Prince William suggests he may not become king of the Commonwealth

London: A humbled Prince William says it’s for Commonwealth countries to decide if he is ever to lead it, as he acknowledged his eight-day tour of the Caribbean has brought about a “sharper focus” on the future of the monarchy.

The Duke of Cambridge, the second in line to the throne, said on Sunday he understood he may never succeed the Queen and the Prince of Wales as head of the Commonwealth, as he vowed not to be “telling people what to do” amid growing republican sentiment throughout the former British Empire.

Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge in Great Abaco, the Bahamas on Saturday.

Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge in Great Abaco, the Bahamas on Saturday.Credit:Getty

Breaking with royal protocol, the 39-year-old gave a candid assessment of the couple’s tour of Belize, Jamaica and the Bahamas, which was beset by controversy and diplomatic challenges.

He told reporters as he boarded a plane home that he and wife, Catherine, were “committed to service”.

“For us, that’s not telling people what to do. It is about serving and supporting them in whatever way they think best, by using the platform we are lucky to have,” he said.

“It is why tours such as this reaffirm our desire to serve the people of the Commonwealth and to listen to communities around the world. Who the Commonwealth chooses to lead its family in the future isn’t what is on my mind.

William and Catherine meet with locals on Great Abaco, their first joint official overseas tour since the onset of COVID-19.

William and Catherine meet with locals on Great Abaco, their first joint official overseas tour since the onset of COVID-19.Credit:Getty

His comments followed last-minute changes to a speech on Saturday where he acknowledged that relationships with Commonwealth countries would “evolve”, as he sought to change the narrative of a tour that was criticised in Britain for being out of touch and rooted in colonialism.

“What matters to us is the potential the Commonwealth family has to create a better future for the people who form it, and our commitment to serve and support as best we can,” he said.

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While receiving a warm welcome from large and enthusiastic crowds, William and Catherine were plunged into controversy on several occasions during the week, including when they were forced to abandon a scheduled visit to a cacao farm on the first day of the tour because of a land rights protest form a local indigenous community.

In a meeting with the Prince days later, Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness made it clear the country was ready to “move on” and would sever ties with the British monarchy as soon as possible.

In Kingston, a photo went viral of the couple on an impromptu walkabout to greet children with arms outstretched through a wire fence, prompting accusations of racial insensitivity.

In Belize on Thursday, the government announced a new commission that will be holding consultations on the “decolonisation process enveloping the Caribbean region”.

William said that foreign tours offered “an opportunity to reflect”, noting that they had learnt a lot from prime ministers to school children about their fears and hopes for the future.

“I know that this tour has brought into even sharper focus questions about the past and the future,” he said.

Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness (left); Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge; Prince William; and Governor-General of Jamaica Patrick Allen speak during a dinner at King’s House in Kingston on Wednesday.

Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness (left); Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge; Prince William; and Governor-General of Jamaica Patrick Allen speak during a dinner at King’s House in Kingston on Wednesday.Credit:Getty Images

“In Belize, Jamaica and The Bahamas, that future is for the people to decide upon. But we have thoroughly enjoyed spending time with communities in all three countries, understanding more about the issues that matter most to them.”

Commonwealth leaders four years ago decided that Prince Charles should succeed the Queen in the honorary, non-hereditary position. There have been suggestions that, it there was enough support, it might be rotated among Commonwealth leaders in the future.

The British press has reported that the couple had “wrestled” with how to approach the tour, saying he was keen to “have his own voice” and was acutely aware he needs to express opinions in his own words about Britain’s colonial past.

At a governor-general’s reception in Kingston on Thursday he used a speech to acknowledge that “slavery was abhorrent” and “forever stains our history”.

“I want to express my profound sorrow,” he said.

But he was criticised both locally and in Britain for not going far enough, as demands grow for full apologies and reparations.

In a speech on Saturday in the Bahamas, amid added momentum to the republican campaigns in the region, William said: “I want to say this: we support with pride and respect your decisions about your future. Relationships evolve. Friendship endures.”

Rob Harris is Europe correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.Connect via email.

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