For the most famous family in the world, the bad news seems to keep coming.
Today there are new revelations about Prince Andrew and his ties with another billionaire with allegedly corrupt habits and alleged preference for very young women.
Yesterday, this newspaper revealed that Harry and Meghan fired all 15 of their British team and closed their office in Buckingham Palace. Despite all their protests about dividing their time between Britain and Canada, you could hardly find a cold-blooded final explanation that they have disappeared forever – and seem to care nothing about the damage they leave behind.
For the most famous family in the world, the bad news seems to keep coming. Today there are new revelations about Prince Andrew and his ties with another billionaire with allegedly corrupt habits and alleged preference for very young women
In 1945 King George VI was accompanied on the balcony of Buckingham Palace by his wife Queen Elizabeth and their daughters Princess Elizabeth on the left and Princess Margaret on the right
In addition, the Queen’s grandson, Peter Phillips, is divorced from his Canadian wife Autumn, the mother of their two young daughters.
Last year was bad enough for the Windsors, but we are barely halfway through February and there are already rumors about another annus horribilis. Some commentators speak of a monarchy in crisis and an institution in terminal decline.
Indeed, if we look at recent photos of members of “The Firm” fighting for space on the palace balcony and recognizing the cheers of the crowd at royal and national events, it is tempting to pick up the faces that will be Missed the next big opportunity and the conclusion that, yes, there is a problem.
At the age of 98, Prince Philip has, understandably, withdrawn anything but royal life.
Andrew is unlikely to recover from the self-inflicted damage to his reputation caused by his links with the pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, and it is hard to see what role he might play in public life.
Harry and Meghan have left in search of more privacy, more fulfilling careers – and undoubtedly more opportunities to take private aircraft to lucrative events such as those in Miami where they attended last week to talk about “mental health problems.”
It is unlikely that we will see Autumn Phillips there again, unfortunately. And how will Peter find time in his schedule to appear? He has to divorce and that milk advertisement for Chinese television is not going to make itself.
Prince Harry and Meghan, pictured, have closed their Buckingham Palace office with the loss of 15 jobs in what has been interpreted as proof that they have finally left Britain
You can probably guess that I don’t really think these people will be missed much. Aside from impeccable, dedicated Philip, I believe we don’t have to mourn their departure. I rather believe that we are much better off without them.
Harry’s recent speaking engagement, as well as reports of a projected alliance with the predatory Wall Street company Goldman Sachs, only confirms my opinion that Megxit is great news.
I never underestimate the pressure this has put on our 93-year-old queen, not just as the head of the institution, but as a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. She earned much better. In short, her family has abandoned her.
But is this really an existential crisis for the House of Windsor? No. It is an excellent opportunity to reconsider the monarchy and herald a leaner, more efficient age.
After all, we have been talking about a reformed, slimmed down monarchy for years, but without ever doing anything about it. Take those swollen balcony setups. Can any of us, with the exception of the most fanatic royal guards, really say that we know who they are?
I understand very well why the queen wants her family around her. But the fact is that at a celebrity-driven, gossip-fed age, it’s so inherently risky to keep such a large, extended family so close to the public.
The more royals you portray, the greater the potential for one of them to become embroiled in scandals. And the more people are on the balcony, the more it raises questions about who we pay for. A century ago such questions would not have been raised. Britain ruled by the Queen’s grandfather, George V, was a much more respectful society. People liked to read about the royal family, but they expected the news coverage to be respectful.
The grandson of the queen Peter Phillips, on the right, is divorced from his Canadian wife, Autumn, left, the mother of their two young daughters
You don’t have to be a republican to acknowledge that times have changed. It is hard to believe that there is one person in the UK who, for example, respects Princess Eugenie. Indeed, which of us would like to hand over his or her taxes to keep Eugenie or her sister, Beatrice, in the style they are used to?
It’s not for nothing that I choose those two princesses. Almost ten years ago, Prince Andrew’s daughters were removed from the Sovereign Grant list – the selection of royals receiving public funding – reportedly commissioned by Prince Charles.
It is to his credit that Charles apparently felt that the list should be as lean as possible. When he becomes king, it is generally assumed that he will strive for a radically slimmed down monarchy.
But in 2016, Andrew reportedly wrote to the Queen requesting his daughter to be restored – only to be rejected. That’s right too. A 21st century monarchy must give the world a much more compact and efficient face. This is not exactly the same as a bicycle monarchy, as we associate with Scandinavia and the Low Countries. Rightly or wrongly in Great Britain we expect a certain dignity and pomp of our royal family.
I was amused to see pictures of the Dutch king Willem-Alexander on vacation in New York last summer, trudging along the sidewalk in a baseball cap with shopping bags. But the prospect of a British sovereign successor seems ridiculous to me.
