In ordinary times, the past year might well have seen a focus on the Duke of Kent celebrating his 85th birthday and questions asked about how much longer this devoted cousin of the Queen would continue to serve the Royal Family. Instead, this most extraordinary time has seen the Duke reshape his working pattern around the challenges of the pandemic without a mention of retirement. In fact, the Duke of Kent has remained as integral to royal life as he has ever been throughout the difficult times of 2020.
For a man mid way through his ninth decade, the Duke of Kent packs a formidable royal punch. Not only is the Court Circular still peppered with engagements for the prince, once more he has taken on some of the most important and sensitive duties in the royal diary.
In the early part of 2020, he headed to Germany where took part in an act of commemoration to remember the victims of the Dresden bombings on the 75th anniversary of the raids. The Duke held hands with the President of Germany, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, in a moving act of remembrance. It was one of a string of engagements he undertook in the country to foster reconciliation and a sign of the significant role he still plays within the House of Windsor.
The early part of the year saw Prince Edward continue his usual pattern of duties up and down the country. His engagements aren’t always the most glamourous – in February, he opened the new Town Hall in Brentwood, Essex while early March saw him visit St. Nicholas’ Church in Newcastle to see its ongoing restoration work. But while normal service went on, so did his regular routine of cross-crossing England to carry out engagements and support his patronages.
When the coronavirus pandemic took hold, in March 2020, he wasted no time in embracing the new way of royal duties. Within days of the UK going into lockdown, the Duke of Kent was holding telephone meetings with the organisations he has supported for so long. Discussions with the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club and the RNLI were among his first non contact meetings while by early June he was taking part in lectures given at another of his patronages, the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Cyber Studies, by video link.
For a man who has spent over six decades upholding the Windsor mantra of being seen to be believed, the restrictions of the pandemic were surmountable but not welcome. In a moving message to the RNLI in May, the Duke of Kent spoke of his frustration at not being able to meet and talk to people in person before expressing his deep pride in the organisation’s contribution to helping communities as coronavirus took hold.
In the brief months where restrictions eased gently in the UK, the Duke was out and about again. In September, he opened a special exhibition marking the contribution of Polish airmen in the Battle of Britain as Europe marked the 80th anniversary of that seismic event. His continuing support for patronages, including Blood Cancer UK, was seen with ongoing video and telephone meetings.
The Duke is also a proud military man and his links with the army continued throughout this time. On October 9th, the Household Division marched, in a socially distanced fashion, to his home to play ‘Happy Birthday’. It was one of a number of musical tributes on this landmark birthday from the military.
His younger sister, Princess Alexandra, celebrated her own 84th birthday as the year came to an end but she, too, has shown little sign of giving up on the royal duties she has carried out for so long. In the days before her own celebrations, she appeared in numerous video messages to charities, offering support to the organisations and those they look after and acknowledging the many challenges of a year which has seen her, too, carry out most of her engagements remotely.
Like her older brother, Alexandra, had spent the early part of the year on her usual round of engagements, with visits to St. Christopher’s Hospice in London and the English National Opera, both patronages of hers as well as to the Royal Star & Garter Care Home in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire.
There was also happy family news for Alexandra as her granddaughter, Flora Ogilvy, announced her marriage to long term partner, Timothy Vesterberg. The wedding had already taken place by the time news was shared on social media with the ceremony held at the Chapel Royal of St. James’ Palace in late September.
As the year came to an end, there were also difficult times for the wider Kent family as Princess Michael was diagnosed with coronavirus. The Princess, now 75, spent several weeks recuperating from the illness at her home in Kensington Palace. It had been a quiet year for Prince and Princess Michael of Kent although their daughter, Lady Gabriella Kingston, released her first single.
That move underlines the gradually changing role of the House of Kent within the royal set up. Many of its members are moving to private lives, away from the round of royal duties and the public interest that goes with it. But the stalwarts, Edward and Alexandra, remain vital to the Windsors. This extraordinary year has put off that perennial discussion of how long they can keep on keeping on in support of the Royal Family. Given their response to the challenges of the pandemic, the answer seems to be indefinitely.