Royals journalist Katie Nicholl has been working on her book “The New Royals” for a year — and the timing couldn’t be more relevant. With the passing of Queen Elizabeth II in September at the age of 96, after 70 years on the throne, the British monarchy is at an inflection point. Nicholls’ book sets out to predict the future of the monarchy, in part by understanding the past and the precedent Elizabeth set out on the throne.
Nicholl spoke to two of the people who knew Elizabeth best in an effort to show who she was as a person, in addition to a monarch: the late Lady Elizabeth Anson, a cousin of the queen's, and the late photographer Philip Bonham Carter.
“It was an effort to try and understand the person behind the crown — a person who I think we understand better post her death, when we’ve seen the obituaries and the photos. And then, turn that projection onto the future,” she told TODAY after an appearance on the 3rd hour of the show.
The future for the Windsors is happening now. Upon the queen’s death, Charles immediately became king, though his coronation ceremony will be held at a later date.
“Charles is very aware that this isn't necessarily going to be an easy path as king. There are challenges ahead — not least close to home, but also the challenges of Gen Z. That 18-25 year-old demographic who don’t understand a constitutional monarchy, don’t understand why we have it,” she said.
“It’s up to Charles, and the next generation, William and Catherine, to show that there is a need, that they can be relevant in this very fast-moving world that we live in, and that an impartial, non-political head of state,” she continued.
With the queen’s death, WIlliam, Prince of Wales, is next in line for the throne. Already, Nicholls said, we see the type of king William, 40, will be one day.
Nicholls said that, more than past generations, William and Catherine, Princess of Wales, will use their “star power” to their advantage.
“While ‘celebrity’ was almost a dirty word for the queen, I think the ‘new royals’ understand the power of celebrity. What (a source close to William) said is that you won't see him on the red carpet for the sake of being on the red carpet, it's being on the red carpet with an important message,” she said, adding that William will make conservation — another cause his brother Harry, Duke of Sussex, is devoted to — a priority.
This behavior, Nicholl said, predicts the kind of monarch that William will be when his turn comes to ascend the throne.
“It’s a marker for a king who has a very clear idea of his purpose, one who really understands the notion of sovereignty, the importance of the crown. Duty runs through his DNA, just like it does with his father, just like it did with his grandmother,” she said.
“He wants the monarchy to survive. He believes passionately in it, and he believes it has a purpose and a place in today's society,” he said.
Meanwhile, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex is charting his own path with his wife, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex. The couple has lived in California since 2020, when they “stepped back” from their positions as senior royals. Once aligned with William and Kate — the media nicknamed them the "Fab Four" — the couples are now reportedly estranged.
Nicholl said, through her research, she had a better sense of what the queen thought of Harry’s move. “The Queen never truly understood why he left and how he could turn his back on duty,” she said.
Nicholls likened Harry’s departure as not quite a “constitutional crisis,” but something close. “It felt like it had a profound effect on the monarchy. It had an immediate effect on the monarchy. Quite simply, they were two key players down key players who Charles wanted to have a real role for,” she said.
No one, Nicholl said, was more impacted than William and Kate. “It definitely shifted them into a more central role sooner than they'd expected. And by default, their children,” she said. There was also an emotional fallout. “William had always thought of Harry as his wing man, as his sidekick. I do think that William has been very hurt by how he's left,” she said.
In the book, Nicholl described the Cambridges’ approach, especially when it comes to teaching their own three children. “They will be much more than celebrities or philanthropists. They have a unique global platform, and following the departure of the Sussexes they no longer have to share it. The monarchy is theirs to fashion in the way they see fit,” she said.
As for the Sussexes, who have multiple production deals in the works — and a memoir?
“It’s now a case of wait and see whether this can actually work. Because if Harry Megan can make a success of it, then it will be a blueprint for the future for those who are not in direct line with the throne but still members of the royal family to not use their HRH titles but use their unique position to actually do good. That was what Harry and Megan had set out to do. It just always seems to have come a bit undone,” she said.
Looking ahead, Nicholl listed what she sees as the great challenges the monarchy faces. Many, she said, has to do with the “rift” in the Windsor family between Charles’ sons.
Nicholl said the monarchy is anticipating revelations contained in Harry’s memoir, which he promised would be "firsthand account of (his life)" that is "accurate and wholly truthful” when it was first announced.
Then, there’s the question of whether Harry and Meghan’s two children, Archie and Lilibet, will receive the title of prince and princess. With the queen’s death, they are now eligible — should Charles give them the option.
“If Charles chooses not to give those titles, it's sending out a very clear message about the future of the monarchy. But will it mean that that rift is never healed? That rift at the heart of the House of Windsor is a major problem for Charles as he starts his reign, because you do not want division and faction at the heart of the monarchy,” she said.
Other challenges include “convincing the younger generation that the royal family can be an asset for the country and has a purpose in the world today,” “keeping the United Kingdom united,” and “the issue of the Commonwealth,” as member countries consider departing.