EXCLUSIVE: REBECCA ENGLISH: Standing with seven presidents, three kings and too many prime ministers to count, Prince William steps up for his most high-profile role on the international stage yet

 

Standing shoulder to shoulder with seven presidents, three kings, a grand duke and almost too many prime ministers to count, Prince William yesterday undertook his most high-profile role on the international stage yet.

The circumstances were not ideal: deputising for his father, who had been advised to miss the international D-Day commemorations at Omaha beach due to his ongoing cancer treatment.

But a proud King Charles was, I am told, ‘delighted that the Prince of Wales attended to represent the nation’.

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As for William, an aide adds: ‘He has a strong sense of wanting to support his father, both at home and overseas.’

And so the heir to the throne – who has been a regular feature of many such an occasion but never the focus – represented King and Country alongside 24 world leaders ranging from President Joe Biden of the United States (the pair met in 2022 and William greeted Mr Biden warmly with a handshake and a hand resting on his arm), President Emmanuel Macron of France, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine and King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands.

Prince William undertook his most high-profile role on the international stage yet as part of the D-Day commemoration celebrations


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Prince William undertook his most high-profile role on the international stage yet as part of the D-Day commemoration celebrations

William waved at a photographer while at the ceremony, during which he also spoke to Canadian veterans about their experiences
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William waved at a photographer while at the ceremony, during which he also spoke to Canadian veterans about their experiences

In his speech William said the actions of Canadian troops 'ensured fascism was conquered' during the Second World War
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In his speech William said the actions of Canadian troops ‘ensured fascism was conquered’ during the Second World War

The Prince of Wales stood alongside seven presidents, three kings, a grand duke and almost too many prime ministers to count
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The Prince of Wales stood alongside seven presidents, three kings, a grand duke and almost too many prime ministers to count

Prince William walking with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (centre) and French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal (left) on Juno Beach


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Prince William walking with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (centre) and French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal (left) on Juno Beach

Prince William smiles as he walks alongside Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal at Juno Beach
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Prince William smiles as he walks alongside Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal at Juno Beach

The Prince of Wales meets the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, as they attend the International commemorative ceremony at Omaha Beach
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The Prince of Wales meets the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, as they attend the International commemorative ceremony at Omaha Beach

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky and Britain's Prince William, the Prince of Wales
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Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky and Britain’s Prince William, the Prince of Wales

Prince Albert of Monaco, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Prince William attending the D-Day Anniversary International Ceremony at Omaha Beach
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Prince Albert of Monaco, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Prince William attending the D-Day Anniversary International Ceremony at Omaha Beach

There was also royalty, dignitaries and political leaders from Poland, Slovakia, Canada, Italy, Poland, Luxembourg, Monaco, Belgium, Italy, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Australia, Norway, the EU, Greece and Germany.

In royal terms, as in politics, optics are everything and it was lost on no one – doubtless including William – that this was a glimpse into his future; hopefully one that is still many years away, but his future nonetheless.

He was by terms dignified and regal but also warm and friendly, laying a wreath with solemnity but greeting the veterans he encountered with an air of approachable camaraderie.

With the once blood-stained beaches of Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer – codenamed Omaha for the purposes of the D-Day landings – stretching out in front of him, William’s arrival prompted loud applause and a smattering of excited squeals from the audience (only President Zelensky prompted an even more enthusiastic welcome).

He was greeted warmly by President Macron of France and his wife, Brigitte, before only slightly self-consciously walking down a long red carpet flanked on either side by French uniformed guards before taking his Perspex VIP seat at the side of the central stage for the lengthy public ceremony.

By contrast, his engagement in the morning at Juno Beach, where he was the VIP guest at the official Canadian commemorations, was more relaxed and hands-on.

William, who was accompanied by Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau and prime minister Gabriel Attal of France, also laid a wreath on the sands and met one of Canada’s most decorated veterans, Honorary Lieutenant General Richard Rohmer, a centenarian who served with the Royal Canadian Air Force.

Wearing a suit with his Army Air Corps tie and decorations including his Great Master of The Most Honourable Order of the Bath neck order and his Golden, Diamond and Platinum Jubilee medals, along with his new Coronation medal, William met Mr Trudeau who told him: ‘There’s a great crowd here.’

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, US first lady Jill Biden and US President Joe Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron, Brigitte Macron and Prince William attending the D-Day Anniversary International Ceremony at Omaha Beach in Normandy, France
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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, US first lady Jill Biden and US President Joe Biden, French President Emmanuel Macron, Brigitte Macron and Prince William attending the D-Day Anniversary International Ceremony at Omaha Beach in Normandy, France

Prince William greeting veterans during the 80th anniversary of D-Day
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Prince William greeting veterans during the 80th anniversary of D-Day

The father-of-three spent time after his speech listening to the veterans on the 80th anniversary of the Normandy landings
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The father-of-three spent time after his speech listening to the veterans on the 80th anniversary of the Normandy landings

William was seen speaking with veterans as they shared their experiences with him following his speech at Juno Beach
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William was seen speaking with veterans as they shared their experiences with him following his speech at Juno Beach

The Prince of Wales shakes the hand of a Canadian veteran at Juno Beach in northern France on the 80th anniversary of D-Day
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The Prince of Wales shakes the hand of a Canadian veteran at Juno Beach in northern France on the 80th anniversary of D-Day

Prince William greeted by Macron as he arrives for D-Day ceremony

But the two men were forced to make polite small talk in front of the cameras as Mr Attal kept them waiting for five minutes.

