‘You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!’
Prince Andrew is tangled up in the Epstein scandal. Prince Charles holds apocalyptic climate speeches. And Harry and Meghan took four private jets in eleven days after a summer of lecturing us about climate change. The Queen must surely wonder, as she prays each night, what on earth she has done to deserve such a useless shower of selfish show-offs.
In 1992, a speech the Queen gave looking back at that year referred to it as her ‘annus horribilis’ - year of disaster. During it, the Prince of Wales separated from Diana, who in turn co-operated over a ‘biography’ which was revealed to be more autobiography, portraying herself quite reasonably as the betrayed victim of a heartless cad and his cold family. Prince Andrew’s wife, Sarah Ferguson, was all over the media having her toes sucked by her ‘financial adviser’. On top of all that, Windsor Castle almost burned down leaving her with a £36.5 million repair bill.
The Queen may have believed that she had put her troubles behind her, but public distaste for the British monarchy would grow in the following years as the incandescent Diana - forever hugging a leper or looking for landmines - reminded us ceaselessly why we had stopped resenting royalty and how much we now loathed them for driving away the only lovable thing about them. This partiality reached its peak with Diana’s death in 1997, when the Queen became the target of public anger for choosing to stay up in Scotland rather return to Buckingham Palace and join the tsunami of mourning which had engulfed London, where thousands travelled to pay their respects. More than a million people lined the funeral route; two billion looked on worldwide. Diana’s coffin bore only a small white envelope bearing the single word MUMMY amid the flowers and her two sons walked behind the coffin. Because of them, we of the media decided to call a truce in the wars of the Windsors. Whenever we were tempted to torment Prince Charles, even when he married the woman who had helped her husband hollow out Diana’s life, we thought of the children. When Prince William grew up looking like her and Prince Harry grew up acting like her, we almost forgot how angry we’d been with the family. Then the boys were grown and a series of pretty weddings and cute tots seemed to have seen off public discontent for good.
This stormy summer, something has changed. The Queen may have believed that 1992 and 1997 were as bad as it was going to get, but as the old song says ‘You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!’ In January the Queen’s 97-year-old husband, Prince Philip, was involved in a car crash, hospitalising the female driver of the commoner car; in June a police convoy escorting Prince William and his wife mowed down an 83-year-old woman. Also in June Prince Charles made a speech warning that ‘the next 18 months will decide our ability to keep climate change to survivable levels and to restore nature to the equilibrium we need for our survival’ - shortly before in was revealed that in the previous 18 months the Royal Family’s carbon footprint almost doubled.
But two-thirds of the way through 2019, the first part of the year seems like a royal garden party compared with the problems the family now faces. Harry and Meghan took four private jets in eleven days after a summer of lecturing us about climate change and refusing to show their baby to the paying public; this followed shortly after the prince’s jaunt to the Google climate change summit where he is also thought to also have taken a helicopter, as he habitually uses them to fly short distances whereas the Queen makes do with a train. Having a public figure as notoriously self-centred and bad-tempered as Elton John rush in to defend them didn’t help, but only further established that the Sussexes saw themselves as international stars rather than our nation’s public servants. But at least their box-fresh love-match is in no way sleazy - that side of things is competently being taken care of by Prince Andrew, struggling to explain exactly why he found it appropriate to associate with the convicted and now conveniently deceased paedophile Jeffrey Epstein. Even if the Duke is completely innocent of having sex with underage girls, partying with a pimp is never a good look. And all this to a constant slow-drip of Prince Charles telling us how horrid the human race is!
What the three very different princes have in common in hypocrisy, a hypocrisy which cannot bear the examination of the blinding light of today’s 24/7 media, social or otherwise. In 2012 the constitutional expert Vernon Bogdanor said that the Queen had successfully survived her trials by making the transformation ‘from a magical monarchy to a public service monarchy…a much more utilitarian institution, to be judged by what it contributes to public service and community feeling.’ The downside of this is that the Windsors will not be given the Divine Right alibi of the past but will be judged by their behaviour - a department in which they now appear to be falling short on all fronts.
Nevertheless, reports of the House of Windsor’s death have been greatly exaggerated. When I was growing up in the 1970s, there was a Scots Labour Party MP called Willie Hamilton who had apparently been repeatedly elected by his constituency to insult the Windsors on television; Princess Margaret was ‘a floozy’, Prince Charles 'a twerp’ and even the Queen was branded ‘a clockwork doll’. There are no such hardline Republican public figures these days; indeed, as politicians have increasingly lost public confidence, revealed to be as lecherous, lazy and lying as the worst of the Windsors with their expenses scandals and inability to deliver a simple democratic decision, the idea that we would willingly elect another of them to be President seems as likely as the horses who pull the Royal Carriage transforming into flying unicorns.
But they would be wrong to believe that this attitude will last indefinitely. The Royal Family was always thought of as a uniting force in this country, whereas politicians are by their nature divisive; now the behaviour of Charles and Andrew and Harry and Meghan fuels a million heated water-cooler conversations. The Queen must surely wonder, as she prays each night to the deity whose alleged benediction she takes so seriously, what on earth she has done to deserve such a useless shower of selfish show-offs.
But maybe she already knows and is in deep denial, decent woman that she is. The very definition of a royal line is simply a band of people who - despite all the pomp and sentiment which will build up around them - fought dirtier and harder than anyone else to achieve and then sustain their supremacy above all others in that country. This is why - despite the Queen’s undeniable sense of duty - monarchy is showing its true colours when it behaves badly. Prince Charles, Prince Andrew, Prince Harry and his American wife are not the exception - they are, historically, the norm; entitled, grasping and above all hypocritical.
The Queen has carried out her duties admirably, but she made one big mistake and it wasn’t staying too long in Scotland. It was leading her subjects to believe that monarchy was by nature modest, hard-working and self-denying, as she is. But it was always a lie, and one which we now see starkly revealed. As the old saying has it ‘No good deed goes unpunished’; in doing such a good job at making the monarchy seem worthy of respect, and leading us to hold them to her high standards, the Queen unwittingly lit a bonfire which may go up any day now.
Julie Burchill has been a published writer since the age of 17. She is now 60 and is a columnist at the Sunday Telegraph. Her hobbies are spite, philanthropy and learning Modern Hebrew.