As part of the quietest revolution in royal public relations, Prince William’s Time To Walk podcast avoids the usual marketing hype. It’s just a man walking alone chatting with an imaginary companion.
‘Like I’ve been on a walk with my best mate or my wife,’ says the prince, and that’s exactly what it feels like.
It is nice to see Catherine included in the celebrations, but it is significant that there are no major royal news stories.
There’s no attempt to twist our loyalties or plead for sympathy, no hint of victimhood or sly whisper of accusation, no false self-deprecation or blowhard claim of improbable expertise.
A man speaking and trusting that we will see the vulnerability in him.
As part of the quietest revolution in royal public relations, Prince William’s Time To Walk podcast avoids the usual marketing hype. It’s just a man walking alone chatting with an imaginary companion
In effect, this is William’s Christmas broadcast. True, it’s for an international audience – it goes out on Apple Music 1 and Apple Fitness+, after all – and some of its soul-baring honesty is strange to British ears. But, actually, that’s part of its charm and impact.
A feel-good boost could be just what the royal family’s festivities need because merriment may be in short supply.
Across the Atlantic, Harry and Meghan’s Montecito melodrama plays incorrigibly on, just as the Ghislaine Maxwell trial luridly re-exposes Prince Andrew’s association with paedophile Jeffrey Epstein.
A cold message from the Commonwealth states that sunny Barbados is now a republic and rejects constitutional monarchy, a system which has been outdated. Britain’s progressive opinion is similar to Britain.
Meanwhile, Prince Charles can’t avoid embarrassment as an inquiry finds that his trusted former valet co-ordinated with ‘fixers’ over honours for a donor to the Prince’s Foundation.
Above it all hovers the shadow of Prince Philip, whose passing has been followed by deepened concern over the monarch’s own health.
Even hardcore royalists may wonder how long the Windsors can keep their place at the national shop windows, despite the fact that the scene is not very glamorous.
There’s no attempt to twist our loyalties or plead for sympathy, no hint of victimhood or sly whisper of accusation, no false self-deprecation or blowhard claim of improbable expertise
Apple may have the answer. The most significant and persuasive piece of royal PR in years is about to arrive in the nation’s earbuds: Prince William’s Time To Walk isn’t tourist trivia and arcane ceremonial.
It’s not a glossy charity ego-trip; nor is it a misery list of architectural carbuncles and climate-change catastrophe.
Instead, it’s a study in the healing power of vulnerability. The prince paradoxically confirms his royal status by sharing his unroyal moments.
Any story, reminiscence, or sensory cue will be recognized by every listener.
On witnessing harrowing injuries as an air ambulance pilot: ‘I wasn’t in tears, but inside, I felt something had changed … It felt like somebody had placed a key into a lock, and then opened it. I felt the whole world was dying…’
Yet there’s no self-indulgence in these revelations. Unaffected humility is what predominates.
On being cajoled – to his horror – to sing on stage at a fundraiser for the charity Centrepoint, and seeing the homeless young people laugh at his embarrassment, he thinks: ‘Well, if they’re enjoying it, then the night is for them. It’s okay. I can’t be the dufus who’s going to ruin it for everyone.’
Just those last dozen words could be the ‘Dieu et mon droit’ for the 21st Century, right up there in gold leaf on the royal coat of arms.
William’s choice of the homeless charity Centrepoint story is telling. His mother was a pioneer in emotionally accessible royalty, and he inherits the patronage.
It was she who directed me to arrange unpublicised visits to shelters for homeless people – often taking William because, as he put it, ‘she wanted to make sure that I understood that life happens very much outside of the palace walls … this is the real world’.
That understanding came not just from the charity’s formal briefings, but from spending time with those who, from all outward appearances, had least to give back. ‘And we sat there, and we listened,’ as William recalls.
William was blessed with a gift for listening that is evidently one of her greatest gifts. She was able to draw attention to the most in need, particularly those who are stigmatized and unwelcome, as I witnessed her do so many times.
William evidently took the words of her mother to heart. The ability to listen and find voices is perhaps the most important skill of a modern royal family.
‘We live in these little echo chambers where you’re only subjected to what you want to be subjected to. But … go looking for the viewpoints you didn’t think you wanted to hear because, if you listen, you’re empowering the other person.’
Too often, royal folk get to pick and choose what advice they want to hear, so if he really means it, William’s openness to challenge is pretty revolutionary.
The antidote to both woke psychobabble and stuffy aloofness, it’s an honourable formula for a successful future reign.
When I oversaw Princess Diana’s official duties, I had a rule of thumb to gauge whether an engagement was a success. Try it when you next see a VIP with a group of ‘ordinary people’.
A feel-good boost could be just what the royal family’s festivities need because merriment may be in short supply
It is important to not look at people who are eagerly waiting to see the VIP but to examine the faces of the ones who just had the experience. Their expressions will tell you how it’s going.
As Diana coached William at his first major public event at the age of just ten: ‘It’s only a few seconds for you, but for the people you meet it’s a lifetime’s memory.’
Take away those hundreds of thousands of lifetimes’ memories and the monarchy will surely die, not from irrelevance but neglect. This is why we should question the fashionable assumption that the Royal Family must be ‘streamlined’.
Although the system could function even without an heir and a sovereign, very few taxpayers feel that a palace balcony on its own is of better value.
You can detect in William’s words a recognition the job has the promise of something far more uplifting.
A hard-working monarchy that really believes in its future can do compassion better than politicians among society’s forgotten. ‘If you listen… you’re allowing them to feel like they matter.’
There’s no better mission statement for a future head of state. In a world drowning in communications – a deluge to which the Windsors have contributed their full share – an emphasis on the power of listening sounds like the key to their survival, long after their lectures on overpopulation, carbon emissions, town planning, and even the media are forgotten.
Even hardcore royalists may wonder how long the Windsors can keep their place at the top of the national shop window, despite the fact that the scene is not very glamorous.
William seems to understand that being able to voice your opinion on important topics and in all of the worthwhile campaigns that will follow is dependent first on listening, particularly to unsolicited opinions.
It’s an attractive, modest royal superpower – essential to the kind of servant leadership that the Windsors are going to need in spades very soon. When you hear it, you know what the true thing is.
That’s incredibly rare and powerful, especially at a time when the royal tribe seems unsure of its direction, purpose and boundaries.
So, here’s a memo for future palace spin doctors: Be sure to broadcast it again on the day of his Coronation.
Patrick Jephson served as equerry to HRH the Princess of Wales, 1988-1996.