Although the Guardian has won the right to see Prince Charles’s letters, we may still never know what is in them
Maldives, say my notes; the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are in the Maldives, that spit of idleness in the Indian Ocean. Which hotel, you may ask? The expensive one, of course: a muted cashmere hole owned by high fashion conglomerate LVMH (Louis Vuitton/Moet Hennessey), makers of handbags and shoes.
This is nothing to surprise us. The Queen has managed, by some breath-taking act of psychological contortion, to establish a reputation for thrift, even as her income has risen. Perhaps it was her presence in London during the Blitz that makes us imagine bomb craters when we look at her, although the late Princess Margaret, who was ultimately disappointed by her birthright, would say it was her dress sense. But this is spin of the most powerful and duplicitous kind. The Windsors still live like – well, the word, of course, is – kings. When the poorest Britons suffer under austerity, this is bitter. Where is their empathy? Why even type the words? Their significant act of charity seems to be to spend more on themselves as if, by osmosis, this cheers the rest.
They have in recent years affected to “modernise” but have they? I cannot see it. Prince Harry is, the bookmakers think, to marry an aristocrat called Cressida Bonas. Those who call the former Kate Middleton “middle class” and rejoice at the “democratisation” of the royal family are wrong; on her marriage she was, strictly speaking, “newly rich”. The royal family has employed competent PR officers, published charming brochures, opened the palace doors an inch for the prosperous (a guided evening tour of Buckingham Palace is £75) and they did not, as was so disastrously mooted in the musical The Slipper and The Rose, try to marry Prince William to a foreign princess. The law is changed and a female can inherit the throne if she is first born, except there is no female first born. I cannot blame them for that, even if I suspect the joint royal subconscious deliberately conjured a boy; in truth, I do not care – to speak of equality and royalty is to laugh at both.
They also lost a yacht. But what else? Nothing, and why not? A monarchy can never be progressive, but while the royal family is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act – a shameful gift from New Labour – we will not hear how they lobby for themselves. Yesterday the Guardian won the right to view 27 pieces of correspondence between Prince Charles and seven government departments between 2004 and 2005, which is politely called “advocacy correspondence”. What is in them? We don’t yet know – and may never know. The government will appeal against the decision.
So the royal family goes on, indolent but secretive. Their website is not efficient (they have Princess Margaret down as still alive in the court circular), but it says that in 2014 the Duchess of Cambridge has performed just three engagements. Why so few? She is often on holiday, it is true; she was in Mustique last month while the duke was in Spain, shooting something – a boar, I think. Why so many holidays? I think the duchess is being “eased” into what we must call “work”. Royal status is, for her, some kind of terrible predicament that fell on her: a price for true love, a fairytale might say, that can only be soothed with eternal holidays and a life lived predominantly under a hair dryer. But they all do this. They spend like plutocrats and look like victims.
Still in the Maldives, the Cambridges are without Prince George, who is at home with his nanny, because their well-publicised resolution to do without staff lasted about two weeks. This excites some columnists, but not this one. I have many objections to the royal family – principally that they are the enemy of a fair society, in the same way that they used to be the enemy of Napoleonic France or imperial Germany – but I do not think that they do not love their children.
Even so, is it curious that George will miss the Maldives, where there is no PR campaign, but will be present for the three-week tour of Australia and New Zealand in April? The baby must not be photographed, it seems, except when it is in this family’s interests – and then there are the letters. Sometimes privacy is essential; at other times, less so.
- Prince Charles
- The Queen
- Prince William
- The Duchess of Cambridge
- Prince George