Covid has affected everyone, but one group of workers in particular has been affected.
They can no longer do what they have done for generations, if not centuries. And yet their plight has attracted surprisingly little attention, let alone concern.
They are members of the royal family. Their job is usually to run across the country and shake hands with people.
Sometimes we go to them, but usually they come to us. A look at the much abbreviated Court Circular daily tells the sad story.
They have actually been given leave – but without getting 80 percent of their salary that the lesser mortals have been able to claim. The calculation can be tricky.
He was invited as a guest editor on the Today program nearly three years ago and, unsurprisingly, used it to deliver messages dear to his heart. I am afraid to say that I declined the opportunity to present the program that morning. I knew what would happen
But they have another duty to fulfill. It’s called being in the news. If the Royal Family was operating under the radar and avoiding the cameras, we might start to forget that it exists and then wonder what exactly it is.
That is why Palace spin doctors go so far as to ensure that reporters and photographers are always there when the hand is shaken and the plaques are unveiled.
Some photos are of course more valuable than others. The basic rule is that a picture of Kate in a pretty dress doing something with her sweet tots trumps everyone else no matter what they do. Unless, of course, it’s Harry and Andrew.
Both have dominated the headlines to the exclusion of virtually every other royal story and both have raised serious questions in very different ways about how we see the royal family.
Andrew has been doing his best to make himself invisible since that catastrophic interview with Emily Maitlis on Newsnight nine months ago.
Perhaps his brief performance this week on the grounds of Windsor Castle was meant to show that life goes on normally for him. But that is not it.
Last week was a vintage. Yesterday we got the news that they have bought a house in California. By ‘house’ I mean, of course, a huge mansion that looks more like a luxury country club than, say, Frogmore Cottage, which was meant to be their home in this country.
The Queen may have relieved him of all his royal duties and crazy titles, he is still HRH Prince Andrew and he is still a ticking bomb in the heart of the family.
Harry and Meghan are a different kettle. They are the journalists’ gift that just keeps on giving – albeit for very different reasons.
Hardly a week passes without journalists across the country expressing gratitude for yet another story about them that will swallow every word the nation with a mixture of horror and hilarity.
Last week was a vintage. Yesterday we got the news that they have bought a house in California.
By ‘house’ I mean, of course, a huge mansion that looks more like a luxury country club than, say, Frogmore Cottage, which was meant to be their home in this country. You will remember. They still owe the taxpayer a few million more for the renovation to their taste.
Their new home cost £ 11 million, which is apparently a fraction of its true value. But it is the previous owner’s background that has attracted the most interest.
With their uncanny ability to commit PR suicide, Harry and Meghan bought it from a Russian oligarch who has reportedly threatened to chop his wife to pieces. Maybe they didn’t. Maybe it’s just bad luck.
But they did know about last week’s other great story: the publication of that hugely hyped book that promised to reveal the true story of their relationship and their self-isolation from the royal family.
No one knows exactly how much help they gave the authors, but what a spectacular own goal it turned out to be.
The brilliant Richard Kay summed it up perfectly in the columns of this newspaper: “Page after page oozing with self-pity and indignation sandwiched between blobs of oily sycophancy.”
The title, Finding Freedom, made a shocking suggestion of Nelson Mandela’s amazing autobiography Long Walk To Freedom. In Mandela’s case, it was freedom from 27 years in prison and a life under an inhumane apartheid regime. In the case of Harry and Meghan, it was freedom from … what exactly?
To most eyes it was freedom from a life of the most extraordinary privilege. Not just the creature comforts that can only buy enormous wealth, but liberation from the kind of pressures that even the wealthy cannot always escape.
Harry was free to make choices. If he wanted publicity for some of his laudable charity work, it was his question.
Andrew has been doing his best to make himself invisible since that catastrophic interview with Emily Maitlis on Newsnight nine months ago. Perhaps his brief performance this week on the grounds of Windsor Castle was meant to show that life goes on normally for him. But that is not it
It is true that as a young man he did occasionally do stupid things, but no one really minded and at least no one made him do stupid things. It was his choice. He was free to marry the woman he loved – and the nation cheered him for it.
And he had a pulpit. When he spoke, the nation listened. He was invited as a guest editor on the Today program nearly three years ago and, unsurprisingly, used it to deliver messages dear to his heart.
I am afraid to say that I declined the opportunity to present the program that morning. I knew what would happen. I would ask what his sitters would consider impudent or embarrassing questions, and that would be the end.
My then-editor Sarah Sands did his best to get me an interview with his father, but Charles only wanted to talk about trees and I wanted to talk about other things as well. No deal.
Maybe the palace remembered my shape. I filmed a BBC TV interview with Prince Philip on his 70th birthday.
It was pretty boring, except for part of it when he got really angry because I asked him why the Queen hadn’t helped him when he had to sell his racing yacht because of the expensive maintenance. The palace complained and the BBC called it quits.
I tried to get an interview with the queen myself. She had invited me to one of her private lunches at Buckingham Palace and when we had coffee in the front room afterwards, I asked the question. It was a one-word answer, “No.”
I tried again, explaining the case I had carefully prepared. She listened politely, then another, “No!” followed by, “What’s more, Mr. Humphrys, if anyone ever did an interview like that, it certainly wouldn’t be with you!”
I made one more attempt when she came to open New Broadcasting House. She pushed me aside quite sharply. Fair enough. Why wouldn’t she? She is the prince.
And if this nation is united behind anything, it’s that in her 68 years on the throne, the Queen has done a pretty good job. She barely got a foot wrong. Respect and affection for her are on stratospheric levels.
Even a lifelong Republican if I can accept that the monarchy is safe. But the royal family is different.
I decide by wishing Princess Anne a happy birthday. She is 70 today. She is still the most hardworking of the bunch. And the way she deals with her own children, by not making them HQ, proves she doesn’t believe in either
The nation has every right to ask what the point is if one of its oldest members wants to live abroad, make a lot of money, and stop shaking hands.
Of course, there are still loyal subjects who are under the spell of the royal family. For them, the wedding of an otherwise dark princess is an opportunity for national joy.
But it was noticed that when another of them got married during the lockdown without more hassle than the girl next door, the nation generally approved.
And I wonder how many young people know the names of the lesser royals, no matter how great their parents’ titles.
In pre-lockdown days, I was asked to hand out some awards at a royal palace. In exchange for my time, I would have the honor of being ‘introduced to HRH the Earl of Wessex’.
I politely declined because bending wasn’t really my thing, and I wasn’t sure who he was anyway. The email I received was surprisingly nice.
If that sounds a bit childish, forgive me, but can we finally recognize that the era of automatic, undeserved reverence has come and gone – no matter how closely related you are to the Queen?
But may I decide by wishing Princess Anne a happy birthday. She is 70 today.
She is still the most hard-working of the bunch. And the way she deals with her own children, by not making them HQ, proves that she doesn’t believe in them either.