Ppllleeaassee! Can we get rid of the Monarchy once and for all?
- By Clare Foges
- 17 minutes ago
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s Archewell Foundation aspires to change the world “one act of compassion at a time”. The couple’s latest act of compassion towards family and nation is their interview with Oprah Winfrey, screened in Britain on Monday.
A trailer for the tell-all shows the Duchess referring to the royal family as “the Firm”, recalling the John Grisham novel of the same name, in which a young couple are pursued by a murderous mafia-led organisation. One imagines capo dei capi Queen Elizabeth chewing on a Cohiba and ordering that her errant grandson and his wife be dispatched to sleep with the fishes (reputationally at least) with an investigation into the duchess’s alleged bullying of staff.
As the movie quote goes: “Somewhere, inside, in the dark, the firm is listening.”
Explosive revelations from Harry and Meghan
At this point Times readers may cry: “Who cares? If I want tittle tattle I’ll buy a celebrity rag!” But the saga of the Sussexes matters. It matters because the royal family plays an invaluable role in our nation’s image overseas. Two billion watched Prince William marry Catherine Middleton in 2011. Two billion! In the tiaras and fly-pasts, pomp and circumstance there is a magic that a million dull “inward investment” drives could never equal.
In Her Majesty the Queen we have a soft-power asset of incalculable value. As Sir John Major has said, “when people refer to the Queen almost anywhere in the world, they mean our Queen”. So when you come for our monarch or her “establishment”, you come for Britain’s reputation, too.
Though the Sussexes will always stress their fealty to Harry’s grandmother (their titles depend on it, after all), by suggesting that “the Firm” has been “perpetuating falsehoods”, they are attacking her life’s work. The Queen has spent decades preserving the mystique that is essential to monarchy’s power; in one two-hour interview they have lobbed a grenade through it.
It is not only the monarchy in the Sussexes’ sights; it seems the interview also covers the issue of race in Britain. Here we go again. For the past year those who see racism everywhere have pushed a juicy narrative: mixed-race woman is scorned by dusty, fusty palace and backwards nation that insists on English roses for its princes.
The part of the American psyche that insists on giving all Disney cartoon villains British accents will lap this up; it plays to the stereotype of England as a land of bigoted snobs - and damningly, the Sussexes have not defended the UK. Perhaps they really do feel that they were driven out by racist attitudes. But on what basis? The treatment of the duchess in the press?
Though Meghan has been given a rough ride, this - alas - is common for women in the public eye, not least royals. Fergie was dubbed the Duchess of Pork: was this gingerism? Princess Michael of Kent is routinely called Princess Pushy: is this anti-German xenophobia?
Was it the behaviour of Harry’s own family that smacked of racism? The touching spectacle of the Prince of Wales walking his future daughter-in-law down the aisle hardly suggests such froideur, nor the Queen’s generosity in lending the couple Frogmore Cottage. Was it the general response of the British public that was deemed unwelcoming? Surely not: on the day of the couple’s wedding 100,000 followers crowded the verges of Windsor to flag-wave; at every one of Meghan’s outings crowds pressed against the barricades to touch the Dior hem.
The truth is, it is not Meghan’s race or Harry’s union with a mixed-race woman that many in this country find insufferable but their evident self-regard and self-pity. In Britain it is a cardinal sin is to take yourself too seriously. We like our public figures low-key, self-deprecating, as humble as fame and fortune allow. Perhaps the Queen’s greatest PR master-stroke was the revelation that she serves her own cornflakes out of Tupperware containers.
It does not do to get too grand in this country, even if you are a duke or duchess. Yet whether they are demanding privacy while courting publicity, or enjoying the rewards of royal titles while shunning the responsibilities, or blathering about public service while ditching the boring old walkabouts in Rotherham, the behaviour of Harry and Meghan smacks of self-importance.
No matter the privilege of their lives, the couple seem determined not only to feel sorry for themselves but to air their grievances regularly. Yes, I know that heartache and misery transcend fame and fortune. All the wealth in the world is no insulation against suffering. But still, if you live a life that is unimaginably privileged to most, it is polite and emotionally intelligent to be circumspect about your own problems. To hear the duchess complain to Oprah that “there’s a lot that’s been lost” is tin-eared during a pandemic, when millions have lost livelihoods, lives and loved ones.
Such solipsism feels very much of our time; an age when narcissism is acceptable and viewing oneself as a victim is in vogue. Indeed, the split of public opinion on the Sussexes reveals a cultural schism in our country. In one camp are those who find it alien to endlessly share details of themselves, whose motto is “mustn’t grumble”. In the other camp are those who share their innermost thoughts daily on Twitter, whose mantra is “let me tell you my truth”.
For one side the word “duty” is laden with meaning; to the other it sounds archaic and suffocating. Accordingly, one part of the country thinks it appalling that they ditched royal life when it ceased to suit them; others think it marvellous that they broke free of the gilded cage to sink their toes in the Malibu sand.
We all might have felt more sympathy with the Sussexes if their decision to break from royal constraints had been followed by a period of genuine privacy, humility and respect for the institution they had left. But to enjoy the perks of association with the monarchy while trashing it - and the nation - is galling.
In a game of chess, a queen sacrifice is made in order to gain a more favourable tactical position. The Oprah interview seems like the Sussexes’ own queen sacrifice: a strategic decision to burn bridges with the British in order to build them with the Americans. Well, it’s the Queen’s move now, and there’s only one thing for it. Your Majesty: remove their titles.