‘Perfect storm’: royals misjudged Caribbean tour, say critics

It was supposed to be a visit to mark the Queen’s platinum jubilee – a chance to present the modern face of the British monarchy to a region where republican sentiment is on the rise.

But it really didn’t turn out that way.

When the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge end their week-long tour of the Caribbean on Saturday, they will report back that the tour may have accelerated moves to ditch the Queen as the head of state.

Calls for slavery reparations and the enduring fury of the Windrush scandal followed them across Belize, Jamaica and the Bahamas – overshadowing a trip aimed at strengthening the Commonwealth and discouraging other countries from following Barbados’s example in becoming a republic.

Upon arrival in Belize, the couple were met with protests from villagers over a land dispute involving a charity William is a patron of. In Jamaica, the prime minister told them in an awkward meeting that the country would be “moving on” to become a republic, and a government committee in the Bahamas urged the royals to issue “a full and formal apology for their crimes against humanity”.

From photos of Will and Kate shaking hands with Jamaican children through wire fences, to the military parade in which the pair stood, dressed in white, in an open-top Land Rover, the optics of the visit has been described by local campaigners as a throwback to colonialism.

“This was another photo opportunity, and rather presumptuous to assume that Jamaican people were suddenly going to welcome William and his wife with open arms,” said Velma McClymont, a writer and former Caribbean studies academic who was born in Jamaica and was five when the country gained independence.

“My grandparents could trace generations back to slavery, but they died believing Jamaica was fully independent. Imagine, 60 years later and it’s still an extension of the British empire. It’s an infant colony, not standing alone.”

Followers of the trip in the UK may have gained a different impression. On Friday, the Sun reserved its front page for the tour, gushing that “Kate dazzles on Jamaica tour” and suggesting that the pair had “touched hearts”. On Wednesday, the Daily Mail splashed a photo of Kate, the “diving duchess”, scuba-diving with nurse sharks in Belize.

The same could not be said of the coverage in the Jamaican media. “It was dubbed in [the UK] media as a charm offensive, but I’m not quite so sure it came off that way. It wasn’t a royal failure, but I wouldn’t quite deem it a regal success either,” said Tyrone Reid, an associate editor at national newspaper the Jamaica Gleaner.

Reid added that local publications had devoted considerable column inches to the views of “a growing number of Jamaicans demanding the British monarch and British state apologise for and accept its role in the abhorrent slave trade of years ago.”

Royals experts, including one former palace PR, said that an enormous amount of planning went in to the visits, often starting years in advance. They are led by government in line with Foreign Office diplomatic, culture and commercial priorities.

Philip Murphy, a professor at the University of London and former director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, said that although the palace had “taken a relaxed view” about countries removing the Queen as head of state, “the British government has been less consistent about that” – ministers are thought to be anxious to preserve the soft power benefits of the Commonwealth after Brexit.

About the author

Olivia Wilson
By Olivia Wilson


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