For centuries the clergy have perfected the mysterious ritual of taking young men (and occasionally women) behind a partition to conduct the holiest of acts. The unction of choice is usually Wet Platinum or KY Jelly. Once in a lifetime, however, when it comes to anointing a monarch, they’ll pull out the Extra, Extra, I-Don’t-Care-How-Many-Times-You’ve-Been-Laid-For-Our-Purposes-You’re-Still-A-Virgin Oil.
Once the shaky, eczema covered hands finish slathering the luscious flesh, the heavens open and a direct line is established to God. We’ve all had tricks like that.
If Prince Harry’s Spare is to be believed, the main topic of discussion between the deity and their new representative on earth will be about managing PR. He describes a petty and duplicitous Palace staff consumed with controlling all royal news. Bad press is just as valuable as good, it shores up brand recognition.
Equally obsessed but somewhat less powerful are family members who hire staff. Each principal royal has a household who work with other households to resolve conflicts and whims. With some exceptions the pecking order usually prevails. A Defender of the Faith trumps a Prince of Wales who outranks a Princess Royal who precedes sundry duchies. Once the feathers from the henhouse staff fight settle, the principals display a united front to support the final outcome.
What Har the Spare exposes is how tacky this divine family’s backroom maneuvering can be. Conversations like “Kate has had bad press for two years now it’s Meaghan’s turn to be the villain” actually occur. Courtiers immediately leak stories about Kate’s impeccable style. While simultaneously fabricating ones on Meaghan abusing staff and bitch slapping Kate into tears.
Most of their derogatory coverage on the internet comes from about two dozen sources. And they all can be traced back to the Palace.
It’s not just the hazing ritual for newbies that creates a turnaround in PR fortunes. Camilla is probably experiencing whiplash from her recent press.
For decades she’s been the callous jezebel who tormented Diana and destroyed her marriage. Now with her coronation as Queen Consort imminent, she gives one speech on osteoporosis and becomes the angel of the downtrodden. What has changed? Just the pigeon hole she’s been assigned to keep the Firm afloat
Harry describes in detail his five years in the British army. The intense and lengthy training he went through to become a helicopter fighter pilot. The military turned him into a robotic piece of meat.
He was deployed in a hood with earplugs so there were no clues where he was being taken. Eventually he was dropped on the desert floor to live in a run down school house cum barracks.
The Prince’s main diversions were card games, girly magazines and sleep. He lived on constant edge as he could be summoned into combat at a moment’s notice. Existence became so rote there was a loss of sentience as he performed his tedious duties. Nothing was predictable.
On completing the tour of duty, one of his first events was the family’s annual meeting at Sandringham. The one where Royals (save the monarch) discuss organizations they patronize, fine tune assignments then divvy up new ones needing a sponsor.
The main item of interest is reviewing the Circular. This tally sheet shows the number of activities each royal undertook the previous year. There’s little consistency or precise definition on which jobs qualify.
The obvious ones would be “organized a fundraiser” or “attended a command performance.” Then there are the questionable entries: “helicoptered in to East Anglia for a 20 minute presentation at the Knitters League. Awarded Medal for Fewest Dropped Stitches in 2022 then helicoptered out.” Fresh off his Afghanistan stint, Harry quietly thought “they call that work?”
Backlash for Spare is orchestrated by the Palace in collusion with the tabloid press. The main criticisms are that Harry and Meaghan are narcissistic and greedy. Compared to whom?
After the army Harry was assigned a residence at Kensington Palace. Sounds grand but his particular crib was Notting Hill Cottage, a 19th century run down unit with a few small rooms and low ceilings. He got by with little help preferring to fend for himself.
It was an isolated and lonely experience. His only privacy was on the palace grounds. Once outside the gates he’d be besieged by paparzzi.
Occasionally he’d come up with a disguise, sneak out to a discount clothing retailer in his High Street neighborhood and make a mad dash to grab as much as he could. Then he’d quickly check out and run home with his wardrobe for the next six months. To linger meant discovery which resulted in all hell breaking loose.
Grocery shopping was more problematic because it needed to be done frequently. The only option was pick the least busy times and hope for the best. He writes how he and Meaghan bonded in their early days of dating by roasting a chicken at Nott Cott.
This side of the Prince comes from his Mother’s rearing not from his just folks Pa’s. His entire adult life, Charles III has employed a valet to squeeze the toothpaste on his brush because he can’t or won’t do it himself.
