“The pursuit of relevance is the bane of modern royalty” says PATRICK JEPHSON
Destructive winds are once again shaking the monarchy. Storms of mockery and criticism threaten to topple the Queen’s two eldest sons like tottering palace chimneys. Meanwhile, far to the west lurks Hurricane Harry, bringing a storm with lawsuits and memoirs.
Calm in the midst of the storm, the frail queen with her trusty cane stands resolutely and without bowing.
Yet, despite his courage, the cold light of day reveals a ravaged royal landscape. Prince Andrew’s abject agreement with his accuser Virginia Giuffre reminds us that absolution first requires contrition.
Now hostile speculation is turning to which pocket the publicly subsidized royals will dig into to get Ms Giuffre out.
Calm in the midst of the storm, the frail queen with her trusty cane stands resolutely and without bowing
Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Police must investigate the fundraising practices of the throne’s flagship charity, the Prince’s Foundation, including an alleged cash-for-honours and citizenship deal with a Saudi billionaire.
Clarence House insists Charles knew nothing of these and similar methods. But surely, at the very least the prince, as chairman of his foundation, knew or had reason to know what CEO Michael Fawcett was promising on his behalf.
This arrangement might still be hotter than his brother’s sweat and pizza stories.
Of course, the monarchy will continue to work hard. Finally, cutting Prince Andrew adrift could keep the sharks at bay. But that won’t spare the Windsors a guilty-by-association verdict in the court of world opinion. However, this is a historic moment: the princes who have so far most ostensibly exchanged on their royal status are now implicated.
The turn of the palace and the usual chorus of apologists cannot mask a simple question: Does the monarchy have the integrity to acknowledge what caused this mess, and the humility to work to regain trust and respect? public ?
Scandals may still have long-term benefits. They may be the shock needed to force the Windsors to improve late.
At the very least, the prince, as chairman of his foundation, knew or had reason to know what CEO Michael Fawcett was promising on his behalf.
As bad as it looks now, the Jubilee year could still mark a revival of royal fortunes.
Hope for such a transformation must begin with an assessment of how the monarchy got into the current mess.
For example, what appears to have led the Duke of York into the social circle of pedophile Epstein was not – at least at first – the promise of young female companionship. It was the lure of shameless wealth and an addictive taste for the high life.
Any study of the problems of the royal family must begin with the reckless pursuit of some of its members of easy financial pickings. They seek the company of billionaires and breathe in the heady air of the international Gulfstream plateau. They borrow yachts, planes and villas and seem quite at home among celebrities, oligarchs and high rollers of greed.
Few royals understand money, but they enjoy its company and they demonstrate a familiar human flaw of always looking for ways to get more of it.
It’s unfair, comes the answer. The royal financial gain is entirely for charity. And it’s true: from movie premieres to rock concerts to Duchy Organic Original Oaten biscuits, the Royal Family are impressive fundraisers for their favorite causes. Indeed, Prince Charles’ press office hails him as a “philanthropic entrepreneur” in tribute to his ability to conjure up charitable money from the Royal brand.
But good intentions are only part of the story. For Royals, having inherited all the personal wealth they are likely to need, fundraising for noble causes is a tangible way to measure their usefulness, especially in the macho world of the ultra-rich.
What appears to have led the Duke of York into pedophile Epstein’s social circle was not – at least at first – the promise of young female companionship
But it has many of the temptations that come with acquiring money for personal gain. Soon, moral considerations — or even a simple instinct to stay out of trouble — give way to the lure of big checks, especially if warnings can be stifled in the name of charity.
The true test of an organization is how well it copes with pressure. The monarchy has withstood countless threats to its dignity – even its existence – and has always survived.
Will he now go down on salacious charges in a New York civil case?
Or will a comfortable deal with a socially ambitious Saudi businessman bring down the House of Windsor?
Will Harry’s bestseller be the final nail in the coffin? Probably not, although the details are mortifying. The real danger is that those responsible for the future of the monarchy decide they have nothing to learn from these close encounters with institutional death.
For good reason, the Windsors don’t like to dwell on past mistakes and they avoid knee-jerk reactions to unpleasant events. This is both their strength and their weakness. The Queen has already shown a degree of cruelty in relieving Andrew of much (but not all) of his royal privilege.
Charles’ dog handlers will continue to claim that no one told him. The atmosphere will now be one of perseverance, with as few looks back as possible.
But if ever there was a moment of introspection, this is it. The Charles and Andrew scandals, which followed so soon after the ongoing Sussex debacle, demand a proper post-crash analysis of the flaws in the machinery of the monarchy. A reluctance to learn from bad experiences, even pragmatic in some cases, may this time prove to be a fatal reflex in Windsor.
What cannot be ignored is the lack of accountability of our nation’s premier institution, which has allowed self-inflicted wounds like Sussexit, Epstein and cash for honours.
Here we come to the challenge that the Windsors will face long after the current news cycle has ended. Even if they are cured of the urge to indulge with the rich and dangerous, they will still have to curb the obsession with being what they see as relevant.
The pursuit of relevance is the bane of modern royalty. Has the Queen ever wasted time chasing him? She surely finds all the relevance she could possibly need to serve her people through a monarchy that – as defined by the Buckingham Palace website – “acts as a center of national identity, unity and pride; gives a sense of stability and continuity; formally recognizes success and excellence; and upholds the ideal of voluntary service”.
No mention there of playing planetary savior or posing as an unelected expert on public policy. It’s time for the Windsors to reevaluate grand royal plans, weed out bloated entourages, rediscover the monarchy’s patriotic purpose and work hard to keep the institution afloat. Try to save yourself before telling us how to save the world.
Patrick Jephson is a former private secretary to Diana, Princess of Wales and Royal Family expert
It is often forgotten that members of the royal family have almost unlimited freedom to decide how to interpret their unearned status.
It is an amazing and potentially deadly privilege. All the more important for them to uphold the basic principles of the constitutional monarchy.
Some are already doing it with unrelenting diligence and quiet efficiency. Princess Anne immediately comes to mind. Note to supporters of a “light” monarchy: we need more, not less.
The crises of Charles, Andrew and Sussex remind us that fulfilling the role of being a center of national identity, unity and pride should provide all the challenge and reward anyone could wish for. If that’s not enough for you, you’re in the wrong job.
The rediscovery of leadership based solely on service and self-sacrifice could truly put a shining platinum coating on the current royal cloud and be a fitting tribute to this Jubilee year.
Whether this leader is next or penultimate, his first task is to acknowledge that the Queen’s subjects around the world feel deeply let down by the failings of royal management.
After the storm comes the chance to clear away the debris and rebuild. It’s time to start.
lPatrick Jephson was Esquire and Private Secretary to the Princess of Wales from 1988 to 1996.