Stuart Reid Charterhouse
Happy Easter, Kate and Wills. In less than a week you will be wed, and millions all over the world – two billion, they say – will be rejoicing in front of their television sets with pizza and party hats. But not everyone will be entering into the spirit of the thing. The antipathy to the happy couple among the surly middle classes – my own subgroup, I suppose – is really quite astonishing.
If anything the hostility to the beautiful Kate – daughter of an air hostess, or, inevitably in this context, a “trolly dolly” – is greater than the hostility to William, at least among women. “Doors to manual,” we snigger. But why should there be any hostility at all to Kate and Wills? What the devil is the matter with us?
The most plausible answer is that we are a meanspirited people. But maybe we also feel just a bit cheated. To foreigners this is a royal wedding, but to the cynics among us it is a media event. Kate Middleton has captured the heart not so much of a handsome prince as an A-list celebrity (or B-list if you compare him with Charlie Sheen). One doesn’t wish to be all Bufton Tufton about this, but the guest list shows what happens when you honour entertainers. Ant and Dec have not been invited, but you get the feeling that it was a close-run thing. Posh and Becs will be there – no state occasion is complete without those two – and so, apparently, will Guy Ritchie, Rowan Atkinson, Sir Elton John, David Furnish, Joanna Lumley, Dave and Sam Cameron and Ed Miliband. Celebrity is the new monarchy, they say, and we are now heading ineluctably towards a celebrity monarchy. We have been moving in that direction for the past 60 years, and rushing towards it for the past 20.
Sometimes it’s hard to be a royal, and the House of Windsor has long been the object of snobbery. In the mid-1950s Malcolm Muggeridge and Lord Altrincham both expressed misgivings about what Muggeridge called “the royal soap opera”. Empire Loyalists posted excrement through St Mugg’s letterbox and a complete stranger came up to Lord Altrincham and socked him one. But unless they were also Marxists, the snobs were seldom republicans – too boring, too obvious – and, in the 1980s and 1990s, tended to be disdainful of the republicanism that broke out on the Thatcherite Right. Margaret Thatcher was a monarchist, of course, but she was also, and incompatibly, a shrill meritocrat, and it is said that she and the Queen were not keen on one another. The snobs were on the side of Her Majesty.
Leader of the republican pack 20 years ago was the Sunday Times. As A N Wilson observed in his hugely entertaining The Rise and Fall of the House of Windsor (1993): “A republican newspaper proprietor, Rupert Murdoch, has made it quite clear that he intends to continue to fill his newspapers, especially the vulgar ones like the Sun and the Sunday Times, with as much filth as he can muster about the House of Windsor.” Wilson wrote his book in the wake of a string of scandals involving the Queen’s children. In November 1992, speaking at a banquet to mark her 40 years on the throne, Her Majesty described the preceding 12 months as an annus horribilis: Andrew and Sarah Ferguson had announced their separation and Princess Anne and Mark Philips were divorced. To make matters worse there had been a major fire at Windsor Castle and the Queen had been forced to pay income tax. A few weeks after the Queen’s speech came the announcement that Charles and Diana were to split up. It didn’t look at all good, but we hadn’t seen anything yet.
Real horror was not visited on the House of Wind sor until August 1997, when Diana was killed in a car crash while she and her playboy lover were fleeing paparazzi in Paris. Diana’s funeral was a pivotal moment for the royal family. The other day I watched bits of it again and was both moved and dismayed. Prince Charles, the two Princes, the Duke of Edinburgh and Earl Spencer walked immediately behind the gun carriage, the boys with their heads bowed but their backs straight. It was magnificent, almost Tridentine.
Then the stars of stage, screen and Downing Street arrived at the Abbey and magnificence was replaced by tawdry glamour. Sir Elton John and George Michael were dressed rather like Wyatt Earp. David Furnish was more conventionally attired, but both he and Sir Elton blew kisses to friends in the congregation. Tony Blair – the People’s Premier – projected wavy-haired and (let’s be fair) obviously sincere compassion as he accompanied Cherie down the aisle for the funeral rites of the newly minted People’s Princess.
Wills and Harry have endured hideous emotional pain, and they have turned out remarkably well. They deserve our support and our goodwill, our loyalty and our prayers. As sons of their mother, however, they are People’s Princes, heralds of a future People’s Monarchy. They have inherited celebrity status, and for the rest of their lives will help fill the pages of Hello! and OK! and the News of the World.
“Adapt or die” was the slogan of the reforming Afrikaners in the 1980s, but the royal family latched on to the idea first. In the case of the royal family, however, it may be a question of adapt and die. Deference is dead, replaced by social mobility and “aspiration”. There is no future for a monarchy worth its name in our sort of society, a secular liberal democracy. Monarchy only works in a society which has at least a vestigial belief in God and therefore in hierarchy. No God, no King.
Elizabeth II has been compelled to play the democratic game – as when, monstrously, she was forced to make that television broadcast after Di’s death – but she is not remotely a celebrity; on the contrary, she is a constitutional monarch of unsurpassed dignity and integrity. For all his faults, Charles, too, will make a good monarch. William may well succeed his father, but he won’t be a King with a capital K. He will be a celebrity head of state, a Sloane version of Ronald Reagan. Poor William. Poor us.
God bless Kate and Wills. God save the Queen.