British monarchy and television have a complex connection
LONDON (AP) – The British royal family and television have a complicated relationship.
The medium helped define the modern monarchy: The coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 was Britain’s first mass television spectacle. Since then, rare interviews have given glimpses behind the palace curtains to the all too human family inside. The fictional take of the Netflix hit “The Crown” shaped the views of the monarchy for a new generation, albeit in ways that the powerful image-conscious royals cannot control.
“The history of the royal family is a constructed narrative, like any other story,” said Phil Harrison, author of “The Age of Static: How TV Explains Modern Britain.”
And that’s a story that has changed as Britain moved from an age of deference to an era of modern social mores and ubiquitous social media.
“Members of the Royal Family, especially younger members of the Royal Family, have moved from the realm of state apparatus to the realm of celebrity culture in recent decades,” said Harrison. “It has worked well for them to a point – but celebrity culture takes as well as gives and is notoriously fickle.”
Anticipation and apprehension are therefore both high ahead of Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan – the Duke and Duchess of Sussex – a year after leaving official royal life, citing this which they described as the intrusions and racist attitudes of the British media towards the Duchess, who is biracial. A clip released by CBS ahead of the Sunday show shows Meghan, a former TV star, appearing to suggest the Royal Family were “perpetuating lies” about her and Harry.
A look at other major royal television moments and their impact:
The 1981 wedding of 32-year-old Prince Charles and 20-year-old Lady Diana Spencer at St. Paul’s Cathedral was a fairytale spectacle watched by an estimated 750 million people worldwide.
But the relationship quickly deteriorated. The couple separated in 1992 and in 1995 Diana gave a candid interview to the BBC’s Martin Bashir, discussing media pressure and the breakdown of her marriage.
“There were three of us in this marriage,” said Diana, referring to Charles’ relationship with Camilla Parker-Bowles.
The interview sparked a wave of sympathy for Diana, seen by many as a failed woman by an indifferent and out of touch royal establishment – a pattern some say repeated with Meghan.
Charles and Diana divorced in 1996; Diana was killed in a car crash in Paris the following year, triggering intense public mourning and a period of reflection for the monarchy, which has since tried to appear more modern and accessible – with mixed results.
The biggest scandal that has engulfed the family in decades stems from the friendship between the Queen’s second son, Andrew, and wealthy convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, who died in a New York prison in August 2019 while awaiting trial for sex trafficking.
A woman who says she was a victim of Epstein alleges that she had sex with Andrew when she was 17, a claim the prince denies.
The prince attempted to undo the damage by giving an interview to the BBC’s ‘Newsnight’ show in November 2019. It backfired dramatically. Andrew seemed uncomfortable and evasive, and failed to empathize with those who say he was exploited by Epstein, even as he defended his friendship with the man.
He called Epstein’s behavior “improper,” a term interviewer Emily Maitlis suggested as an understatement.
Charlie Proctor, editor of the Royal Central website, said at the time that the interview was “a plane crashing into an oil tanker, causing a tsunami, triggering a severe level nuclear explosion.
After the interview, Andrew announced that he was “stepping down” from his public service. He didn’t come back.
SARAH, DUCHESS OF YORK
Like Diana before her and Meghan since, Sarah Ferguson was a young woman who had a deadly collision with the Royal Family.
She was first greeted as a breath of fresh air for the sultry royals when she married Prince Andrew in 1986. But she quickly became a tabloid target, dubbed “Freeloading Fergie” for allegedly picking up gifts and spending more time on vacation than on public duties.
Some saw snobbery in the coverage of a woman who, before and after her marriage, worked for a living and was open about her weight, relationship and money issues.
After her divorce in 1996, the Duchess used television to express herself – frequently. She appeared on the Winfrey show in 1996, claiming that life at the palace was “not a fairy tale”. She spoke to Winfrey again in 2010 after being caught on video providing access to her ex-husband for $ 724,000. The Duchess said she had been drinking and was trying to help a friend who needed money. The following year, she appeared on her own reality TV show, “Finding Sarah,” on Winfrey’s OWN network.
The Duchess was not invited to Prince William and Kate Middleton’s 2011 wedding, in what was widely seen as a royal snub.
It may be fiction, but Netflix’s “The Crown” has been the most influential portrayal of the Royal Family in years. Over the course of four seasons that spanned Elizabeth’s reign until the 1980s, her portrayal of a devoted Queen, prickly Prince Philip, overly sensitive Prince Charles and the rest of the clan brought the royal soap opera to a new generation.
He is widely seen as helping royals by humanizing them, although UK Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has suggested he should come with a warning that this is drama, not history. .
Prince Harry defended the show – while stressing that it was fictional – telling TV host James Corden he was “a lot more comfortable with ‘The Crown’ than I am. see stories written about my family or my wife.
Now Harry and Meghan have the opportunity to tell their story. It’s a high-stakes strategy, especially since the interview airs as Prince Philip, 99-year-old Harry’s grandfather, in a London hospital after heart surgery – timing critics have described as insensitive.
“I think this particular interview, like so many of these interviews, is going to do Harry and Meghan a lot more harm than anything to do with the British monarchy,” said royal historian Hugo Vickers.