Over the years I’ve reported on a fair few royal visits. The visitor may have varied, along with the locations, but whether it’s the Queen, Prince William or Princess Anne coming to town, the template is very similar.
The crowds will gather. There will be flag waving. The royal party will arrive precisely on time (usually!). Someone important will officially welcome them. There will be some shaking of hands. Next will be a tour. Smiles. Photos. Often the culmination will be a plaque unveiling followed by a smile for the crowds and an efficient departure. The movement is brisk with chances for as many people as possible to see the royal visitor.
But as we have been told so often in recent days and weeks, these are not normal times. The usual templates are being ripped up and there was no better illustration of that today than seeing the Prince of Wales making use of the sort of technology so many of us are using to see our loved ones in these days of social isolation to officially open the new NHS Nightingale Hospital in the UK.
I don’t know about you but I’ve never done so many Skype sessions, video calls, Zooms and Google Hangouts. At a time when none of us are able to go out to visit family and friends, it’s one of the only ways we can actually see them. Some of my friends have commented that they’ve never seen so much of one another with regular online chat sessions being put in all our calendars.
Well that same technology that we are all using is exactly what Prince Charles used to open the newly converted hospital that’s been set up to treat some of those who are most seriously affected by coronavirus. At a time of social distancing, when he’s recovering from Covid-19, a physical visit wasn’t possible. Instead, we watched the heir to throne sitting at home delivering his speech live by video link. He jokes that his arm couldn’t stretch to unveil the plaque so invited someone in London to help.
In the weeks and months ahead, once the current pandemic is behind us, I’m looking forward to the time when we can all look back and think about what we learned and got better at during these difficult times. I feel sure that keeping in touch with other people more will be one of them.
I’m sure we all ache for the time when we can physically see those we are currently separated from, shake their hands for real or hug them. But I can’t help thinking that one of the lessons we will also learn is how we can keep in touch more with those who are many miles away.
Today’s virtual royal visit was quite unlike any royal visit I remember seeing before. And at a time when the most senior of our royals are getting older and there are so many pressures on their time I can’t help wondering whether there may be other occasions when a virtual visit, like today’s might be a suggested alternative.
If the Queen’s diary is full and she can’t physically fit in a trip in person, might she consider calling up for a look around on Skype instead? It could mean disappointing fewer organisations who have a plaque that needs unveiling.
You’d have called the idea far-fetched a few weeks ago. Not anymore.
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