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Can William and Kate keep the British monarchy relevant?

In the wake of Queen Elizabeth’s death, this week’s visit by the Prince and Princess of Wales is something of a test run for the millennial generation of the British royal family.

Mayor Kevin White escorted Queen Elizabeth II during her 1976 visit to Boston.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff/file

It was a big deal when Queen Elizabeth visited Boston in 1976, 201 years after the first shots of the Revolutionary War were fired in Concord and Lexington.

That the head of state of an imperial power would show up to commemorate the bicentennial of a country that shed blood to rid itself of a hated, unaccountable monarchy said a lot about the queen, and, by extension, the British royal family.

So what does the visit this week of William and Kate, the Prince and Princess of Wales, say about them?

I keep reading and seeing on TV that this is a big deal.


But why? State-sponsored nepotism hardly seems something to celebrate.

Presumably, soccer fans glued to the World Cup will not desert the Banshee in Dorchester or Caffe Dello Sport in the North End to catch a glimpse of the royals. Some people might remember this visit mostly for the royal traffic jams it creates.

But hang on a minute. By many accounts, Kate and William are nice people. A friend’s daughter worked with Kate for a clothing company in London before Kate married William and found her to be lovely and down to earth.

Their itinerary, and past actions, suggest Kate and William are people of conscience and admirable values. Their interest in climate change, mental health, and social justice fits their millennial generation nicely.

The main item on their agenda is presenting the Earthshot Prize, which William launched to encourage entrepreneurs to create businesses that address climate change and environmental protection.

The prize’s name is a play on President John F. Kennedy’s 1962 “Moonshot” initiative, and the 60th anniversary of that bold quest made Boston, a city with Kennedy roots that takes climate change seriously, a good fit. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy, JFK’s daughter, will greet the couple with Mayor Michelle Wu. A bevy of celebrities will be at the MGM Music Hall for the Earthshot ceremony.


Kate and William are also scheduled to visit Roca, a nonprofit that does great work with vulnerable young people.

But, again, for all their good works, why is it that people who attain fabulous wealth and status by the sheer accident of birth or marriage are paid such attention?

Call it The Crown Effect, a curiosity based as much on sympathy as celebrity.

Netflix is currently streaming the fifth season of “The Crown,” Peter Morgan’s compelling take on the reign of Elizabeth II, a fictional rendering of real people and real events. Whatever its merits, the series has humanized the royals, showing the complexities and difficulties of their lives. Millions of viewers have formed more sympathetic opinions of the royal family based on “The Crown.”

This penultimate season spent a lot of time on the breakdown of the marriage of William’s parents, Diana and Charles. It made for painful viewing. Especially knowing that the couple’s young sons, William and Harry, were old enough to know what was going on.

The final season will show Diana’s death, trying to evade the paparazzi that fed on her like leeches. The sight of William and Harry, then 15 and 12, walking behind her coffin is an indelible image.

How can you not root for them?

You have to wonder whether this week’s visit would be an even bigger deal if Will’s brother and his wife, Meghan Markle, were coming to town.


Harry and Meghan have decamped to California, fed up with the difficulty of having anything resembling a normal life inside a royal family. Their choice roiled the royal family, but won the couple a good measure of sympathy — and publicity.

William’s 74-year-old father, the newly crowned King Charles III, was banging on about climate change before it became fashionable. But as a product of the old monarchy Charles will struggle to make a modern monarchy more relevant.

William, the king in waiting, and Kate seem better suited.

Historically, Boston was a place to try out a new play before heading to Broadway. The family Firm back in England will be reading the Boston reviews closely.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at kevin.cullen@globe.com.