‘Workshy William’ has been transformed by coronavirus pandemic

Like the rest of us, Prince William returned to work this week after a brief summer break.

The Duke of Cambridge travelled to Belfast to mark emergency services day.

As I watched him talk to rescue volunteers about mental health support, the subject of COVID-19 of course came up.

The pandemic has had a significant effect on the reputations of many politicians and public figures, and that includes the Royal Family and the Duke of Cambridge.

Only a couple of years ago, headlines described him as “workshy William” – suggesting he was reluctant to take on royal responsibilities full-time.

Gradually that view has changed, but this time of national crisis has in many ways accelerated that shift.

The Royal Family has had to adjust to working in different ways, but who would have expected to see William and Kate being bingo callers on a Zoom call, playing the machines at the amusement arcade at Barry Island, or William laughing with Peter Crouch over a curry at Kensington Palace?

Like his wife Kate, William has appeared more relaxed and, some might say, more relatable. This new way of working from home seems to have suited the Cambridges.

As Tessy Ojo, chief executive of the Diana Award said to me, William has come across as one of us, and shown what he has to offer as a future king.

She said: “He really shows his own style, and his style is completely different from his mother, I mean from his father, or his grandmother.

“Our world has changed and people want to feel that they matter and that’s the thing that he constantly portrays – that your pain is my pain, even though I can’t exactly walk in your shoes, but I can bring the spotlight to your pain to help alleviate it.”

Harry and Meghan’s decision to step away from royal life and do their own thing in America has brought the spotlight back onto William and his family. The very public falling out between William and Harry has also meant that the brothers, and their commitment to duty and the Royal Family, have been compared during the pandemic.

In recent years we have seen a statesmanlike shift in William’s demeanour, particularly on overseas tours to countries like Pakistan but also in his recent speeches, like the one he gave when he remotely opened the NHS Nightingale Hospital in Birmingham.

Some of that will be down to William himself, but his former private secretary Simon Case has also been credited with helping that change. He recently left to head up the civil service, but I understand he will continue to advise the Duke.

Emily Andrews, royal editor at The Mail on Sunday, told me this week that when she was writing stories for The Sun a couple of years ago about William being a reluctant royal, one source said to her that William wanted to live the life of a gentleman farmer.

It reminded me of how the Queen’s friends have often said that if she hadn’t been the monarch, she would have been happy just living in the countryside with her dogs and horses. You could say that Prince William, just like his grandmother, knows that service and duty must come first. That includes championing causes that he believes deserve more public attention during these difficult times.

This week he chaired the first meeting of the Emergency Responder Senior Leader Board, his idea to bring together leaders from the UK’s emergency services to share best practice on mental health. It’s something I’m told will be a key focus of his official work for the rest of this year.

Another initiative from a man who has always known that everything he does and says matters, not just now but as a future monarch.

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