Canada was always the No. 1 choice for William and Kate’s first international visit as a couple.
William wanted it to be Canada; protocol pretty much demanded that it had to be Canada (the country is – to use that archaic term – the senior “realm”), but most crucially for a royal couple, one half of which is still finding her feet on the nursery slopes, Canada pretty much guaranteed a positive experience and the warmest of welcomes.
And so it has been. From the moment they stepped off the Canadian Forces flight from London, William and Kate have been greeted with a sustained enthusiasm that has certainly matched and almost certainly surpassed anything they will have experienced before.
I say that having watched the two of them on their infrequent (up to now) public appearances together in the U.K.; having reported William's solo visit to New Zealand and Australia in March to meet the victims of earthquake and flood, and having been closely involved in the coverage of their wedding.
So what exactly is it that's prompted such a welcome and brought the Canadian crowds onto the streets in such numbers over the past nine days?
One Canadian antimonarchist told me that it’s simply that William and Kate are the world's newest and hottest super-couple, and in playing host to them before anyone else, Canada had pulled off a spectacular feat of one-upmanship, most importantly over the United States.
Put another way: Has the reaction to William and Kate been a devotion to celebrity or to Crown?
It's hard for a visitor to this country fully to understand the subtleties of Canada's debate about the monarchy – other than to sense that there isn't much of one. Broadly speaking, it seems that a majority of Canadians appreciate the inherent advantages of a constitutional monarchy and are content to leave things as they are.
While the Queen remains on the throne, no one but the most distracted republican could surely imagine that there will be any significant change in public opinion in any of the territories of which she is head of state.
Yet the monarchy must evolve, in Canada as in Britain, and there have been some important signposts to the future this year, of which the visit to Canada by William and Kate is surely one.
First, the Queen is now 85 years old. She is less than six months away from the start of her Diamond Jubilee year, in which 60 years of her remarkable reign will be celebrated.
Second, William has married Catherine Middleton, and over the past few days in Canada, we have seen more clearly and vividly than at any previous point just what they are capable of in terms of refreshing the monarchy.
Their style is unfussy and unstuffy (less stuffy, dare I say it, than some of the excessively protocol-conscious Canadian organizers); their approach is warm and down to earth; and their focus is impressive and properly flattering to those whom they have met and to whom they have been prepared to give time and attention.
In short, they come across as pretty normal, although with that hard-to-define gloss that will always set them apart in public as something different.
Perhaps one of the most striking aspects of the visit to Canada has been to see how smoothly and assuredly the royal family’s newest recruit has taken to it all.
Kate doesn’t appear to have put a stiletto-shod foot wrong. She has offered animated small talk when small talk has been called for; she’s been composed and fully focused during speeches and presentations (indeed at those moments, she’s showing herself to be rather better than William, who tends to fidget when he’s listening to formal speeches), and both of them have reached out and engaged with people.
We do need to keep this in perspective and resist the temptation to gush over trivialities (a perpetual danger for royal commentators). Other royals have been capable of projecting humanity and warmth. What’s different about William and Kate is that they both seem in tune, with each other and those whom they meet.
The visit to Canada has shown just how great is their potential to take the House of Windsor forward.
In his final speech in Calgary, William recalled his great-grandmother’s comment after her visit to Canada in 1939 with her husband, King George VI.
“Canada made us,” she said. They were a monarch and his consort who had come to the throne at a perilous time, after the abdication and before the Second World War. They needed the reassurance that they could command the stage and be worthy of the trust of their peoples.
Canada gave them that reassurance.
Seventy-two years later, Canada has helped another royal couple who, in all probability, won’t come to the throne for a good many years to understand what their future life together will involve and to define how they can make a success of it.
Nicholas Witchell is royal correspondent for the BBC News
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