Royalty, we have been told many times before, is built on mystique. The members of the House of Windsor are some of the most recognizable people in the world but we know very little about them. Until now. In the last few months, we’ve had plenty of inner thoughts from Prince William and especially Prince Harry. They have been more than forthcoming with details of what makes them tick, what makes them sad and what really annoys them. And while there is a level of interest, they are now facing a backlash as Harry admits that no one really wants to rule and that he once considered quitting being a prince. It’s time to think before opening mouths again. It’s time to stop bearing all.
While the whole idea of hearing what the royals really think is intriguing, the problem is that once we get a taste, we find we don’t necessarily like it. Mystique and all that. Knowing the inner soul of a royal is fine if it involves them a) being really happy or b) being a bit miserable but doing the whole chin up and onwards thing. Options involving being truly miserable or admitting that even being really rich is no guarantee of absolute life satisfaction are generally treated with derision. Besides, royals must know now that in a fleeting world of soundbites, any soul bearing will be boiled down to the headlines and removed from its context with almost immediate effect. They might believe they are expressing their true feelings. What they’re really doing is giving us a snappy headline to grumble about.
Prince Harry’s admission that he once wanted out is a case in point. What age was Harry when he thought he would like to lose the whole prince thing? There are no specifics, we’re just told it was during his time in the Army – so some point in his twenties. How long did Harry’s ‘I’m a royal, get me out of here’ moment last – days, weeks, months? Again, no idea. And that is where this whole expose of royal sentiments comes falling down. There are plenty of people in their twenties who sit up one morning and wonder where they are going and ask themselves whether they like it or not. Harry’s behaviour is pretty normal. To truly understand this latest admission we need to know why, when and how but even if he told us, would we listen?
In a busy world where we all have plenty to do, royalty generally gets about five minutes of attention. There are other parts of the paper to read, other tweets to scan through, other programmes to watch or listen to. Royalty has a defined role in modern life for many and it’s as a passing interest, not an in depth discussion. That’s seen in what ticks boxes right now. Photos of George and Charlotte get big love and Kate’s clothes are headline news. They are easy to understand and they fit the bigger picture. Queen Victoria’s creation of a Royal Family that smiled, waved and did good works has endured in the public imagination. In 21st century Britain, that means a quick glance from most people who then move on to other things. Keep it light and bright and everyone is happy. Move into deep and meaningful and trouble looms.
Because royals exposing their souls in anything but the most positive, jolly and gleaming way will always cause resentment. When you live a gilded life, telling people who haven’t got as much as you and who believe they are paying for you to live rather nicely indeed will never win fans. The implication of any negative sentiment towards being royal is that having no money worries and being able to do pretty much what you want actually isn’t that great. Tell that to the millions worrying about mortgages, rent and bills and you’re going to get a kicking.
Royalty has always kept its more difficult thoughts to itself and for good reason. Back in the Middle Ages, telling everyone you felt miserable or didn’t want to do the job was an open invitation for some ambitious cousin or other to launch a rebellion and try and nab the Crown. Even when the throne wasn’t an object to be juggled between branches of a family tree in bloody battles, the personal stuff stayed behind palace walls. Much as we love our Monarchy in Britain, we’re harsh task masters. Everything has its place and while for royalty that might be at the top of the tree, those looking up only expect to see smiles.
OK, maybe that isn’t fair. The royals are human, after all. But too many reminders of that chip away at the whole façade. The Queen Mother was a pastel shaded smiling old lady when I was growing up. As an adult interested in royalty, I’ve read plenty about her, her plucky spirit and her sharp tongue to see she had created a public persona which worked. Queen Mary knew in an instant what the public wanted and made sure she gave it to them in as regal a way as possible. Along with George V, she was a PR supremo who turned the Royal Family into a lean, mean fighting machine that could survive the very real shock of the Abdication and go on to grow stronger.
Maybe Harry and the other younger royals need to sit down and spend a bit of time in 1936. For then, a beautiful prince with the world at his feet decided to expose his inner feelings to the world. He placed his heart and soul on public display and ended up losing his throne. While Edward VIII bemoaned his lot, his younger brother took on the Crown, talked of ‘Us Four’ and created a new Royal Family that smiled, waved and did good things for others. George VI is still loved by millions in Britain because of that. Royalty relies on mystique and on the creation of a public image that is easy to digest and does what it says on the tin. We've had a few months of chat now and left at that, this storm will blow over. By the time the Invictus Games start in Toronto in September, all will be forgotten and hero Harry will re-emerge. Sadly, right now, the fantastic work Harry has been doing for Invictus, for wounded veterans, for AIDS charities is being lost in a row over entitlement and he only has himself to blame.
So maybe a period of quiet reflection would be useful. We've heard a lot about how he feels this year so let's just leave it there. When a backlash begins, it's time to take stock. Harry is taking some serious flak right now so moving away from the cause of that, all those interviews, might be a good thing. Smiling and waving is fine for the summer. Let the mystique take over once more.
What do you think? Should Harry stop giving such frank interviews or do you like hearing what the royals really think? Please leave a comment below, it would be great to hear from you!!