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Royal Distractions – 17.1.20

For the purposes of this column, I think it’s important for you to understand that when it comes to the royal family, my capacity for hypocrisy is jaw-dropping.

I have shed many a tear watching Lady Diana documentaries. Recently, I put off several important commitments to read the memoir of Princess Margaret’s lady-in-waiting.

In 2018, I travelled to Berkshire just to be part of Harry and Meghan’s wedding day.

That last one is made up, but if you believed it was true during the split-second you spent reading that sentence, hold onto those feelings of surprise and judgement, as it’s really the only appropriate reaction to my creepy, borderline-obsessive interest in the House of Windsor.

However, within certain groups, I will miraculously transform into a die-hard republican – purely and shamelessly to save face, ranting to anyone within earshot on how our learned loyalty to the crown condemns us to be subjects rather than citizens.

Usually I find it easy to reconcile these conflicting parts of my muddled identity, shifting my position with the wind. But a little over a week ago, without so much as a text to warn me, Harry and Meghan dropped their ‘bombshell’ announcement on sussexroyal.com, thereby making it impossible for me to continue my delicate balancing act.

As anyone who has left their house in the last ten days will know, it is essential that you have a pre-prepared position on Meghxit, ready to drop into any conversation in which it may be required.

Arrive without one and everyone assumes you simply haven’t been paying attention. ‘I’m not sure what to think really – they both seem like nice people’ you say, watching the last vestiges of respect your friends might have once felt for you drain from their disappointed faces. Normally I love these moments in which the nation is gripped by royal fever. There is something reassuringly camp about those weeks where everyone is talking about the royals like they have a personal stake in what happens.

The ‘crisis summit’ called by the Queen was frantically discussed on daytime TV as if the pundits hadn’t realised they weren’t invited. I don’t think the Queen
watches Loose Women, but if she tuned in this week, I imagine she’d be checking with her advisers to make sure Ruth Langsford wasn’t on the guest list.

And so to the summit itself. According to one of the many unnamed sources who are single-handedly keeping this story going, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex decided in the end “that it wasn’t necessary for the duchess to join” – which, oddly, is almost verbatim what my sister texted me when I asked if she was coming to our family’s Christmas drinks party this year.

Somehow, I imagine the Duchess was more involved in in the making of that decision than her husband. I doubt being glared at for a full 90 minutes by three generations of in-laws was top of Meghan’s to-do list, so you can’t really blame her for not immediately jumping on a plane.

You would think the summit might be the dramatic climax this national psychodrama so desperately needed, but a salivating tabloid press don’t seem ready to let go just yet.

And in a way, senior royals should be glad of it. While the spotlight still shines squarely on the sixth in line to the throne, other uncomfortable questions can be quietly swept under the royal carpet.

The BBC documentary Exposed: The Church’s Darkest Secret aired this week, but you’d be forgiven for not knowing. Serving as a useful reminder that Prince Andrew is far from the only royal with a habit for dodgy friends, the two-part programme detailed the horrific crimes of paedophile Bishop Peter Ball, convicted of the abuse of 18 young men between 1977 and 1992. Whispers of Ball’s predatory behaviour led to him receiving a police caution in 1993, a caution which wasn’t enough to dissuade Prince Charles from offering Ball a house on his Duchy of Cornwall estate.

Ball was jailed more than 20 years after the initial allegations against him – virtually breakneck speed by the standards of similar cases. If Ball’s story is anything to go by, perhaps we can look forward to Prince Andrew’s trial around the year 2040.

While media outlets may shriek that the Harry/ Meghan debacle represents an existential threat to the monarchy, the reality is that in making the issue a national talking point, the real scandals are obscured behind a fake one.

The House of Windsor has always depended on their ability to maintain the fiendishly difficult balancing act of appearing both impossibly removed and yet charmingly relatable.

As ‘relatability’ goes, a grandmother angry with her grandson is easier to stomach. Harder to shout, “They’re just like us!”, when unlike the Princes of Wales and York, you don’t have any friends who happen to be paedophiles.

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