Since the reign of Victoria, our monarchy has mixed the magical and the mundane equally. The daily element is important: even George V, famous, spent his days collecting stamps. But the magic element is also crucial. We expect our royalties to be sprinkled with star dust, even if we know it is a bit of a fantasy.
On 98, Prince Philip withdrew almost completely from public life
So when Charles becomes king, it would be madness to start his government with, say, a bike ride through the Mall to Westminster Abbey. That can play well with the citizens of Amsterdam, but the British public craves a bit more glamor and a lot more gravitas – not least because the monarch is central to our constitution. The obvious model seems to be much closer to home.
In 1936, the father of our queen, George VI, was in the national spotlight after the most serious crisis in the modern history of the monarchy, the abdication of his brother Edward VIII.
George not only had to overcome his crippling shyness and persistent stuttering, after only three years he was immersed in the colossal challenge of the Second World War.
More than ever, millions of people saw the prince as the embodiment of our national spirit – a task that would discourage even the most confident person. George’s answer, born from instinct rather than calculation, was a public-master masterpiece. In fact, the royal family shrunk in just four people: the king himself, his wife Elizabeth and their two young daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret.
Look through every newspaper from the war, look at every news item and you notice the absence of other royals. The same four faces keep appearing, while the former Edward VIII – the raffish uncle rattling around the Bahamas – has disappeared.
It was perfect as a political iconography. Here was an idealized family, at the same time royal and ordinary: father, mother and two children, who shared the dedication and sacrifice of the people. Textbook crisis management? A perfect example of political spin? Perhaps. But it was authentic.
In 2016, Andrew reportedly wrote to the Queen requesting his daughter to be restored – only to be rejected. That’s right too. A 21st century monarchy must give the world a much more compact and efficient face
Even at home, George often spoke of “We Four” or “Us Four”, a close-knit team that rebels against the world; and he meant it.
It is therefore no wonder that millions of ordinary people felt that they knew them. There is indeed a very good case that this was the pinnacle of the modern history of the monarchy: the moment they felt closer to the people, and were more sincerely loved and respected than ever before or since.
Yet those days now feel far away. The new queen then had her own family. Husband and wife came – Antony Armstrong-Jones, Mark Phillips, Diana Spencer, Sarah Ferguson – and went.
It is of course a tribute to the queen that she supported her family. But I wonder if she might have been a little less indulgent and better advised.
In retrospect, the large set-piece weddings of Anne in 1973 and Andrew in 1986 should have been much more modest. And wouldn’t it have been better to clean up the hangers at a much earlier stage?
So here is finally a chance to get the ship back on an even keel with a radically smaller crew.
The template must be the photo taken in the New Year of four generations of monarchs, present and future: the Queen, Charles, William and George. This is the core of the program.
I would add the admirably hard-working Camilla, who concluded 224 engagements last year, as well as Kate, who performed 116 despite being the mother of three young children. (By the way, at the top of the table is Charles, who concluded 521 engagements last year, 148 of them abroad. Not bad for a 71-year-old retired person).
It can be tempting to keep it as close as possible to the ‘We Four’ of the 1940s.
But the requirements have changed. For example, there are many more charities – and therefore more requirements for patronage and performances – than in the 1940s. That means we need a slightly wider cast.
Last year Prince Charles booked 521 engagements while his wife Camilla had 224
Princess Anne, long known as the “hardest working royal”, carried out 506 assignments last year, more than one a day. So she’s in it. Edward and Sophie have also done well since their disastrous business initiatives, 308 and 206 respectively.
And a few less well-known royals deserve credit. The 75-year-old Duke of Gloucester, the queen’s nephew, is nothing like Meghan’s public profile. But he carried out 226 assignments last year.
You get it: a relatively close team, with a handful of core members and a few reliable supporting actors.
Regarding the ethos of the institution, look no further than the queen herself. Her life was a model of selfless dedication to duty, and her successors should learn from her example.
And as strange as it may seem, this is where Harry and Meghan may prove their greatest service: as the ultimate warning story, a lesson in self-pity and shameless freeloading.
One reason that George VI was so popular after all was that he was not Edward VIII. When people had to remember what they liked about him, they just looked over the seas and shuddered at the spectacle of the former king in self-imposed exile: a maudlin, self-obsessed moan with a spoiled, grunting American woman.
The big irony, therefore, is that the events of the past months will, far from marking a new crisis for the monarchy, eventually strengthen it.
Sometimes, when the ship is low in the water, you have to throw part of the dead weight overboard. Harsh? Yes, but that’s life. Away with the luggage, and full speed ahead for a leaner, meaner monarchy.