Crickey, Harry! You’ve really gone and done it now. Have you no sense of propriety, of dignity, of the buttoned-up repression that is your birthright? Stripping off at a pool party in Las Vegas is one thing, but speaking the unvarnished truth about power is quite another. I say truth, but your claim that nobody in the Royal family wants to be King or Queen isn’t entirely the case, is it? For several decades, your 68-year-old father’s increasingly liver-spotted hand has been straining in the air, voice hoarse from crying “Pick me! Pick me!” But as we have witnessed, that’s not how things work in the House of Windsor. Which is why your bold assertion that you and your brother, Prince William, are modernising the British monarchy is starting to smack of at best debunking and at worst, dismantling.
Yet, all of this makes us adore you a little bit more. With every blunder and ill-advised outburst, we warm to you with a soppy indulgence we frankly wouldn’t be caught displaying to our own flesh and blood.
In an age of trolling and public shame-fests, it is as if you alone walk through the fires of social media unscathed. Even Mumsnet, the last bastion of purse-lipped matronly disapproval, thinks you are (whisper it) pretty cool. So much so, I’m reminded of Rowan Atkinson’s comedy classic Blackadder, Miranda Richardson’s Queenie wide-eyed and swooning at adventurer Lord Flashheart, who upon turning up to be best man at Edmund Blackadder’s wedding, shouts “Woof” at the giggling courtiers and then swaggers off with the bride.
Yet, still, the ladies love him and all the chaps want to be him. It’s a pastiche of course, but our humane response to Harry’s heart-on-his-sleeve honesty and tousled self-confidence highlights an uncomfortable truth — British loyalty is no longer to the title, but to the personality. In an era when all authority is questioned, the Queen’s popularity outstrips that of any elected politician because, aged 91, she has dedicated her life to public service and Britain’s gratitude is unwavering.
All but the most stubbornly intractable anti-monarchists would agree on that. But a new monarch would mark a pivotal point. Britain’s republican movement, Republic, has already declared its intention to campaign for a referendum on the future of British royals. Given the contrarian mood that has gripped electorates from Gower to Wisconsin, the result is by no means a done deal, especially if the republican-inclined young are persuaded to take part.
Charles has a difficult relationship with just about everyone apart from his wife, Camilla.
Rightly or wrongly, most people have garnered the impression he is eccentric, crotchety and fritters his days either writing spidery letters to ministers or muttering to his house plants. Is that a fair assessment of someone who founded the Prince’s Trust, which provides invaluable opportunities to disadvantaged young people and a man who has tirelessly campaigned on environmental issues, championed organic farming and spoken out on the role of architecture in society? No, it’s not.
But then, others could reply, is it fair that some people are born into gilded lives of hereditary privilege and wealth? Touche. Prince Harry clearly overlooked his father when he told the US magazine Newsweek: “Is there any one of the Royal family who wants to be King or Queen? I don’t think so, but we will carry out our duties at the right time.”
If that sounded a touch casual verging on graceless — in that case give it to someone who does want it, mate — his next comment was even more revealing. “The monarchy is a force for good and we want to carry on the positive atmosphere that the Queen has achieved for over 60 years, but we won’t be trying to fill her boots.”
It’s how the young speak, I suppose, although at the grand old age of 32, Harry isn’t the raffish pup he used to be. Not least because he appears to be settling down with the American actress Meghan Markle, a divorcee who has lived rather more than Catherine Middleton did before she wed Prince William. The parallels between William and Harry in this generation and Charles and Andrew 30-odd years ago, are striking. The heir is expected to conform. The spare is allowed free(er) range.
That’s how it should be on a personal level, but when you are part of any firm, especially The Firm, speaking at liberty like this is a risky business; it’s why press secretaries were invented. The effect of such openness could be an eroding public respect, regardless of the legitimacy of the remarks. And respect, along with a certain awe, is what the monarchy rests on.
The Queen, as Head of State, does not govern, she exercises a soft power and a global reach that cannot be so easily replicated. It is clear that heart-throb Harry and dad-dancer William are modern young men. When William hugged a bereaved wife from the London tower fire disaster he felt unencumbered by protocol. Harry’s people skills are legion. But the more informal their behaviour, the harder it will be to shore up the image of the monarchy as an immutable, time-honoured institution, part of, yet set apart from, everyday life. There is no harm in letting a little daylight in upon magic, but the full glare of the sun will fade the furnishings and undermine their uniqueness.
— The Telegraph Group Limited, London, 2017
Judith Woods writes features for the Daily Telegraph.