Weeks ago, I honestly expected the story about Prince William hiding his coronavirus illness would be a bigger story. It was a big story to me – the so-called “future king” failing to fully disclose the fact that he contracted a deadly virus until months after the fact. Despite some hand-wringing from some royal reporters, the controversy died down within days, as William’s media allies dutifully undersold William’s secretive, squirrely actions. I’m expecting the same of the Cambridges’ Pandemic Train Tour, which was 48 hours of partially maskless travel, a flouting of lockdown regulations and an utter catastrophe in PR. The Daily Mail is already trying to focus on the positive, which is that Will and Kate’s body language revealed that they don’t hate each other. But more telling is this column in The Scotsman: “Royal Covid train: Row over Prince William and Kate’s journey raises questions over monarchy’s role during pandemic.” Martyn McLaughlin raises some points! Some highlights:
The belief that the royals are part of the fabric of everyday Britons’ lives: “There was a time when, for the overwhelming majority of the country, that was partly true. That bond, or at least the perception of it, was keenly felt, and no more so in times of strife. It is in times of crisis that the role of the royal family has tended to become clearer, when its protagonists fulfil the simple purpose of reassurance and encouragement. But over the course of the past nine months, that implicit contract between the monarchy and the people has felt strained, and its power and profile diminished. It has drawn its ever-renewing strength from the idea that it is uniquely placed to galvanise the nation through torrid times. Yet throughout the coronavirus pandemic it has failed to do anything of the sort.
The royal absence: “That makes their absence all the more striking, and it is why the three-day train tour by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge seems incongruous in so many ways. Yes, there is some merit in the minor political stooshie surrounding their travel at a time when vast swathes of the country remain under extensive restrictions…the most jarring thing about it, however, was not the idea of rules being flouted, or familiar grievances about “one rule for them and another for the rest of us”. It was something simpler and subtler: a sense of an institution overreaching after an extended period of dormancy.
The six-month gap between the Queen’s corona speech in April to her first public engagement: Yet six months would pass before she carried out her first public engagement during the pandemic, during which time the rest of her family remained largely out of sight. Whatever occasional forays were made into the spotlight – such as Charles recording a series of video messages, his smartphone perched on a pile of books – were seized upon by those who yearn to project a modern, informal monarchy.
The royals haven’t read the room: “Never has it been so important for the royals to dismiss as an anachronism the old warning, first uttered by Walter Bagehot, that they “must not let in daylight upon magic”. But since the spring, they have remained largely in the shadows, and the backlash in recent days to the royal tour indicates that they have not yet grasped the public mood, at least in Scotland. Throughout her reign, the Queen has understood better than most that the durability of the institution she presides over stems from what it is visibly seen to do. “I have to be seen to be believed,” she once famously remarked. What will the response be when, in months and years to come, the question is asked of how the monarchy helped the nation through the gravest crisis in its modern peacetime history? For its ardent supporters, the answer will be disappointing, and not a little concerning.
Yeah, all of this. It’s not that the Queen f–ked off to Windsor this year and the HMS Bubble was created to protect her – it’s that she basically went dark for months while her people were struggling. Not just with the pandemic either – as cities around the world saw enormous racial justice protests, the Windsors stayed silent as the grave too. And this is such a good line: “the most jarring thing about it, however, was not the idea of rules being flouted, or familiar grievances about “one rule for them and another for the rest of us”. It was something simpler and subtler: a sense of an institution overreaching after an extended period of dormancy.” Will and Kate thought they could just run around Scotland, Wales and England, flouting public health standards and performing their keenness and they would be rewarded with a sycophantic press anointing them Future King and Future Queen. But all they did was underline how useless they’ve been this whole time.
Photos courtesy of Avalon Red.