Invited to take a ‘royal salute’ on a small red square of carpet, the royal was centre stage as he inspected the guard, stood for both the Canadian and French national anthems and watched a fly-past.

In a moving address, he also told his audience: ‘I am honoured to join you to commemorate the bravery and sacrifice of the Canadian troops, who gave so much 80 years ago.

‘Far from home they stormed these very sand dunes behind me, shoulder to shoulder with thousands of British troops. Standing here today in peaceful silence, it is almost impossible to grasp the courage it would have taken to run into the fury of battle that day.

‘I want to thank you, our veterans, for your extraordinary acts of bravery and sacrifice, on Juno Beach, and the liberation of Europe.’

He finished his speech with a smattering of faultless French: ‘Merci pour notre liberte, et merci pour votre service.’

Afterwards the prince walked down the beach to lay a wreath on the sand in the shape of his Prince of Wales feathers with a hand-written message which read: ‘Remembering all Canadians’ acts of bravery and sacrifice 80 years ago. Lest we forget. William.’ Before he left he stopped to speak to several of the veterans sitting on the dais.

The Prince of Wales has stepped in to represent Britain on the world stage in his father's place as he attends a moving ceremony to honour the heroes of D-Day
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The Prince of Wales has stepped in to represent Britain on the world stage in his father’s place as he attends a moving ceremony to honour the heroes of D-Day

The Prince of Wales has joined world leaders including US president Joe Biden, France 's Emmanuel Macron and Canada 's Justin Trudeau at Omaha Beach to mark the historic event
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The Prince of Wales has joined world leaders including US president Joe Biden, France ‘s Emmanuel Macron and Canada ‘s Justin Trudeau at Omaha Beach to mark the historic event

The Prince of Wales talks with Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky and his wife Olena
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The Prince of Wales talks with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky and his wife Olena

Prince William seemed in fine spirits as he spoke to veterans and members of the public during a surprise visit to Arromanches
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Prince William seemed in fine spirits as he spoke to veterans and members of the public during a surprise visit to Arromanches

The Prince of Wales visited the D-Day museum in Arromanches, which lies above Gold Beach, one of the stretches of coast that was targeted during the Normandy landings
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The Prince of Wales visited the D-Day museum in Arromanches, which lies above Gold Beach, one of the stretches of coast that was targeted during the Normandy landings

Prince William expresses gratitude for veterans during D-Day memorial

William asked one: ‘This must bring back many memories for you?’ ‘Oh yes, it brings back a lot,’ replied the man. ‘I love to come back. To see all the people I served with here.’ Another called out: ‘Best wishes to Kate.’

He also went into the Juno Beach visitor centre for an impromptu private chat – a bi-lateral in diplomatic terms – with Mr Trudeau and was warmly clapped by the crowds as he left, with many shouting out: ‘William, Prince William. A picture s’il vous plait!’

This was not a day for selfies. But there was a surprise stop at nearby Arromanches, where he spent time at the D-Day museum in the town overlooking Gold Beach, before meeting four veterans of the Gloucestershire Regiment in the Army, in front of waving crowds.

Veteran Julian Heal, 52, from Bristol, who served in Northern Ireland, said afterwards: ‘As a veteran it’s really good because he gets us, we have a good laugh, [he’s a] real approachable guy.’

Talking to insiders, there is no doubt that William is more ready than ever to step up to the plate.

‘Yes, we have seen his evolution as an international statesman, particularly since he became Prince of Wales,’ one told me this week. ‘What’s always remarkable is the sense of comfort and confidence he has in these big moments… And he feels a huge sense of responsibility in telling this story and marking such an important anniversary.’

Earlier in the day William gave a speech at Juno Beach praising the actions of Canadian troops who stormed the seafront on D-Day
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Earlier in the day William gave a speech at Juno Beach praising the actions of Canadian troops who stormed the seafront on D-Day

William cut a sombre figure earlier in the day before he made a speech paying tribute to Canadian troops who fought in the invasion of Nazi-occupied France
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William cut a sombre figure earlier in the day before he made a speech paying tribute to Canadian troops who fought in the invasion of Nazi-occupied France

Prince William, Canada's Justin Trudeau and France's Gabriel Attal lay floral wreaths on Juno Beach in Normandy
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Prince William, Canada’s Justin Trudeau and France’s Gabriel Attal lay floral wreaths on Juno Beach in Normandy

William laid a wreath of poppies on Juno Beach to commemorate the lives lost 80 years ago alongside Mr Trudeau and Mr Attal
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William laid a wreath of poppies on Juno Beach to commemorate the lives lost 80 years ago alongside Mr Trudeau and Mr Attal

The heir to the throne was gifted a pin by one veteran, while another told him they were sending their best wishes to his father King Charles
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The heir to the throne was gifted a pin by one veteran, while another told him they were sending their best wishes to his father King Charles

William made the journey to Arromanches before travelling to an international commemoration at Omaha Beach
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William made the journey to Arromanches before travelling to an international commemoration at Omaha Beach

Of course these new pressures come at a difficult time for him personally, with not only his father battling cancer but also his wife.

A source tells me: ‘Since the start of the year you’ve seen a real strength of character from the Prince of Wales.

He has really tried to strike a balance of supporting his family – his wife, his children and his father – but also continuing to go out and work. At no point have you seen him falter in that.

‘That speaks to his strength of character. And he has stuck to his guns about doing it his way.

‘Everyone’s cancer journey is different and everyone has to handle theirs in the way they see fit.

‘But what the prince does have is a strong sense of commitment to duty and service. And that will never change.’

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