A video of Prince William in confrontation with a photographer has highlighted a huge problem the palace faces as the young prince gets older.
In the 90s, there was no more exclusive bar in the world than Club H.
This was not just another overpriced members-only club which would see the decade’s It Girls falling out of its doors, their pupils pinpricks and their Galliano slip dresses hoiked knicker-wards.
Rather, Club H’s clientele was exclusively made up of boys with names like Hugh and whose pedigree was such that they could tell you if their families’ had been on the side of the Cavaliers or the Roundheads during the English Civil War.
Club H was, of course, the creation of none other than Prince Charles whose greatest claim to dissipation was being caught trying to order a cherry brand in a pub at age 14. (Truly.)
The idea was simple and smart: He had two teenage sons who were inevitably going to experiment with booze.
Rather than them doing that within the long lens reach of the tabloids, Charles instead created the boys’ very own nightclub in the basement of his country estate Highgrove.
Which brings us to the video which turned up on social media this week, showing Prince William involved in an angry confrontation with a man as he filmed the prince out for a bike ride with his wife Kate, Duchess of Cambridge and their children.
The three-minute clip was shot last year near their Norfolk estate but mysteriously was only uploaded to YouTube only a matter of days ago. (TheTelegraph has reported that lawyers for the Cambridges had been in touch with the man who shot the video after the face-off happened.)
Kensington Palace has said that the video breached the family’s privacy and the royal outfit had reportedly asked the social media site to take it down.
What this situation highlights is the delicate balancing act that the Cambridges have managed to wangle when it comes to protecting their children’s privacy – a balancing act, that is, whose days are clearly numbered.
Not to get all ominous but this video is something of a harbinger which should have William and Kate decidedly worried.
Rewind to 2013, when Prince George was born, and the relationship between the royal family and Fleet Street was a world away from where it is now.
Months after the baby’s arrival snappers were following Kate as she walked her son in his pram around Hyde Park or when George was taken out by the family’s nanny Maria Teresa Turrion Borrallo. From day dot, he had a target on his tiny back when it came to the more predatory elements of the press corps.
As Kensington Palace later detailed, in one instance a photographer had set himself up in a darkened vehicle, “stocked with food and drinks to get him through a full day of surveillance, waiting in hope to capture images of Prince George. Police discovered him lying down in the boot of the vehicle attempting to shoot photos with a long lens through a small gap in his hide.”
The “tactics being used [to get photos] are increasingly dangerous,” warned the Cambridges’ then communications secretary, Jason Knauf.
So, the Palace and the press hashed out a deal: The papers would not hunt George or newborn Princess Charlotte and let them grow up in peace and in return the Cambridges would dole out regular cutesy-pie shots of their kids.
Think of it as a détente of sorts and one that has held, by and large, for the better part of a decade.
However, that compact could and will only last for a finite amount of time.
For one thing, while George, Charlotte and Louis are little it is much easier to ring fence their young lives from the media.
From school to play dates to tennis lessons at the Hurlingham Club, William and Kate (and Maria of course) are able to shepherd them about the place in an entirely controlled manner. The opportunities for the kids to be photographed are very limited.
All of that will change when they become teenagers who want to do things on their own. Not only that, they will be teenagers surrounded by other kids or even adults who are all wielding smartphones.
What would Club H have been like if the boys chugging lager had all had high-resolution cameras in their every pocket?
What Charles did in setting up Club H was to create a retreat where his sons would be able to make the stupid mistakes of teenage-dom, which are part and parcel of growing up, away from intrusive public view.
The advent of smartphones and social media will mean that is a luxury that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s young’uns will never know.
Unlike William and Prince Harry as teenagers, the Cambridge kids will never be able to enter a single room and know there are unequivocally no cameras; there will be no genuinely safe space.
The other factor here is how the press will approach George’s teenage years. The unofficial accord between Kensington Palace and the major editors was designed to give not only the young prince but his siblings the chance to grow up away from the glare and exposure of daily media attention.
However, at what age will papers and magazines start to see them as fair game?
In July, George will turn nine-years-old, meaning that his parents are only four years away from having a teenager and with that will come all the headaches of raising an adolescent multiplied by 77 thousand. Most parents fret about their children sneaking an illicit Bacardi and Coke, not having photos of their child sculling said Bacardi and Coke blowing up on the internet.
This week, when this William video surfaced, Kensington Palace swung into action and it is now impossible to find the video.
But it is not as if the royal family can go down this route every time George turns up to a party at age 16, is filmed doing flaming sambuca shots by a dozen different people and all those videos are shared on social media before the prince can realize he has sung his eyebrows.
At age 13, George and his cronies will all be old enough to create Tik Tok, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook accounts. Even if he does surround himself with trusted allies, how long would it have been before some hugely embarrassing photo is stolen from the cloud or someone named Araminta’s phone is hacked?
The sad state of affairs is that no matter how much William and Kate love and want to protect their children, George, Charlotte and Louis are all potentially facing down the most exposed adolescences of any royal children, ever.
Here’s one idea. It has been reported that the Cambridge family may move into Windsor Castle when the Queen passes away.
All the duke and duchess need to do is find some cell left over from the times of Oliver Cromwell, line it with lead (or whatever) and shove in a mini fridge stocked with UDLs to create a Faraday cage-come-bar for their kids .
It won’t solve all of this but at least the future King George VII will one day be able to down limeade alcopops at an alarming rate and then throw up on Queen VIctoria’s favorite rose bushes without it ending up trending on Twitter.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and a writer with more than 15 years’ experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.