Hidden meaning in new royal portrait
Someone at the Palace knows royal armageddon is coming.
To honour Prince Charles' 70th birthday on Wednesday, Clarence House released a family portrait with his wife Camilla, sons Prince William and Prince Harry, daughters-in-law Kate and Meghan, and - most importantly - his grandchildren, Prince George, Princess Charlotte, and Prince Louis.
To many it looks like any other official royal photo, but to experts who spend their lives examining the slices of information that slither out of the Palace gates, it's something else entirely.
See little George, sitting on his pa's knee, a little grin peeking through his chubby face? See Charles' hands, tenderly holding his grandson upright? The beaming relatives and happy children?
This is the antithesis of what we've seen in the past. Actually, in the five years and four months Charles has been a grandfather, this is the first official photograph we've seen of him interacting with his grandchildren at all.
What we see here is Charles, the loving grandfather. The family man. The human.
This photo indicates a shift, and what is likely a careful exercise in rebranding.
Given the royal family is largely funded by taxpayers, the sword that's going to make them bleed is rather sharp: the birthday boy is the future king that nobody wants.
While his 92-year-old mother, the longest-reigning monarch in British history, has carved a
reputation out of delightful corgis and spritely outfits, Charles is known for his extramarital affair and unseemly desire to impersonate a tampon. When we hear the name "Charles, we instinctively think of the name "Diana", and - even with all this time - feel some semblance of second-hand betrayal.
When we're not lambasting Charles the philanderer, we're admonishing Charles the weed; the pretentious rich guy who charters private planes and possesses about as much reliability as a sock.
In taking budget airlines, championing the marginalised, and appealing to muggles like us, sons William and Harry are like Diana, we claim. We like them because they're not like their father.
In fact, the only sure-fire way to unite the royalists and republicans is to ask them about their impassioned dislike for the 70-year-old heir to the throne. Numerous polls over the years have illustrated this disdain, but none more so than a 2016 survey that revealed Prince George, a then-toddler, had more public support than his grandfather.
Yep, the little boy sitting on his grandpa's lap might not be able to read the opening page of Harry Potter yet, but we'd still prefer him to be king, thanks.
And that's all before we discuss the fact Camilla, who is bound to be the least likeable Queen in history.
Hip, hip, hooray! Blow out those candles, Charles.
The invisibility of Charles' role as a family man - as a grandpa - has been a baffling error that royal expert and historian Marlene Keonig highlighted to news.com.au in September.
"We never see Prince Charles with his grandchildren," the author of Queen Victoria's
Descendants said at the time.
"I think the public would love that, to see grandpa. To see Charles in that way. They obviously take the (official) photos, and I'm sure Prince Louis got one too, but we don't see them."
Finally, five years on, the dozens of people working in the Palace have seen the value in reshaping Charles' image according to the royals we find the least problematic: the children.
So make no mistake, this is more than a photo.
This is a bandaid to go over the wound that, when Queen Elizabeth dies, will tear deep into the flesh of the royal family.
Michelle Andrews is a podcast host and freelance writer from Melbourne.