He also has a penchant for fresh vegetables from his garden at Highgrove. No matter which residence he’s in, home grown produce needs to be trucked or jetted to him the day it is on the menu. A true everyman.
Or maybe the critics would rather the Sussexes follow the example of Uncle Andrew. One of the few times he served as spokesman for the family was meeting reporters at the PanAm crash site in Lockerbie. Although not known at the time of his appearance, it was an agent of one of Andrew’s best buds, Muammar Gaddafi, who blew up the plane.
Standing on the field where the corpses had been strewn, Prince Andrew pontificated how “statistically something like this was bound to happen sooner or later.” Imagine the solace that statement provided.
It’s no wonder the family kept him muzzled for the next 30 years. When this cat somehow slipped out of the bag to give an interview on the Epstein Child Prostitution Case, he confessed the one thing he was guilty of was “just being too honorable.”
As for greed, most royals lead a pampered existence until about mid-life. Then budget cuts dictate their removal from the Civil List. With no training (or inclination) to do anything professionally, they are left to “spare change” in the noblest of ways.
There isn’t a royal alive who would not leap at the purported $100 million the Duke and Duchess got from Netflix. They had the savvy to know what was available and how to get it.
Whether intended or not, Spare makes the case for the jig being up. Monarchies have no place in the modern era except for the tourist dollars they attract. The Windsors are Britain’s Epcot Center: conveniently accessible as well an amazing life-like approximation of rulers from centuries gone by.
It’s preposterous the state should maintain Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace for two seniors like Fred and Gladys (the King and Queen Consort’s everyday people nicknames for each other). The edifices should be turned into museums leaving the state rooms intact for occasional ceremonial use.
With over 1500 rooms between them, there’s plenty left for more practical use. In the hands of a bankruptcy-savvy real estate firm run by the Trump-Kushners, excess space could be converted to new housing. Apartments like The Annus Horribillis Villas in Windsor could spring up. Or, in London, The Grace and Favor Dells at Buckingham. (To tour a model unit, contact Senior Property Manager George Santos.)
This is not to say all descendants of Billy the Conqueror should be euthanized. Anyone who can trace their roots back a millennium needs to be acknowledged in some manner. That can be accomplished in Ripley’s Believe or Not rather than the public dole.
I’ve not always been anti-monarchist. As a first grader reading fairy tales I was a believer. Then as I learned about authority figures, anyone on television was to be revered.
The seeds of doubt were planted in adolescence. Charles and Anne were roughly my age but they somethinged (it couldn’t be called dancing) to the beat of a different drum. Our generation was swinging but those two had severe cases of pelvic block. They were 50-year-olds in 15-year-old bodies. It made the family seem weird.
Then in college all the myths used to make us conform came tumbling down. Vietnam was the last line of defense against Communism. Women were genetically inferior to men and belonged in the home. Marijuana use guaranteed heroin addiction.
To this bonfire of lies it was a no-brainer to add hereditary monarchies. When I heard the Sex Pistols perform God Save the Queen at Winterland, it felt like the Brits had finally woken up to smell the Darjeeling. And this time, we mean it man.
Then I started to soften. Not for the institution but for the individual. And the jewels. (My God! What’s to become of those precious stones? RuPaul’s Drag Race could put them to good use.) Admiration for Elizabeth II necessitated postponing the guillotine until the end of her reign.
In an unassuming way she became a role model to women and girls in the under-educated regions of the world like Bangladesh or the American South. The Queen was not measured on how well she vamped to get her man. She was judged by the steadfast and diligent way she performed her duties, rarely putting a wrong foot forward.
Elizabeth did a traditional man’s job better than any male could have done. Subliminally this had to seep into the consciousness of females around the globe where the primitive Me-Tarzan-You-Jane ethos still flourishes (with the possible exception of Florida, Alabama and Mississippi. They’re beyond hope.)
Her success was partly dependent on her ability to compartmentalize and delegate. Harry recalls a phone conversation with Granny about an issue he felt strongly about. She agreed whole-heartedly with his point of view and course of action. Five days later a courtier informed him they’d be doing exactly the opposite.
Like a professional sports team, the Queen must have evaluated overall performances at the end of the season. But she couldn’t lay her life on the line for individual items on the schedule. Sheer volume required she trust staff to vet the details. Even when a decision was not to her liking, she affably played the hand she was dealt.
