The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will visit Paris this week as goodwill ambassadors for Britain ahead of the triggering of article 50. It will be Prince William’s first official visit to the French capital since his mother died there.
During the trip, which Kensington Palace said was at the request of the Foreign Office, the couple will meet senior French politicians is a bid to bolster Anglo-French relations as Britain prepares to exit the European Union.
In a “soft-power” diplomatic charm offensive, the couple will follow the Paris tour with visits to Germany and Poland, both major players in the EU, in July.
Meanwhile, Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, also at the request of the government, will visit Romania, Italy, the Holy See and Austria between 29 March and 6 April, highlighting the UK’s relationship with European partners in areas including social cohesion, military ties and combating human trafficking, according to Clarence House.
The two-day visit to Paris, beginning on 17 March, is the first official visit by Prince William since the death of his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, in a car crash in the city 20 years ago. There are said to be no plans for him to visit the scene of the tragedy, at the Pont de l’Alma tunnel.
William has privately visited the city on a few occasions since her death, including going with his brother, Harry, to watch England in the Rugby World Cup in 2007.
On this official visit, William and Kate will attend the Six Nations rugby international between France and Wales at the Stade de France. The couple will also be guests of honour at a reception at the British embassy called “Les Voisins” (“neighbours”), which celebrates cultural ties between the UK and France. They will meet young French leaders from the arts, sport, fashion, business and voluntary sectors, as well as young military award winners.
They also plan to meet some of those involved in the response to the 2015 terrorist attacks at the Bataclan theatre in Paris as well as the lorry attack in Nice on Bastille Day last year.
A Foreign Office spokesman said that royal visits played a “very important role” in British diplomacy.
Plans for the visit have been noted in France, where Gala magazine saw the royal visit as a “diplomatic move … in the run-up to the activation of Article 40 [sic]”.
Other French publications saw the trip as evidence that the younger royals were taking up the engagement slack so that the Queen, 91 next month, could ease off. Paris Match published online a 26-photo set of the three outfits the Duchess of Cambridge wore on two previous visits, to Normandy and Picardy.
The couple have enjoyed several holidays in France. It was during such a private visit that photographs of Kate were taken with a long lens showing her topless on a balcony of a private residence in the south of France. When the photos were published in the French celebrity magazine Closer in 2012, the couple pressed for criminal charges in France to prevent wider publication.
Six media representatives face trial over the publication of the topless pictures, with the trial expected to begin in May.