Prince William and Duchess Kate’s royal train tour to thank frontline workers across the United Kingdom may have been executed with good intentions, but emails released by the Scottish government today reveal that aides working for the royal couple ignored requests to postpone travel during nationwide restrictions.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s three-day trip covered 1,250 miles across multiple stops in Britain, but it was their visits to Wales and Scotland that were heavily criticized by politicians due to restrictions permitting only “essential” travel at the time.
Kensington Palace tells BAZAAR.com that the working visit adhered to all rules and “was planned in consultation with the U.K., Scottish and Welsh governments.” However, a Freedom of Information request made by Scottish newspaper The National revealed that Scottish government officials had emailed the royal household on a number of occasions to warn of the “major impact” the tour would have during such a sensitive time.
A November 12 email sent to aides for William and Kate by the principal private secretary to Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, raised concerns about the couple’s train stops in the country, where they planned to be greeted by a bagpiper at Edinburgh’s main train station and visit the Scottish Ambulance Service.
“You’ll know that we are currently asking people living in Scotland to avoid unnecessary travel from local authority to local authority and to keep journeys within the area they live to an absolute minimum,” John Somers wrote.
“From a personal point of view I think the [train tour] is one which would mean a lot to many people living throughout the country. My anxiety though is the practical aspects of it and how presentationally it may be difficult if travel restrictions are in place,” he added. “I think my view is that at the moment the chances of the tour having to be postponed are potentially quite high.”
A week later, James Hynd, head of cabinet, parliament, and governance, followed up with the palace, warning them that Scotland’s nationwide travel ban would affect plans for the train tour.
“The Scottish Government is likely to bring forward statutory restrictions on non-essential travel both within Scotland and also into and out of Scotland,” Hynd wrote on November 19. “These rules will come into force from 6pm tomorrow. They will have no set termination point but will be reviewed regularly. This is obviously likely to have a major impact on the plans you are working on I am afraid.”
Despite the warnings, the tour went ahead during the restrictions on December 6—a decision that received much criticism from locals who had been unable to see family members due to the inability to travel.
Sturgeon told reporters before the couple’s arrival in Edinburgh, “The Scottish government was advised about the intention to visit, and we made sure that the royal Household were aware, as you would expect, of the restrictions in place in Scotland so that could inform both the decision and the planning of the visit. Any more questions on that should be directed to the royal household.”
Scottish politician Deidre Brock told The National, “People are having to stay in their houses, we can’t meet family or friends, we can’t pay proper respects at funerals, we can’t even hug our loved ones when they’re going through hard times.
“I would have hoped that the Royal Family would have had enough empathy to respect what people are going through rather than looking for publicity.
“The Scottish Government pointed out the travel ban twice and the Welsh Government made clear it wasn’t happy. This ‘work trip’ wasn’t essential work, it wasn’t for any of the exemptions laid out in the rules and the guidance.”
A spokesperson for the Cambridges responded to the new reports in a statement to BAZAAR. “The same guidance we gave last month [before the tour] still stands,” it reads, before reiterating their comments given during the trip last December. “The Duke and Duchess were travelling for work purposes and all rules were fully adhered to. The trip was planned in consultation with the U.K., Scottish and Welsh governments.”
Cases and deaths in the U.K. have recently hit new highs, as hospitals are currently at breaking point. More than 80,000 deaths have been recorded in the country—the worst death toll in Europe and the fifth worst in the world.