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Tuesday, 18 June 2024
Britain’s right royal rumpus
Ian Black

In a rare piece of royal good news the other day, the Duke of Edinburgh, commonly known as Prince Philip -  Queen Elizabeth II’s husband or “consort” - was discharged from a London hospital to rejoin his wife at Windsor Castle to the west of the British capital. Britain’s right 

 Prince Philip, aged 99, had spent nearly a month being treated for a heart condition and an infection before he was able to go home – though not to Buckingham Palace. Philip has spent most of the lockdown at Windsor with the Queen for their safety, alongside a reduced household staff dubbed “HMS Bubble.” The couple, who have been married for 73 years, received their first Covid-19 vaccinations in January.

 Philip was also lucky to miss the bombshell of his grandson Harry’s appearance, with his wife Meghan Markle, on the Oprah Winfrey chat show on March 7. “The family are very keen that he's not aware of the full extent of the interview,” one royal expert was quoted as saying. Had Philip died, it was reported after the event, it would have been postponed.

 That controversial 50-minute interview with the star of American prime time TV has generated an unprecedented torrent of comment about the current status of the British royal family in the Queen’s 69-year long reign.

 It was indeed sensational, but actually not that surprising. Meghan, a Hollywood actress, is mixed-race and she reported “concern” amongst the royal household, about how dark their baby son Archie’s skin would be when she was pregnant. Loneliness was another serious problem, prompting “very scary” thoughts of suicide.

 Neither Meghan nor Harry would reveal who made these remarks, saying to do so would be “very damaging”. Winfrey later clarified it was neither the Queen nor the Duke of Edinburgh. Later, Prince William, Harry’s elder brother and the heir to the throne after their father Charles, the Prince of Wales, told reporters: “We’re very much not a racist family.”

 Buckingham Palace responded, two days after the interview, with a short statement in the name of Queen, just 61 words: “The issue raised, particularly that of race, are concerning. Whilst some recollections may vary they are taken very seriously and will be addressed by the family privately.” Britain’s right 

 It was not the first time that complaints about the royals’ attitudes had gone viral, generating a frenzy of coverage in the British media. Back in 1997 William and Harry’s own mother, Princess Diana, was killed in a car accident in Paris after she and Charles had divorced. Diana, who was both white and very English, had her own difficulties with her husband’s family – just like Meghan.

 In 1995, Diana’s candid interview with the BBC’s Panorama programme was watched by 23 million people in the UK. Hailed as the “scoop of a generation,” it was three years after she and Charles had separated. It exposed their unhappy marriage, substantiated rumours and confirmed that both she and her husband were having extra-marital affairs.

 The aftermath was deeply damaging. It completely compromised Diana’s relationship with the rest of the royal family, who knew nothing of the interview in advance, leaving her isolated from any palace support.

 Fast-forward a quarter of a century and the impact of Meghan’s may be similar. She and Harry had already attracted headlines last year by deciding to give up their royal duties, move to California and fund their lifestyle with lucrative media deals – though they took care to make clear that were not rewarded financially for their Winfrey interview. 

 Harry in particular emphasized the impact of “bigoted” tabloid newspapers on the couple’s well-being. Meghan successfully sued the Mail on Sunday after it published a private letter she sent to her estranged father.

 Reactions in the UK reflect changing attitudes towards the royal family. Different generations view it differently. Younger people are more likely to see the monarchy and the British press as institutionally racist, believe Meghan should have been given more support and that she was entirely justified in airing her grievances in public. Her accusations clearly dealt a reputational blow.

 Britons over 50 and older are more likely to feel that Meghan is an adult who should have thought harder about joining the royal “firm” – in which the institution of monarchy is deemed more important than individual members. Britain’s right 

 Queen Elizabeth has now reigned longer than any other British royal and heads the biggest monarchy in Europe. And she is more popular, wiser and less controversial than ever, disarming even the most republican-minded critics with a poll last year finding that two-thirds of Britons want to maintain the status quo.

 Problems will escalate, inevitably, when she is succeeded by Charles, who is now 72, has been the Prince of Wales for more than half a century, and is known to want a “slimmed-down” royal family. A recent survey found that more Britons want William to succeed the Queen than want Charles himself to do so. Still, advocates of abolishing the monarchy and electing a British head of state have not made much progress. But trouble may well be brewing in the future. Britain’s right 

IAN BLACK levant