When the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were photographed enjoying an impromptu get-together with Edward and Sophie at the weekend, naturally eyebrows were raised.
As a group of nine they were, or appeared to be, breaking the Rule of Six outdoors in Tier 2.
Some felt it was a bad show by the royals, others thought they should be forgiven. Here, Mail columnists Sarah Vine and Jenni Murray take two passionately opposing sides.
Eyebrows were raised when the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were photographed enjoying an impromptu get-together with Edward and Sophie at the weekend
Forgivable says Sarah Vine
Under ordinary circumstances there would be nothing very remarkable about a blurry photograph of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Edward, together with their families, taking a casual stroll through the grounds of Sandringham in Norfolk.
It is, after all, Christmas. That’s what royals do at Christmas, isn’t it, wander around in expensive wellies looking regal?
But we do not live in normal times.
We live in bonkers, paranoid, Covid times, and what those people are doing is emphatically not enjoying a bit of harmless seasonal twinkle but a flagrant contravention of the law under Section Blah, Sub-section Baloney, Sub-clause More Bloody Misery of the 2020 No, You Can’t Have A Normal Life Or Do Anything Fun Ever Again On Pain Of Public Humiliation Act, as approved by Parliament.
Well, not exactly; but you know what I mean.
The idea that going on a walk with your family might be in breach of any sane rule is one that many people — myself included — still haven’t really got their heads around. Nor, quite honestly, do I ever want to.
I will do my best to comply; but I will never, ever come to accept these regulations as anything other than an utter abomination.
That something so completely natural and inoffensive as greeting a relative should somehow, in the dying days of 2020, constitute a quasi-criminal act is a state of affairs so completely, utterly, desolately depressing I don’t really want to think about it.
But think about it I must, as must we all. Because, as these pictures show, it can happen to anyone, even a couple with armies of advisers paid to remind them what to do.
One minute you’re out with the kiddies enjoying a tiny, harmless sliver of much-needed festive joy; the next you’re a pariah, a Covidiot, an irresponsible flouter of rules. And all because you happened to bump into your uncle in the park.
The royal couple and their children Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis at London’s Palladium Theatre
Look, I know the arguments. They’re royals, they should know better, yadda, yadda. But they’re also people. People, by the way, who have been complete superstars through this whole nightmare.
Upbeat, ever-present, generally putting themselves and their young family at the disposal of the public, reporting for morale-lifting duties whenever the occasion demanded it.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have a lot of credits in my book. I refuse to be cross with them about this.
In any case at least they’re here, in tier-strewn Blighty like the rest of us, which is more than can be said for some people, wafting around their £11 million mansion in California waffling on about raindrops.
Besides, this doesn’t strike me as an act of malice or, as some have intimated, arrogance. It’s just an honest mistake. Cock-up, not conspiracy. The two families insist they didn’t arrange to be in the same place at the same time; it just happened that way.
They bumped into one another. It happens. And they probably thought that by maintaining some modicum of distance and not actually being indoors or leaving together in the same vehicle, they weren’t doing anything wrong. And they weren’t.
It’s not wrong to take a stroll with relatives at Christmas. It’s just not allowed under current restrictions. Which are two very different things.
That’s why the idea that anyone should be upset or angry strikes me as absurd, not to mention a waste of energy.
It’s like being angry at that poor man who got shouted at by an official at a funeral for daring to put his arm around a grieving widow.
Fair enough, you’re not supposed to do it. But in the moment, you just forget. When a situation is so unnatural, so far removed from the rules of normal human interaction, it’s easy to slip up. All right, so they messed up. So what?
Let’s be honest, who among us could be certain that they wouldn’t make a similar sort of mistake?
The idea that going on a walk with your family might be in breach of any sane rule is one that many people — myself included — still haven’t really got their heads around, writes Sarah Vine
It’s not just that the rules are incredibly complex, seem to change every five minutes and don’t always follow an obvious logic. It’s also that they just go against every human instinct. I mean, what were the Cambridges supposed to do? Ignore the Wessexes? Form a ring of steel around their children to stop them accidentally touching a cousin?
Perhaps the Duke and Duchess, too, just forgot, for one tiny mad moment, to socially distance themselves from their emotions.
That they were not on a day out with the children, but living in Covid-land, where friends and family must be treated like lepers, where isolation has almost become a state of virtue, where our way of life is fast being replaced by the kind of authoritarianism more suited to a totalitarian state than one of the greatest liberal democracies on the planet.
The truth is, this wretched virus doesn’t exist in a vacuum — if it did it wouldn’t be a problem.
