If only we had a vaccine that would cure our sick obsession with the Royal Family, I’d be the first to sign up. I’d cut in line for that. If 100% efficacy required three doses, I’d raise my arm for that.
At some point in the 19th century, when some ill wind blew through the British monarchy, a fusty British commentator named Walter Bagehot lamented how simply awful it was to have that happen: “Our royalty is to be reverenced, and if you begin to poke about it, you cannot reverence it…In its mystery is its life. We must not let daylight in upon the magic.”
Well, guess what. Daylight long ago dashed the magic and killed the mystery. What we learned — long long long before the teary saga of Harry and Meghan — was that the institution is archaic and that its inhabitants are parasitic.
By dint of bloodline, the royals are forever free to luxuriate — or, if they so desire, to curse their fate — while forever suckling on the taxpayers. Forbes has estimated that, in dollar terms, the British monarchy is worth roughly $88 billion. The taxpayers kick in roughly $130 million a year. The queen’s personal worth is roughly half a billion. All told, the royals have a darn good deal, especially since Britain’s current budget deficit is roughly $86 billion.
A commentator in the Irish Times newspaper said it best the other day: “Having a monarchy next door is a little like having a neighbor who’s really into clowns and has daubed their house with clown murals, displays clown dolls in each window and has an insatiable desire to hear about and discuss clown-related news stories. More specifically, for the Irish, it’s like having a neighbor who’s really into clowns and, also, your grandfather was murdered by a clown.”
I can’t improve on that. Nobody but nobody does anti-monarchy snark better than the Irish.
All of which is why I had to laugh when I saw photos of Harry and Meghan showing off their custom chicken coop (which is how celebrities say “we’re regular folks!”), and heard that Meghan sat with Oprah sporting a $4,700 Armani dress. I don’t doubt Meghan’s sincerity about being traumatized by her stint inside “The Firm,” but it’s not as if we haven’t heard that tale before. Hello, 1990s? Princess Di?
When Harry’s mom was dishing publicly about her mental and physical stress as an outsider on the inside, the monarchy was deemed to be in crisis, its future imperiled. One journalist living in London in 1992 wrote: “The House of Windsor has lost much of its moral authority,” and, at minimum, “polls show that eight in 10 Brits think the queen should pay taxes like everyone.” (The guy who wrote that was me.)
So the Meghan yarn is really nothing new. Even the racial angle (the royals dreaded a Black baby) should hardly be a surprise, if one remembers that Crown’s traditional “moral authority” was built upon the island empire’s subjugation of people of color in faraway colonies.
And bad marriages have always plagued the royals. If memory serves, Henry VIII beheaded several wives. Imagine the public outcry if only they’d been able, in their final days, to tweet about the abuses they suffered. Frankly, Meghan would’ve benefited from doing even a smidgen of historical research. She was shocked that she had to curtsy in front of the queen? She didn’t have a clue about the life arc of her dead mother-in-law?
I suppose this latest royal psychodrama is grist for public fascination the same way a car wreck draws rubberneckers by the side of a highway. I suppose it’s human to feast on the woes of the entitled rich and wonder how we commoners would fare in such luxurious circumstances.
But forgive me for feeling bored. What we got this week was just old whine in a new bottle.
I well remember, back when Diana went public in 1992 about her woes with Charles and the queen, what veteran royals reporter James Whitaker told the BBC. Whitaker was a loyal keeper of the flame: “Although it’s been a bloody battle, and a lot of people have come out bruised, in 10 years people will look back and say, ‘That was a bad period, but didn’t they do well? Haven’t they recovered well?”
Nearly 30 years later, how’s that going?