As job advertisements go, it appeared to crown them all. Inviting applications for the newly created role of Chief Executive Officer (CEO) to Their Royal Highnesses the Prince and Princess of Wales, the “spec” could not carry more gravitas.
Describing “a unique opportunity to join the dedicated team at Kensington Palace”, the successful candidate will need to “bring a track record of strategic and cultural leadership in complex, fast-paced settings, and the ability to demonstrate core values of discretion, humility, integrity, and diplomacy”.
Such is the “distinctive” nature of the working environment, that the 37.5-hours-a-week role will also require someone willing to “serve as the strategic interface to Buckingham Palace”, aligning William and Kate’s priorities with those of “His Majesty The King & Her Majesty The Queen”.
Mindful, perhaps, of the maelstrom faced by a monarchy that has endured an Oprah Winfrey interview, a six-part Netflix series, Prince Harry’s searing autobiography Spare, the death of Elizabeth II and a coronation in the past three years, the “candidate brief” on the recruitment firm Odgers Berndtson’s website suggested a key skill and attribute will be the ability to stay “calm under pressure to deal with difficult situations sensitively and with integrity”.
Demonstration of emotional intelligence, “low ego” and strong self-awareness will also pave the way to an interview for the “servant” leader post, in charge of around 60 people.
Whoever lands the coveted position will certainly have their work cut out. But perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Waleses’ search for a new head honcho is what it says about how the future king and queen are positioning themselves for the throne.
Behind the scenes, the accession has seen William and Kate move all their back-office functions from Clarence House to Kensington Palace in a bid to be fully self-sufficient. The CEO appointment is a continuation of that “revolution” as they seek to restructure their household “in their own way”.
As William prepares to go global next week with a visit to the US to attend the Earthshot Prize Innovation Summit in New York City, the couple appear to be adopting a more Americanised approach.
As one royal source observed: “There’s certainly a desire to attract people from a commercial setting. I don’t think they’re borrowing from Harry and Meghan but people are going to think: ‘Isn’t this what the Sussexes did?’ ” (In December, Harry and Meghan took “full lead” of their Archewell Foundation after Mandana Dayani stepped down as chief operating officer). Another suggested it was more a question of the couple borrowing “best practice” from the private sector. Yet the House of Windsor has never attempted an appointment like this before.
Traditionally, members of the Royal family – or “principals”, as they are known to their staff – employ private secretaries to support their work and develop their long-term strategy, as well as overseeing fellow household employees. The royals themselves have historically acted as The Firm’s chief executive officers – fronting up the organisation in good times and in bad.
In making it clear that the newcomer will be “the most senior and accountable leader for the Household, reporting directly to TRHs The Prince and Princess of Wales”, the move appears to devolve responsibility while sidelining the traditional role of private secretaries – as well as the communication chiefs who act as their media advisors. It may be a reaction to the fact that William’s current private secretary Jean-Christophe Grey, a former civil servant, was only ever on secondment.
Described as “the model of a mandarin high-flyer: clever, a little geeky and beyond reproach”, the Oxford and London School of Economics graduate, who acted as David Cameron’s official spokesman, was appointed in February 2021, and is also a trustee of the couple’s Royal Foundation.
Meanwhile, Kate has been without a private secretary since December following the departure of Hannah Cockburn-Logie after two and a half years in the role.
The recruitment of a joint CEO could be a canny way of killing two birds with one stone – although individual private secretaries will still be retained, along with a fully staffed press office.
However, some may interpret the move as a means of curbing the powers of the so-called “men in grey” singled out by the Sussexes for stirring up trouble when they still shared a household with the then Cambridges.
In Spare, Harry accused a number of key aides to his late grandmother, who now serve the King and Queen, of wielding too much power, nicknaming them The Bee, The Fly and The Wasp. At one point he even cast doubt over whether the then 96-year-old had “the right people around her”.
The salvo came after his father and his uncle, the Duke of York, had forced out Elizabeth II’s previous private secretary, Sir Christopher Geidt, amid concerns that he was exercising too much influence over the monarch.
But the couple might need to be careful what they wish for. For while the job description may call for an “experienced leader with a track record of building high-performing teams, inspiring and developing people, supporting diversity and inclusion and building a positive, collaborative and professional culture”, such a prestigious CEO position at the heart of the monarchy will likely appeal to a certain kind of person – who might not resemble the “progressive internal champion” they are looking for. Though this may not be a bad thing.
One sticking point for William and Kate is that they are both risk-averse introverts who take quite a lot of persuading to step outside their comfort zone.
They could therefore arguably benefit from an extrovert who has the chutzpah to challenge the Palace status quo, rather than playing it too safe, since over-caution tends to be interpreted as “boring”.
With attention spans shorter than ever thanks to the advent of social media, it is important that their work be as “impactful”, to use a Palace buzzword, as possible.
While the couple and their children Prince George, 10, Princess Charlotte, eight, and five-year-old Prince Louis have undoubtedly performed brilliantly at all the recent major state occasions, questions continue to be asked about their workload.
William’s decision not to travel to Sydney, Australia, in August to support the Lionesses in the Women’s World Cup football final in his capacity as President of the Football Association raised many eyebrows. Some felt he should have “done his duty” and made the 10,000-mile journey, not just on behalf of the team and the FA but also his “subjects”. But aides were concerned it would look odd for the heir to the throne to prioritise a football match over an official state visit.
There has also been consternation over the couple’s decision not to undertake a foreign tour this year. Although William will travel to Singapore in November for the unveiling of five £1 million 2023 Earthshot Prize winners, Kate is not expected to accompany him.
The last time they went on a lengthy overseas visit was the Caribbean in March 2022, a whole 18 months ago – although they visited Boston in November, when William met with President Biden, and the prince went to Poland in March. He is expected to meet UN Secretary General António Guterres as he continues to spread his statesman-like wings.
With the future of the Commonwealth feeling more uncertain following the death of the most well-travelled sovereign in British history, now would arguably be the perfect time for a long-haul charm offensive; but the next major tour is not until 2024, when more travel is expected. (To be fair to the couple, as well as enduring the fallout from Megxit, two funerals and a coronation, they have also moved house, to Adelaide Cottage in Windsor in the past year, as well as moving their children to a new school, Lambrook Prep in Berkshire).
The hands-on parents have won plaudits for being much more present for their brood than past generations of royalty brought up on the nursery floor.
But the back-in-time-for-bedtime approach is likely to wear thin as the children grow older. As the first new Prince of Wales in 70 years, William is also in the unenviable position of inviting comparisons with his workaholic father who, as heir apparent, clocked up more annual engagements than many of his relatives combined.
That said, both William and Kate’s approval ratings suggest the public are very much onside. The prince is the second most popular royal after the late Queen, on 67 per cent, according to the latest YouGov survey, while the princess isn’t far behind on 62 per cent. (Charles is on 55 per cent, while Meghan and Harry are languishing on 29 and 27 per cent respectively).
This is no mean feat having been repeatedly thrown under a bus by the Sussexes. Although keeping the younger generations on side may prove a challenge (all royals are more popular with Boomers than Millennials and Generation Zs), these figures suggest that William and Kate are perfectly poised for a smooth transition when the time comes.