Sunday 17 November 2019

Stiff royals should take a leaf out of low-key Princess Anne's book

COULD it be long outdated snobbery, coupled with the ingrained hypocrisy which often underpins complaints by the British royal family about so-called media intrusion, that provoked a young woman to kill herself because she was unwittingly ensnared in the Kate Middleton prank call controversy?

To revisit a soundbite from way back in the Charles Haughey era, there is more than the whiff of GUBU – something grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre and unprecedented – about this whole sorry affair.

It's beyond comprehension that this mother of two young children would be pushed into suicide over what was at the end of the day a prank.

There was certainly no malice intended by the Australian disc jockeys, who in a fairly amateur imitation of the Queen's plummy tones asked if they could speak to the mother-to-be. It was a practical joke carried out for a fun slot on an Aussie radio station. That's all. And despite reports to the contrary, no startling confidential information was given away, other than Ms Middleton was suffering from ongoing morning sickness.

Hardly the kind of shocking insider stuff about an expectant mother on which the wheel of history turns.

Yet the very fact that the call was entertained at all obviously caused consternation behind the scenes with the powers that be, even though no harm was done.

A low-key and even good-humoured approach by everybody concerned would have meant the whole matter would have petered out as something of no consequence. But that's not the way the ultra-deferential culture which underpins attitudes to royalty in some quarters of British life actually works.

Presumably there were those in the senior hospital management, and others close to the so-called "establishment'', who felt somebody must be brought to book, just because a joke had been played on the royals. Presumably, this is why the unfortunate nurse who unintentionally became ensnared in the whole saga felt such direct or indirect pressure that she could no longer go on living.

Would not a more reasoned and low-key response from royal insiders to this and other perceived intrusions on their privacy over they years make much more sense? On occasions a sense of humour on the part of all concerned wouldn't go amiss.

People have a fixation as to where they fit in the social hierarchy everywhere, and Ireland is well up the scale on such matters. But the class system among the higher echelons of English society, personified most of all by the royal family at its very apex, can be especially cringe-inducing. Rooted in another age, it is more and more out of step with the egalitarians times in which we live.

Queen Elizabeth is a stateswoman par excellence, with a deep sense of history as reflected in her groundbreaking visit to Ireland. But when it comes to matters of tradition and family, she is rooted in a time warp.

It is hard to believe that only last week she updated a set of arcane guidelines entitled "Order of Precedence in the Royal Household". It is a decision that seems to have as one of its objectives a desire to keep the "commoner" Kate Middleton firmly in her place.

Kate may be a queen in waiting, but in the meantime there are some in the royal family to whom she physically must bend the knee. According to these revamped precedence rules, when she is not in the presence of her husband she must curtsy to "blood princesses" such as the daughters of Prince Andrew, Beatrice and Eugenie. Bizarrely, when Prince William is with her this stricture does not apply, though she must still curtsy to the Queen, Prince Philip and Prince Charles.

Some reports suggest Prince William is not too happy with the slot in the curtsy hierarchy allocated to his wife, given that the Queen allegedly insists this ritual must also be adhered to, even when all concerned encounter one another in private. The unnecessary tensions all this oneupmanship obviously provokes are certainly not conducive to maintaining warm and friendly relations among the extended family.

We know the Charles and Diana marriage breakdown drama of some years ago cloaked much hypocrisy. Husband and wife publicly played the victim, while behind the scenes a galaxy of spin doctors, PR gurus and assorted influential types anxious to ingratiate themselves with royalty manipulated journalists and, by extension, public opinion for all they were worth.

But could it be that going forward William and Kate should model their public personae on the ever low-key Princess Anne? Despite having had her own marriage problems and other assorted family hassles, she has in her time been a world-class horsewoman and is now a productive farm owner.

She has also been especially adept at keeping the media and other nosey parkers at a healthy distance.

Never one to have taken herself too seriously, some years ago she famously dismissed an irksome photographer by saying: "Naff off."

Perhaps the future king and queen cannot resort to such four-letter words, but William and Kate could learn a thing or two from the most grounded royal of them all about what's really important in life.

Irish Independent

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