LONDON — In public they always present a united front. But Prince Harry has a very different story to tell about British royalty and the way it operates.
Harry’s explosive autobiography, with its damning accusations of a toxic relationship between the monarchy and the press, could accelerate the pace of change already underway within the House of Windsor following the death of Queen Elizabeth II.
Enrique’s portrayal of royals leaking unfavorable information about other family members in exchange for positive cover for themselves is just one of the more sordid accusations in his book, “Spare,” posted this week. The prince singled out King Carlos III’s wife, Camila, in particular, accusing her of turning over private conversations to the media as she sought to rehabilitate her image after her long affair with Carlos when he was heir to the throne.
Far from the unity that is presented to the public, the royal family and each other’s staff are portrayed as scheming rivals, ready to stab each other in the back as long as they make themselves or their bosses look better in the public eye. . The palace Henry describes resembles a modern version of King Henry VIII’s court, where courtiers vied for the monarch’s favor and some lost their heads.
The book leaves the impression of a deeply dysfunctional British royal family whose members are so concerned about tabloids that they are forced to make deals with journalists, says Ed Owens, author of “The Family Firm: Monarchy, Mass Media and the British Public, 1932-53” (The family firm: monarchy, mass media and the British public, 1932-53). And the public, when faced with this claim, might weigh the situation more carefully.
“I think there needs to be some kind of reset, and we need to think carefully about what the monarchy is, what role it plays in society,” says Owens, a historian. “Because this idea of: ‘we, the British taxpayers, pay and in return they perform’, is really a kind of corrupted and failed equation.”
Heavily funded by taxpayers, the monarchy plays a largely ceremonial role in British society these days; they are masters of soft power. But supporters argue that the institution still plays a vital role, uniting the country behind shared history and traditions embodied both in the grandeur of royal ceremonies and in the daily work of royals opening schools and hospitals and deliver honors to those who serve the nation.
News coverage of the royal family generally falls into one of two categories: carefully orchestrated public presentations, or sometimes chaotic stories about the private lives of the royals based on unidentified sources.
But a change could be coming.
The history of colonialism—so deeply entwined with the crown—is being reexamined around the world. Protesters have toppled or vandalized statues in British cities, and internationally respected universities such as Oxford and Cambridge are changing their course offerings. It all comes down to one thing: An institution that was once the symbol of the British Empire is facing scrutiny like never before.
Charles, who became king after the death of Queen Elizabeth II in September, faces the challenge of modernizing Britain’s 1,000-year-old monarchy to ensure its survival. He has already said that he plans to reduce the number of working royals and lower the cost of the monarchy.
This should have happened a long time ago, perhaps, but it was delayed by a key factor: Isabel herself.
Personal affection for the Queen meant that the role of the monarchy in British society was rarely debated during her seven decades on the throne. Now that she’s gone, the royal family is facing questions about its relevance in a modern, multicultural nation that looks very different from when Elizabeth ascended the throne in 1952.
In Isabel’s world—ruled by the mantra “never complain, never explain”—the kind of personal revelations in Enrique’s book would have been unthinkable. He describes her mental health struggles following the 1997 car accident that killed her mother, Princess Diana; she recounts a physical altercation with her older brother, Prince William; she reveals how she lost her virginity and describes using cocaine and cannabis.
“Spare” is the latest attempt by Harry and his wife, Meghan, to tell their own story after they left royal life and moved to California in 2020, arguing what they saw as racist treatment of Meghan by the means and a lack of support from the palace.
In the ghostwritten autobiography, Harry, 38, claims Camila forged contacts with the British press and exchanged information on her way to becoming queen consort, essentially providing unfavorable stories about Harry and Meghan to the press. in exchange for better coverage of herself.
The accusations are particularly sensitive due to Camila’s role in the acrimonious breakdown of Carlos and Diana’s marriage. While Camila was initially shunned by many members of the public, she has earned fans by undertaking a wide range of charitable activities, and is credited with helping Carlos project an image that is less rigid and more in tune with Britain. modern.
Stephen Glover, a columnist for the Daily Mail, came to his defense, arguing that Harry is simply too touchy.
“I dare say that some members of the royal family have passed stories to the press through their courtiers over the years, but it is absurd and naive to infer that this was part of an orchestrated attempt to destabilize Harry and Meghan. “, wrote. “Royals are not puppets of the press, as—if they have any sense at all—they realize they can be pummeled as well as praised. Those who are wise know how to receive the rough as well as the smooth.”
But unlike Elizabeth, who famously issued a statement hinting that “some memories may vary” when faced with accusations of racism after Meghan’s interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2021, Buckingham Palace has responded to the first great crisis of the reign of Carlos with silence.
That has allowed Enrique to dominate headlines on both sides of the Atlantic, apparently being served tequila on a late-night American TV show and repeatedly talking about the dirt of the House of Windsor.
Given that this is not the first scandal to rock Buckingham Palace—among other high-profile events, Elizabeth’s uncle abdicated the throne to marry a divorced American—many of those who bought Harry’s book on Tuesday seemed certainty that the institution will weather the storm.
“They just have to shrug it off and stay the royal family,” said James Bradley, 61, as he bought a copy. “After the queen’s death, the value of the royal family has never been higher in my life, and this is just going to fade. In six months we won’t be talking about this.”
But Steven Barnett, a communications professor at the University of Westminster, expects Harry’s revelations to force the palace to become more transparent, perhaps more in the same way as other institutions like the White House or the British prime minister’s office in the number 10 Downing Street.
“He has done us a favor by exposing the collusionary nature, the conspiratorial nature of the relations between the royal family and the British press,” Barnett says. “They will have to change the way they deal with the press. And that’s a good thing. It’s a good thing for the monarchy and it’s a good thing for British society.”
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