One particular photo taken during the Queen’s recent Platinum Jubilee celebrations is really quite breathtaking. It’s taken from the perspective of the Buckingham Palace balcony, looking back down The Mall.
Tens of thousands of people are crowded together, having journeyed into central London, waiting for the momentary appearance of Her Majesty and the royal family after Trooping the Colour.
If ever there was an image that should warm the cockles of trenchant monarchists’ hearts, or at least anyone with a bent for the enduring soap operatics of the house of Windsor, this seemed to be it.
After the Jubilee, after Prince Louis’ scene-stealing adorable turn and the mass national royal love-in, it looked like the UK tourism industry could breathe a sigh of relief.
Their number one drawcard – the monarchy – was doing just fine thank you very much.
But what if that image of jubilant crowds on The Mall was something of a furphy? What if the actual standing of the Crown right now is much shakier than anyone realises?
Take a closer look at polling done in the last month or so about both various members of the royal family and institution itself, and things take on a grimmer hue than all the Union Jack-waving pep of the Jubilee might lead you to believe.
Clutch the corgis tightly – we’re going in.
To start, the fact that for the first time since YouGov started polling, the majority of Brits do not report feeling proud of the monarchy – with the percentage dropping from 57 per cent in 2012 to 47 per cent now.
Likewise, and again for the first time, more people reported that they don’t think that the monarchy will exist in a century versus those who think it will endure.
As of early June, more than half of respondents said they thought the monarchy had become less important under the Queen.
Things look even more ominous when we get to the 18-24-year-old demographic, with a scant 23 per cent of people in this age bracket saying they are proud of the monarchy.
Fewer young ‘uns report that they think the monarchy is value for money. Only just over one third (34 per cent) think they represent a good return on investment in contrast to the 55 per cent overall.
The most shocking downward shift is this one: In 2011, 60 per cent of 18-24-year-olds thought the monarchy was a good thing for Britain; now that figure sits at 24 per cent.
The situation gets even more interesting when you break down who Millennials like among the senior members of the royal family.
Consider this: Prince Harry has a higher approval rating among Millennials (51 per cent) than all the senior working members of the royal family aside from the Queen, William and Kate, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
These are the sorts of bleak numbers that should be enough to keep any courtier worth their Mont Blanc up at night, but, the person that this gloomy situation will most impact? The person who will bear the brunt of the consequences of this situation?
At some sad point in the not too distant future, there will be a nearly once in a century change at the top, leading to the accession of King Charles III and Queen Camilla.
The man might have spent more than five long decades preparing for the job but optimistically he will only have 20 years in the job at best.
Currently, Charles’ popularity with younger Britons is somewhere down there with gluten-free scones and Nigel Farage. (He is currently the 12th most popular member of the royal family after Princess Eugenie. That’s gotta hurt.)
It seems highly unlikely that his reign will see any great surge in support for him or any sort of stunning reversal of fortune.
What that in turn means is that by the time that William and Kate take over, the monarchy could very well be in a particularly bad way, meaning all hope will rest squarely on the Cambridges to yank the monarchy back from the brink.
That is not only a weighty responsibility and psychological load to carry but practically it will demand that the widely liked duo will have to be out and about in public with the sort of ubiquity as some desperate X Factor runners-up with a new album to push.
They will need to be out there shaking hands, posing for selfies and hugging the public to a degree rarely seen outside of a swing electorate close to polling time.
If things stay on this current downwards trajectory in terms of popularity and public support, especially as those 18-24-year-olds start to hit the 40s and occupy more prominent positions in the media, politics and society, this situation will require a sustained royal PR onslaught for years on end.
This campaign will not only demand a lot of William and Kate themselves but also their children. The royal workforce has shrunk markedly in recent years with Harry and Meghan, Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Prince Andrew and most recently Prince and Princess Michael of Kent having exited the ranks of those who officially represent the Queen. (Okay the Kents only did an occasional Buckingham Palace garden party and official turn here and there but every soft pair of hands helps.)
By the time the Cambridges are up to seriously having to learn the lines to the coronation oath, the only other possible working members of the royal house, aside from themselves, will be their children, Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis.
Harry, during the Sussexes’ Oprah Winfrey interview last year, said that he had felt “trapped within the system, like the rest of my family are. My father and my brother, they are trapped. They don’t get to leave. And I have huge compassion for that.”
He’s going to need even more of that compassion for his niece and nephews.
At this stage, it looks like there will simply be no option for the Cambridge Three to decide to up sticks, move into a mansion the road from Katy Perry and get paid squillions by Netflix to do … something.
It is not hyperbolic to say, the future of the monarchy rests on their three shoulders because there is quite simply no one else.
All of this, to me, sounds like an unthinkable level of pressure for William and Kate, both as people and as parents.
Her Majesty has repeatedly had to face situations where the demands of her job are diametrically opposed to those of her as a parent and time and again she has had to decide whether she is facing a situation as monarch or mother.
Kate will face decades of this same internal tension. As someone charged with helping keep the Crown afloat, sending the only available new recruits – her kids – out to work on the royal front lines is the smart play.
However as a mother, surely she must want to protect them as best she can and want to give them as much freedom and choice about their lives as possible.
There are not enough tiaras or squirrelled away Rembrandts that can, to my mind, even begin to make up for just how difficult the coming years will be for Kate.
“Nobody knows what utter hell it is to be the Prince of Wales,” Prince Charles reportedly once said. In the same vein, I’m guessing no one will ever know what “utter hell” it could very well be to be the Duchess of Cambridge in the years to come.