It exists in humans, and humans are fallible, even royal humans.
Covidiots says Jenni Murray
Angry and disappointed. That was my reaction when I saw that nine members of the Royal Family — plus bodyguards — had been gallivanting together at Sandringham on Sunday evening.
Norfolk is in Tier 2, where the rules state that six people, including children, can meet outdoors. That’s the Rule of Six, folks — not nine. How can they claim they didn’t know? Royal schedules are rigidly planned.
Advisers and, one would assume, police protection officers, are paid to know the rules and advise.
I am, on the whole, a big fan of Kate and William. They usually get things right. They have been impressive this year, touring the country and offering their support to ordinary people.
Yet, surely, it is the duty of the future heir to the throne and his wife to lead by better example.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge meet staff and pupils during a visit to Holy Trinity Church of England First School in Berwick-upon-Tweed in Northumberland
There’s another reason for my indignation, which I am sure will be shared by many people who saw those photographs.
On Sunday, as this family were enjoying a lovely time together, I had just reconciled myself to the prospect of spending my very first Christmas alone.
Earlier that weekend, I’d made the very difficult decision not to join my husband and sons, not to flee my Tier 4 London bolthole for our Tier 2 home on the South Coast, where good times and good company awaited me.
Why did I do this? Because it was the right thing to do.
Oh believe me, I nearly went. The car’s petrol tank was full, the presents were bought (well, most of them, thanks to internet shopping) and the horrors of the proposed Tier 4 just hours away, when something made me hesitate.
Everything I was reading screamed at me that I shouldn’t be going. I had my doubts about this new, more aggressive strain of the ghastly virus. Of course, I did — the Government’s record in controlling it has been far from admirable. The evidence, though, seemed clear.
But I was not only relying solely on the advice that was coming from the scientists and the figures that showed plainly that the transmission rates were soaring. I was hearing of more and more friends and neighbours who’d succumbed.
Some had spent weeks in hospital. In some cases, elderly relatives had died. Could I really risk travelling to the South Coast and bring this dangerous virus to the people I love? Should I flout the law?
I called a doctor friend who was unequivocal.
‘Jenni, you have to accept you are elderly. You are 70-plus. You’ve suffered all your life from asthma. Yes, it’s well controlled and you’re reasonably fit and energetic, but . . . you’d be crazy to put yourself and those you care for in any danger. You absolutely must stay put.’
Thus I joined the many thousands of us across the country who’d never thought we would be home alone at Christmas, but have realised that staying safe and keeping those we love safe is paramount.
Those who chose to stick to the rules, however painful they may be.
Yet the Duke and Duchess of Wessex, with their two children, and William and Kate and their three, most likely through thoughtlessness, looked to be having a good old festive catch-up, with not a care in the world.
Yes, they are in Tier 2. But it is the Rule of Six, not the rule of nine that applies in such regions, when outdoors.
Surely they knew they were taking a risk, however socially distanced? If not, they jolly well should!
They are the very people in a position to influence those who might be wavering over whether or not to follow the rules.
Whatever their motivation, it was a mistake to commune with one another when you’d have to live under a stone not to know there is a new, highly contagious variant of Covid-19 spreading across the country, particularly prevalent among children like their own. Yes, it’s unnatural. But this crisis is unnatural for all of us.
The Cambridges could (and should) have waved at the Wessexes with a cheery hello and moved on with their own little family. Within the rules.
I have never spent a Christmas alone. Even as a busy young journalist, I always managed to get home for the celebrations.
Obviously, my decision is upsetting for me and my family, but we know it’s the only sensible approach.
I sincerely hope this royal blunder doesn’t weaken the resolve of anyone else tempted to break cover and run.
I know that hearts are breaking countrywide, just like mine.
No snuggling up on the sofa full of far too much pudding, mince pies and cake. No watching the little ones grapple with the new bike or games console. No rows about whether Mrs Brown’s Boys is funny or excruciatingly awful (I’m in the latter camp).
Loneliness is as much of an epidemic as the wretched virus itself.
Look at the numbers: one in 20 people is drinking the equivalent of five bottles of wine a week, according to Public Health England’s alcohol survey; A rise of 189 per cent in people seeking help from Rethink Mental Illness website over suicidal thoughts since lockdown.
Kate, William, Edward and Sophie are among the very lucky ones. They live in the lap of luxury with their children. Their jobs are not at risk. They have the technology to speak to their families and the Queen on Zoom.
They should spare a thought for those who can’t. Those like me, who are following the rules at great personal sacrifice.