Dickie Arbiter: The aspect of ‘growing up royal’ that changed for the better

In the space of less than two weeks, two royal children have appeared in newspapers and glossy magazines – Prince Louiswho turned four on April 23, and her sister Princess Charlottewho turned seven on May 2.

Both photographs were taken by mum, the Duchess of Cambridge.

The Duke of Cambridge, known for his ambivalence towards the media, gave his wife the green light to photograph the children to satisfy the public’s appetite.

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Princess Charlotte in one of the birthday portraits captured by her mother, the Duchess of Cambridge. (HRH the Duchess of Cambridge)

It paid off, compared to when he was the same age as Prince George – not a day went by without the paparazzi trying to ambush his mother, Diana Princess of Wales , during the school run.

The rules about photographing children have changed for the better, and today the intrusion has all but disappeared.

There has always been an insatiable media appetite for royal photographs but, unlike in the past when a joint media photo opportunity was organized by Buckingham Palace, members of the royal family now take their own photos to release to the press.

New photos of Prince Louis released on the eve of Royal's fourth birthday.
Kate showed her hand behind the lens, as seen in her children’s birthday photos. (Twitter / @KensingtonRoyal)

That they were easily accepted by the media says a lot not only about the subject, but about the quality of the image itself.

Catherine Cambridge studied art history at St Andrew’s University in Scotland, but developed her love of photography as a young girl with her grandfather, Peter Middleton.

She turned out to be a helping hand behind the lens. Her children’s birthday photos over the years bear witness to this. But who can forget those memorable portraits she took of two Holocaust survivors and their grandchildren?

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Kate Middleton The Duchess of Cambridge Holocaust survivors photograph portraits
Catherine captured portraits of two Holocaust survivors with their grandchildren for an exhibition in 2021. (HRH The Duchess of Cambridge)

They were included in an exhibit to mark International Holocaust Day in 2021 as well as to mark the 75th anniversary, the previous year, of the liberation of Auschwitz.

The Duchess said she spent several hours with the families beforehand, talking to them and getting to know them before deciding how she would light the photo shoot for the most dramatic effect.

If we marveled at the photographic professionalism of Catherine Cambridge, think of Sophie Wessex; what was originally a family photo captured at a special private moment has become an iconic image.

Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth 2003
The photo taken by Sophie, Countess of Wessex shared on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral in 2021. (Twitter)

Taken in 2003 of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh atop the Coyles of Muick near the Balmoral Estate, the photo rose to prominence when the Queen posted it to the Royal Family’s Twitter feed the day before Prince Philip’s funeral on April 17. 2021.

It is well known that the Queen is an enthusiastic photographer, and it is conceivable that she inherited this enthusiasm from her father George VI. He owned a Kodak 16mm motion picture camera and used it regularly in the 1920s and 1930s, and during the Royal Family’s tour of southern Africa in 1947.

Before World War II, he gave his daughter, Princess Elizabeth, her first camera – a Box Brownie – and a camera has never been far since.

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King George VI, as Duke of York, filming with a motion picture camera at his camp in Southwold on August 7, 1935 (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)
The Queen likely inherited her love of photography from her father George VI, seen here using a cine camera. (Getty)

It’s even been suggested that a camera is as much a part of her life as her famous handbags and rarely out of reach.

In her early years on the throne, the Queen wanted her own recording of her visits abroad and her camera was always present, as she was at home recording the daily lives of her children.

When she traveled abroad, one of the last things to put in her travel bag was her camera. A board the royal yacht Britanniashe was often seen on deck taking photos of exotic locales in the Caribbean, Pacific Islands, Australia and on her annual cruise to the Scottish West Isles.

Queen Elizabeth taking pictures with a Leica camera
“It has been suggested that a camera is as much a part of the Queen’s life as her famous handbags.” (Getty)

His camera was also very visible when Prince Philip took part in carriage diving competitions at the Royal Windsor Horse Show.

Before joining the press office at Buckingham Palace, I was a television journalist and was often called upon to attend special family events deemed to be of public interest.

The first that comes to mind was Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother’s 82nd birthday on August 4, 1982 and the christening of Prince William.

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Queen Mother
An official photocall was held for Prince William’s christening in 1982. (Getty)

At the christening ceremony in the Music Room, William, just 44 days old, was as good as gold and let out just one cry, this as the Archbishop of Canterbury with the water of the Jordan blessed him.

After the ceremony, as the royal family and godparents arranged for historic photography, all hell broke loose. William was past mealtime and he was hungry. In a spontaneous gesture, mum Diana, Princess of Wales, stuck her little finger in her mouth and calm returned.

On Prince William’s birthday, two years later, he was brought into the walled garden of Kensington Palace to meet the press – cameras and all. By then, curiosity was getting the better of him as he showed great interest in the cameras and microphones, the latter kept ready in hopes of picking up chatter.

A young Prince William charms the press during a photocall for his second birthday in Kensington Palace Gardens on June 12, 1984
Then-journalist Dickie Arbiter (rear, far right) was called in for a media photocall on Prince William’s second birthday. (Getty)

The photo opportunities I’ve witnessed are largely from another era, and we’re unlikely to see anything similar in years to come, if at all, and certainly not until the kids of Cambridge get married and have children of their own.

When the Queen turned 90 in 2016, a TV documentary showed how the royal camera had become an indispensable part of her daily life, showing stills as well as motion pictures of the family growing up.

The camera, film or still, has become as much a part of the Queen’s life as cutting ribbons, unveiling plaques and shaking hands.

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