UK too, as demonstrated by our two countries’ strong and enduring links.”

The visit was notable from the Kensington Palace's point of view because it demonstrated how international partners are buying into the princely Earthshot Prize and his United for Wildlife initiative. As Prince William himself pointed out, the Earthshot Prize was inspired by one of the most ambitious calls to progress in the 20th century, John F Kennedy’s Moonshot for Nasa to launch a lunar programme.

The power of choosing to make the climate fight a vehicle of hope is a strong signal of the prince's character.

As has been noted, the UK monarchy is evolving rapidly into a generational enterprise. The tone set by the monarch is one of the institution’s greatest strengths. In Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles and Prince William, there is now a troika at the helm. The messages each of the three delivers often focus on the priorities facing the UK and the world but are presented in very different ways.

The family in itself is a case study on how the outlook of the individual shapes their public interventions.

Over her 70-year reign, Queen Elizabeth has largely been declarative but empathetic in how she speaks to her audience. Her pledges are direct personal commitments. “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong,” she famously said in what was her “coming of age” speech at 21 in 1947.

Prince Charles attends a Prince's Trust International engagement in Bridgetown, Barbados, in November. AP Photo
Queen Elizabeth meets members of the Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery in Windsor, Britain, in October. Reuters
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The UK royal family is a case study on how the outlook of the individual shapes their public interventions

At the height of the pandemic, she took to the television screens to assure the British people that they would indeed “meet again” despite the hardships imposed by the disease. “This time we join with all nations across the globe in a common endeavour, using the great advances of science and our instinctive compassion to heal,” she said. “We will succeed – and that success will belong to every one of us.”

At the start of this month, as she marked 70 years since her accession to the throne, she reiterated how she looked forward to serving with all her heart as the coming months of the jubilee celebrations united “families, friends, neighbours and communities”. Resolution and ownership of our destiny is something that comes out of Queen Elizabeth’s historic addresses. She seeks to guide and cajole the nation she has led for so long.

Prince Charles has a long and pioneering record as a campaigner on issues such as the environment, architecture and organic farming. These issues have over time become major public concerns. In a signature speech in 2009, he warned about the future of the planet and future generations. Climate change was presented in stark and gloomy terms. The planet was "at an historic moment – because we face a future where there is a real prospect that if we fail the Earth, we fail humanity”.

Addressing last year’s Saudi Green Initiative, the prince updated his fears by saying “time is not on our side”, as he spoke of a last chance to save the planet. He has also endorsed young campaigners' frustration with their “totally ruined future”.

The prince is known for his attack on modernist architecture as “monstrous carbuncle”. While his point was that classical designs should not be lost and have a place in the scheme of building, the main takeaway has always been on the expression’s negative connotations. History, meanwhile, is set to view Prince Charles as someone who was ahead of his times.

Tom Fletcher, the former British diplomat and contributor to The National, has written a book titled Ten Survival Skills for a World in Flux in which a whole chapter is entitled, "How to be a good ancestor". Each with their own style, the three royals seek to play that role well. In his role, Prince William has, perhaps, taken the lesson of an exercise in which Mr Fletcher asked dozens of world figures to write a small message for his young son Charlie in a journal.

“Above all, the advice was optimistic,” the author writes. “The leaders who wrote in the book were genuinely excited about the world that Charlie and his generation would inherit.”

Published: February 14, 2022, 4:00 AM