So the brother of the future king of Britain is getting married. Well, woop-de-do! Hold the front pages (oh, they actually are). No, no, no, it’s not quite Edward and Mrs Simpson all over again, but you can’t help but be reminded of that unlucky pair of Francophiles after today’s announcement.
Divorced? American? Went to a Catholic school? That’s a distinctly unholy trinity of reasons to have barred anyone from getting their mitts on a royal prince before now. And Wallis Simpson wasn’t even Catholic.
Hovering over all the speculation about Harry’s unconventional choice of bride is of course the awful warning of what happened to King Edward VIII and his divorced inamorata almost exactly 81 years ago, though the cases are rather different: although uncrowned, Edward was already monarch, and Wallis had the misfortune to have mislaid two husbands as well as having a number of rumoured lovers including a used car salesman, the improbably named Guy Trundle. The American bit could have been overcome, but the divorces were a different matter back then.
The US press had been reporting about Edward and Mrs Simpson for weeks before the story broke in the UK on 2 December 1936, and within eight days he had relinquished the throne. What the abdication crisis showed the British media was never again to draw a discreet veil over royal romances, and the House of Windsor has been dealing with how to handle intrusive publicity ever since.
Harry is not in quite the same situation; he is sinking down the succession batting order – sixth, once his brother and his wife have their third child in the spring, and so is extremely unlikely ever to become king. Unlike in the Depression-blighted 1930s, public attitudes to divorce have also moved with the times. It’s not uncommon even in the royal family these days. Hell, even his ‘father’ and the nation’s immediate heir to the throne, Prince Charles the jug-eared Prince of Wales – the extremely wealthy man who continues to rob me of my inheritance – is a divorcee, as is his mistress turned wife, croc-faced Camilla.
How times have ch-ch-changed. Meghan Markle is also a Hollywood actress with an African-American mother. Black blood mixing with blue blood? Now, that’s what I call progress. After all, it’s only 20 years since Harry’s mum Diana, Princess of Wales was allegedly murdered in Paris because she was knobbing that Arab.
Mind you, the future princess has clearly undergone a major makeover from the cutesy afro-haired mixed race girl from Los Angeles to the cosmetically modified television star in Suits (and no, I haven’t watched it either). Meg’s practically unrecognisable after at least two rhinoplasty operations that now give her a impressively refined look that’s more Latino than negro. Still, that’s at least a dozen nose jobs less than Michael Jackson, and she’s much prettier than he ever was, despite the wacko one’s Diana Ross-inspired plastic surgery obsessions.
Talking of makeovers, I wonder if she’ll talk the coke-loving ginger one into sorting his rapidly widening bald spot out. Horsey old Wills lost his looks when he lost his hair and I’d hate it to happen to the hunkier, naughtier brother as well.
In case you couldn’t tell, I’m not a fan of the monarchy at all. I despise the concept of having a royal family in the 21st century. It’s outdated, unfair and generally ridiculous. Most members of the royal family (Harry, and, shortly, Meghan included) benefit unfairly in terms of the ease, comfort and privilege of their lives, at the expense of millions of others on considerably less incomes. As with obsessive fandom generally, I find people who follow and fawn over them slavishly tedious, and I’d probably identify as a republican in theory, though I am sceptical that the alternatives would make much of a difference in practice.
But as individuals, I think it’s important to acknowledge that Princes William and Harry have both done a huge amount for raising the profile of mental health issues. The Heads Together charity coalition campaign, which works to dispel the stigma surrounding such emotional problems, is a fascinating and progressive cause for royals to put their name to, and has brought exposure to the issues that most charities could barely dream of. It is hoped the plan will combat growing levels of depression and anxiety.
It’s common knowledge that Harry was in a dark place emotionally and went off the rails after the death of Diana. So it’s admirable how open he’s been about his past struggles with mental health issues, of which the incessant partying fuelled by hard drug use he’s been rather less open about were obviously a key factor.
And therein lies the enormous complexity of this debate. Do I think they are irredeemably bad people without a care for anybody else? Of course not. They have undoubtedly used their (inherited, unearned) positions of power and privilege to high-profile some hugely important social issues, and thereby to enhance the lives of a whole bunch of other people whose lives would not, without that, have been enhanced. And they chose to do that, and they didn’t have to do that.
So the institution may be rotten, but I think the brothers have used the platform it’s offered them to do some good. Just like their headline-grabbing mother then.
Markle also comes across as having eloquence and depth, far more than William’s dull stick insect, Kate Blandshit. All this and only a year after the first member of the extended royal family (Lord Ivar Mountbatten, great-great-great grandson of Queen Victoria, thus third cousin of Queen Elizabeth II) came out as gay. By jove, I do believe the Windsors have just entered the 21st century. About bloody time too.
Steve Pafford, France