Both Spare and Netflix’s The Crown establish the only person who can say “no” to a royal is this vagary called a courtier. How they are selected or from whence they gain their authority is a mystery. It is known they are picked from Britain’s aristocracy and work with branches of the government. But that’s about it. The resulting fog provides fertile ground for QAnon theorists and the minds of retired megalomaniacs.
Decisions at this diabolical level are done independently of the monarch. The royals have no curiosity after the fact nor do they have knowledge beforehand. Ignorance limits culpability. It would be wrong to assume the Queen attended plenary sessions with MI5, pounding her fist and yelling, “Not the Pont Neuf! Do it in the Alma Tunnel! No pedestrians!”
This obscure decision making process is especially valuable in dealing with expiration dates. In the midst of the Russian Revolution when the Tsar sought asylum in Britain, the answer was no. The Windsors were skating on thin ice with public opinion at the time. They couldn’t risk giving refuge to their tyrannical kinfolk.
When George V was in extremis 20 years later, someone ordered a speed ball of cocaine and morphine to be mainlined before midnight. Better to have the death announcement in the prestigious morning papers than the tawdry evening tabloids.
Then there’s the curious case of Meg and Mum. In 2002 the country was gearing up for summer long celebrations of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. Hundreds of thousands of people would be descending on London. There were billions of dollars to be made.
The last thing they needed was a state funeral to muck things up with 10 days of official mourning. It would have been so awkward and cruel to force a despondent Queen onto the balcony to blithely smile and wave at the adoring masses.
In January of that year both Princess Margaret and the Queen Mum were in precarious health. Margaret died in February followed a few weeks later by her Mother. A respectable two months of mourning followed before the jubilee began in late May. Just saying.
The death of Harry’s Mother permeates Spare. He writes of an otherwise loving family who were either ill-equipped or unwilling to help him face his loss. They just shuttled him off to boarding school. Left to his own devices, he acted out with alcohol, drugs and Nazi uniforms.
The discipline of the army helped as did mental health counseling. Meeting Meaghan and starting a family, however, was the palliative that helped him get on with life.
Both he and his brother William have reservations about the cause of Diana’s death. And well they should. It has never made sense that three sophisticated, intelligent people like Princess Diana, Dodi al-Fayed and the bodyguard Trevor Rees-Jones would get into a car with a driver as blisteringly drunk as their chauffeur was said to have been. Or how such a deadly accident could have occurred in a straight away tunnel with no hazards.
The issue with Diana was she had mastered press manipulation. She could outshine the royal family at the drop of a hat. Where it was hoped divorce would diminish her abilities and sideline her, instead it seemed to increase her power.
In the short term this would be an annoyance to the Queen who could hold her own. But in the long run it would be a disaster for the dullard Charles. Diana could always make mincemeat of him when it came to PR.
The Queen might have addressed the issue with her limited tools. The establishment, who were equally as cognizant, had more lethal methods at their disposal.
When she was informed of the crash, Elizabeth was probably as stunned and saddened as everyone else. But she would have immediately seen what it meant. Once the Queen of Hearts was laid, Lilibet was free to play out her winning hand and take all of the remaining tricks.
Harry’s perspective on the days after his Mother’s death corresponds with what I’ve always thought. As articulated in his uncle the Earl Spencer’s statement the following day, the whole world thought Diana was hounded to death by paparazzi. The publishers of tabloid trash had her blood on their hands.
But two days into mourning the story dramatically shifted to “show us you care”. Headlines blasted the Queen’s tone deaf response to the tragedy. This remained the official line all the way through to Helen Mirren’s Oscar-winning performance ten years later.
There’s never been a discussion of the mechanics involved in making the Queen a focal point for the nation’s anger. Nor why the press got off scot-free for the proximate role they played in the crime. There is no bad press about the press because they control the press.
And there’s no push back from the Palace. For better or worse, they’re reliant on journalists to perpetuate The Firm.
The best scene of The Crown (so far) occurs in Season 5. In an opening sequence a shooting party is underway at Sandringham. It was not unusual for hundreds, if not thousands, of birds to be felled every winter.
Vignettes of George V’s festivities are juxtaposed with what was happening in Yekaterinburg. The narrative weaves between the falling fowl and the Romanovs herded to the basement, lined against the wall, then riddled with bullets.
You live by the blood sports, you die by the blood sports.