They’re changing the garden at Kensington Palace. A small thing, you might think — but the recent arrival of a giant yew hedge at William and Kate’s London address has suddenly presented the tantalising glimpse of a future when the Queen is no longer with us, and Prince Charles is King.
Recently, the Mail revealed that mature trees — more than 200 — have been brought in at a cost to the taxpayer of £20,000 to create a secret garden at Kensington Palace, so Prince George and Princess Charlotte can enjoy a London playground shielded from prying eyes.
Kensington Palace is, of course, where William and Harry retain precious memories of playing with their late mother Princess Diana, and it’s said to be William’s wish to recreate those happy moments for his own children.
Yet, the arrival of the L-shaped hedge does far more than add another layer of privacy to their already shielded lives — it also signals a shift in gear not only in William and Kate’s life, but also in that of the rest of the Royal Family.
‘This is all being done in preparation for the next stage,’ explains one observer.
Pictured, an aerial view of Kensington Palace
‘While Prince Philip is around, the Queen will continue her huge workload to the very best of her ability. But without him, she is likely to accept it’s time for her to take her foot off the pedal.
‘She will then pare down her public duties to a core minimum — the State Opening of Parliament and so on — and Prince Charles and the younger generation will all move up a notch. That sea-change may not be so far away.’
As William and Kate move their family from their Norfolk retreat, Anmer Hall, to London, it’s clear that for the first time since their 2011 marriage, Kensington Palace will become the young royals’ power-base.
William has taken charge of new alterations within the palace — adding to the extensive previous £4.5 million refit.
Intriguingly, there is now the belief that when Prince Charles becomes King, he’ll continue to live at Clarence House and use Buckingham Palace merely as ‘the office’.
Which would mean William, Kate and Harry and the next generation of royals will continue to live at Kensington Palace.
One theory suggests that when William becomes king after Charles’s death, he and Kate will stay in Kensington Palace, while Clarence House — home of the Queen Mother before Charles and Camilla’s arrival in 2005 — could go to Prince Harry and his family.
So the yew hedge could not be a more dramatic symbol of the next stage in the history of the House of Windsor — whether it is popular with those outside or not.
‘It puts a wall between William’s family and the public,’ was one comment from passers-by as workmen planted trees.
But for many, it’s a sign of the siege mentality which seems to have grown up around the House of Cambridge, and visible proof that Kensington Palace is being turned into their fortress.
If William, Kate and Harry appear to be defensively circling the wagons, it’s reasonable to ask whether the planned statue of Princess Diana at the palace is intended to be solely for the princes — or whether the thousands of pilgrims who come each year in homage will be able to see it.
William and Harry seem to have gone out of their way — in creating their own charitable trust, The Royal Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry — to show they have little interest in their father’s efforts
That statue, together with a new exhibition of Diana’s dresses which opens later this month at the palace, are a clear sign that William and Harry have embarked on a very deliberate course of action to rehabilitate their mother’s name.
But bringing her back into the spotlight is likely to raise difficulties. Not least with the princes’ father, Charles.
As he inches ever closer to his lifetime’s ambition to serve as a memorable sovereign, the idea of a revival in interest in his ex-wife brings with it the inevitable disinterment of their marriage, and aspects of their lives — Camilla’s too — he’d rather forget.
Dwelling on the Diana legend can only put a distance between Charles and his sons, and some believe it already has.
Around Kensington Palace there’s a certainty that Meghan will become a permanent resident
Whatever his eccentricities, one thing you can say is that Charles’s place in history has been burnished by his many good deeds.
His creation of The Prince’s Trust, his instinctive help for the underdog and concern about the planet will be his legacy and monument.
William and Harry seem to have gone out of their way — in creating their own charitable trust, The Royal Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry — to show they have little interest in their father’s efforts.
He must be depressed by that. Especially, say observers, since Charles’s Duchy of Cornwall estate is, to a large extent, bankrolling the activities of his sons.
Meanwhile, Kensington Palace is attracting attention in a way not seen since Princess Diana’s heyday.
The reason is the arrival of Meghan Markle, currently sharing a duvet with Harry in ‘Nott Cott’, the Sir Christopher Wren-designed set of rooms the 32-year-old prince calls home.
Despite her acting commitments it’s expected Ms Markle will base herself at Nottingham Cottage for the next month or so, gradually imbibing the royal way of doing things shielded from public gaze
Situated just steps away from William and Kate’s far grander establishment, Nottingham Cottage is sufficient for one, or two.
But if Harry and Meghan’s romance goes the distance, which royal insiders believe it will, more spacious quarters will be required.
‘Expect an engagement announcement before the end of the year,’ says one royal-watcher confidently.
‘As a divorcee, Meghan may not be everyone’s idea of ideal royal bride material, but you can visibly see what her presence has done to Harry.
Make no mistake, what happens behind that expensive new hedge at Kensington Palace will shape the future of the monarchy
‘There’s a different kind of confidence about him these days, a sureness that’s never been seen before — a sense of contentment and purpose.’
She has much to learn but is capable of mastering its nuances — unlike in the previous generation, where Sarah Ferguson never fathomed what was required of her as a Duchess.
If Meghan and Harry marry, the media focus will switch away from Kate
Around Kensington Palace there’s a certainty that Meghan will become a permanent resident. But if the couple do marry, where will they live if, and when, they have children.
Much of the palace is now offices, and the remaining royal apartments are occupied by such individuals as the Duke and Duchess of Kent and Duke and Duchess of Gloucester.
One solution could be a country home on the Sandringham estate. The princes grew up in Gloucestershire but neither wants to find a home near their father, or put down roots around Highgrove.
‘Neither of them will live in that house, with all its memories,’ I was told.
And what of rivalry between Kate and glitzy California-raised Meghan, should they end up as neighbours?
If she and Harry marry, the media focus will switch away from Kate.
How will that sit with Kate, and her feisty mother Carole Middleton? ‘Funnily enough, I don’t think they’ll care,’ said one observer.
‘Carole is very confident as grandmother of the future king — Kate goes to the family home at Bucklebury in Berkshire a lot and Carole has a close bond with Prince George. So they are secure.
‘And William has said he wants his wife to be seen less as a clothes-horse, more a workhorse — so there’s room for both. The two women will get on very well.’
One thing that would be sure to swing attention back to Kate would be the news that she’s expecting another baby — and friends are convinced that it won’t be long.
‘Kate’s very broody,’ I’m told. ‘She is ready and eager for a third.’
Make no mistake, what happens behind that expensive new hedge at Kensington Palace will shape the future of the monarchy.