A Lengthy Wait For Will And Kate
Looking back at William and Kate’s Royal Tour of the Yukon is like trying to remember a vivid dream, moments after waking up. I can hold on to bits and pieces: fleeting feelings, glimpses of small details. But I can’t grasp its substance: the main plot line of the dream, the bold strokes of what its characters were actually saying and doing.
My Royal Tour began two hours before the government plane bearing the Royals had actually landed, when I boarded a media bus downtown, and headed up to the airport with a couple dozen reporters, photographers, and videographers from a half-dozen countries. Outside the bus, on the low hill above the runway, we lined up along the curb for an inspection by a police sniffer dog. A growing crowd of Yukoners, gathered behind metal barricades nearby, watched as the dog worked its way along our line of backpacks and cameras and tripods, presumably seeking out explosives. We all passed. On the tarmac, we were herded into a pen with a view of the empty runway: flagpoles, set up for the occasion, and a mobile staircase ready to be rolled up to the plane door when the time came. Various Yukon dignitaries—the mayor, the premier, our MP, the territorial commissioner—waited by the flagpoles, all of them in business-casual attire. Protocol required that they be no more dressed up than William and Kate, when they arrived in their carefully chosen casual airplane wear.
We waited, shifting our feet in the cold. Contingents of Canadian Rangers and cadets marched out and settled into formation, opposite the flagpoles. Finally, the plane arrived. Its rear door opened first, disgorging staff—and another crowd of media, high enough up in the pecking order to ride on the royal plane itself, and not restricted to our lowly pen. They scurried in front of us, stepping into the shots that the other photographers had been waiting on for over an hour, shouts in British accents filled the cold air. “Oi! Get down! Get out of the way! Get down!” After that, my memories splinter into sensory impressions. Camera shutters clicking. Kate’s dark-green coat, and the Rangers’ bright-red hoodies. One of the newly arrived photographers, noticing the Yukon-branded toques that the rest of us received before boarding the media bus: “Why have you all got the same hat?”
The pattern was the same for every event on the tour: Arrive early, get cleared by security, wait, and wait some more—and then a scramble of camera flashes and jockeying for position and glimpses of the Royal couple making their brief rounds. The North’s unofficial travel motto, “Hurry up and wait,” had never been more apt.
The next morning, I waited on Front Street, in downtown Whitehorse, in a crowd of hundreds. It was cold and clear, the street glowing gold with that perfect, low-angled winter sunlight, the Yukon River steaming. The crowd was packed along barricades lining the street, where the Royal motorcade—a line of black, window-tinted GMC Yukons, of course—would arrive and deposit William and Kate at the MacBride Museum. ˚
When the cars pulled up, and the Royals emerged, someone near me shrieked, “Here they come!” As the couple stepped out onto the street, a woman yelled “William, Kate, we love you!” and the crowd laughed uncomfortably, a little self-conscious at the display. “Kate! Kate!” Someone else yelled, and then giggled. Everyone seemed torn: halfway caught up in the moment, and halfway embarrassed to be screaming at a pair of foreign strangers on a weekday morning at 9 a.m. When William and Kate vanished into the museum, the crowd around me dissolved. “Gonna go get a bagel,” someone said. Someone else: “Gotta get to work.”
But for some of us, this was work: looking for some story in the circus. Back on another media bus, and down the highway to Carcross, then up a rutted gravel road to an open clearing high on Montana Mountain. Here, again, we waited. William and Kate would take in a short cultural performance and formal welcome in town, and then drive up the hill for a mountain biking demonstration from local youth. The original idea, I’d heard, had been for the Royals to inspect the trails being built by the Singletrack to Success program, a project for Carcross youth. But this open gravelled area offered a superior snowy-mountain backdrop, so here we were. The clearing was part of a contaminated former mining site, apparently. The warning signs had been taken down for the occasion.
Kids on bikes were everywhere; Mounties, also on bikes, watched over the scene. A caterer in a wall tent handed out small sandwiches, and hot chocolate in fancy teacups. In the media area, a British reporter faced a German television camera and addressed the mini-controversy over young Prince George refusing to high-five Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the British Columbia leg of the tour. Would the Queen be upset that the toddler had created an international incident? “I think the Queen would be more concerned that the future King of Canada was comfortable.”
A one-minute warning called out over the P.A. The slow glide of the motorcade coming to a halt. A British photographer in the media pen asking the kids to stop biking around in circles, so that he could get a clear shot of William and Kate, and receiving only laughter in reply. Some wise-ass playing Lorde’s hit song, “Royals,” on the soundsystem. A local woman screaming at William: “I loved your mother!”
It’s not a question of memories fading, but my experience of the Royal visit never amounted to more than a collection of small moments. The Duke and Duchess didn’t say or do all that much, and when they did, I wasn’t close enough to catch the thread. I’m left with fragments of sight and sound and feel: Kate’s just-the-right-amount-of-casual grey cardigan on Montana Mountain, the angry mutters of the perpetually unhappy British press corps that follows the Royals everywhere, the cold of the Whitehorse airport tarmac seeping through the soles of my shoes. I’d guess most other Yukoners experienced the visit in fragments, too: a traffic jam or a glimpse of a motorcade; a hurried selfie; a quick handshake in a crowd. And then the red taillights of the dark SUVs as the circus moved on.