Typically, a visit from royalty is the highlight of any community’s week. Even visits from less well-known royals are bound to, at least, make the local papers and news channels and create a particularly noteworthy stop in the day wherever it is they choose to visit. However, that depends entirely on the sort of visit that the royalty in question is undertaking — not all visits are identical or equal.
There are a number of different visits that a member of royalty may conduct, each with different procedures and aims. The distinction will usually determine the schedule of the visit, the objectives of the visit, and exactly what be expected to happen while the visit takes place. It may also determine the seniority of the royal in question depending on the circumstances. Some visits are better undertaken by some royals rather than others.
In short, there are usually three different sorts of royal visits: a visit, a working visit, and a state visit.
A Royal Visit: Lighthearted and Casual
While any visit by a member of the Royal Family is noteworthy, royal visits themselves are generally of varying importance and tend to be things that are very regional or locally-concerned. They are also usually very brief, and rarely take more than a couple of days at the longest. For example, if Prince Charles was invited to partake in a town’s annual festival, the Duke of Wessex visited an African famine relief centre, or if the Duchess of Cambridge officially opened the new wing of a hospital, it would be considered a royal visit. Typically, the royal visit may focus on one pivotal event or cause, with other activities largely linking in with it.
So to borrow from our Duchess of Cambridge example, the opening of the hospital would be the main event of the visit, and during her time, she would likely meet various groups and figures most related to healthcare within the local community. The focus is very much on the hospital and health care in the community, with the role of the Royal Family simply being to draw attention and publicity to the cause, and to honour those furthering it. There is also more openness to the occasion. Many royal visits include a walk-and-talk, where the visiting Family member will walk alongside any crowds that have gathered to shake hands with and greet locals. They may also engage in small talk or even attend a public buffet or luncheon depending on time and security constraints.
Royal visits are also the most common form of visit, and outside of really significant events such as weddings or coronations, they are the most likely means of seeing a member of the Royal Family. There are hundred such events organised up and down the country, sometimes months or years in advance. They are also conducted by all levels of the Royal Family.
Working Visit: All Business, No Pomp
More formal and more important are working visits. While walking through a greenhouse nursery can be relaxing and small key, working visits are when the Royal Family member is working towards a specific aim on behalf of the British government. One of the most powerful diplomatic tools Britain possesses is their Royal Family, and members will often be dispatched to oversee certain causes and interests abroad. They can also happen within the country as well, such as by hosting a summit or forum.
No invitation is needed. The government will simply send a member of the Royal Family if they think they should be there, such as if they are the patron or chairman of an important charity or organisation. In this respect, they function as a representative of the British government, or certainly British interests, rather than as a member of the British Royal Family.
In these instances, there is often little time for public greeting, with the visiting royal focusing largely on the primary objectives of the visit. There is usually very little ceremony or fanfare either, as state diplomacy and ceremony is not the aim of the meeting. Likewise, the host country or town does not pay for the costs of hosting the royal. That is covered by the British Foreign Office or another suitable body.
Working visits are actually rather common too, but due to their professional and down-to-business manner, they are not widely broadcasted. The visit may get a small mention in a national newspaper, but rarely much more beyond that.
State Visits: A Meeting of Kings
Most important of all are state visits. These are undertaken solely by The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, although it is not impossible that other royals may be included, as well. If The Queen is incapable of travelling, a state visit can be undertaken on her behalf by another senior royal, usually the Prince of Wales or the Duke of Cambridge. A state visit is the official visit of a head of state to another country. If receiving a head of state, they will be invited, greeted and hosted personally by The Queen, and given accommodation at Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, or any other suitable royal palace.
State visits are exceedingly ceremonial and formal, and it is here that you will see events such as military honours, the playing of national anthems, parades and formal receptions. State visits will also see a state banquet held in the guest’s honour, as well as many other events for their entertainment.
If ever The Queen visits another country, which is growing less common nowadays, the costs of hosting her are covered by the host country. While within the host nation, The Queen may undertake numerous smaller engagements during events that closely resemble royal visits. Visits by The Queen, or hosting foreign heads of state, are a crucial diplomatic event and are often utilised to strengthen ties between Britain and other nations. In some ways, state visits can be considered a hybrid of royal and working visits. The Queen — or her stand in — is most definitely on the job for as long as the visit lasts, and they are very much in the public eye for the entirety.
It is also important to note another distinction here. Visits by The Queen to foreign countries are state visits, except in those cases where Her Majesty is visiting another Commonwealth Realm. Because The Queen is also the monarch of the Commonwealth Realms, any visit she undertakes to those nations are considered home-comings, not state visits. In those events, she visits as The Queen of the respective country and not The Queen of the United Kingdom.