Royal spin can’t hide the stench of unearned privilege

Rebel Prince: The Power, Passion & Defiance of Prince Charles

By Tom Bower

William Collins, 2018

Meghan: A Hollywood Princess

By Andrew Morton

Michael O’Mara Books, 2018

“Nobody knows what utter hell it is to be Prince of Wales,” whined Charles, the heir to the British throne.

All that handshaking and small talk is “an intolerable burden”, his never-right office temperature “makes my life so unbearable”, and first-class seats on commercial airflights are “so uncomfortable”.

The prince’s self-pitying outbursts reveal his lack of understanding of the lives of his “subjects” who would be delighted if their only complaints about life included living in multiple palaces, owning a fleet of luxury cars, taking skiing holidays to Aspen, and being allowed to treat taxpaying as purely voluntary on an annual income of £20 million.

In Rebel Prince, the royalty-obsessive Tom Bower takes us inside the bubble of Charles and the other medieval relics.  Among the tedious palace intrigues, eyelid-shuttering family squabbles and tiresome protocol “controversies” are some you-wouldn’t-read-about-it (except you are) insights into princely privilege and elitist entitlement.

Take, for example, Charles’ 146 staff of butlers, cooks, secretaries, chauffeurs, gardeners (including a dozen retired Indian soldiers to pick snails from his flowerbed by torchlight) and valets (to run his bath, lay out his daily five clothes changes, replenish the royal lavatory paper, rake the gravel and plump the cushions).

To these employees, the petulant autocrat is typically capricious. Should any luckless royal worker displease him in any way (being two minutes late with his breakfast eggs, for example, or cutting his sandwiches into squares rather than triangles) it was goodbye without so much as a thank you.

If real work was a foreign concept to Charles, so was the cost of transport. The tab for the prince’s unlimited access to private jets, trains and helicopters is picked up by the taxpayer, such as his £18,916 trip on the royal train to visit a pub.

Public transport is a total mystery to Charles — when he once breathlessly announced that he’d “been on the Tube, you know”, a friend’s reply was quick: “Yes, but only to open a line.”

The pampered toff’s extravagance saw Charles’ popularity perpetually in the doldrums, even plunging to just 4% approval, because of his adulterous affair with Camilla Parker-Bowles — seen as his betrayal of (Saint) Diana (an active adulterer herself).

Charles unsuccessfully attempted to ameliorate his reputation for material indulgence by setting up two dozen royal-brand charities. He didn’t shake a tin on a street corner, however, but hit up rich corporates, celebrities and foreign royals (entry price £50,000) in return for royal photo-ops (fourth spot behind the Queen at Ascot, perhaps, or an invite to a royal wedding) for those hoping some regal fairy dust might settle on them and their brand.

Being green was another plank in the Charles refurbishment project. The prince opposes genetically-modified crops, fossil-fuelled global warming, plastic pollution, tropical deforestation and species extinction (although foxes do not make the cut — they were made for being torn apart by the hounds of the ‘Tally-Ho’ set).

His environmental image was undone, however, by his frequent travel to international environment events by private jet, trailing huge quantities of CO2 emissions, or by taking a 250 mile helicopter trip straight after exhorting people to fight climate change by turning off their lights.

As with his environmentalism (which is often more New Age hokum than science-based), even when Charles gets something right, he does so for the wrong reasons. He opposed the 2003 Iraq War, for example, not on anti-war or anti-imperialist principle but because of his Arabism (a creed which also allows him to shill for British military sales to Middle East despotisms). 

As a philosopher, Charles also shows a certain lack of rigour and realism. He adheres to a theory of mystical harmony, based on the “sacred geometry of the body” (related, somehow, to the Fibonacci number sequence) and which, if upset, results in a “disturbed flow of blood”. To remedy this, he recommends Bach flower remedies, coffee enemas, carrot juice and homeopathy.

Alas, for Charles, it is all so different now from the good old pre-industrial, pre-Enlightenment days, which also had the added bonus of political rule by absolute monarchy — the days before “scientists, planners and socialists upset the old order”, as he once lamented. 

If not through the pre-modern, scandal-dogged Charles, then perhaps there can be a Meghan Markle-led return of the monarchy to its full, magical glory by adding some Hollywood sparkle? Andrew Morton, certainly hopes so.

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In Meghan, he pulls out all stops for the latest “Commoner” bridal acquisition to the royal household who could “make the monarchy seem more inclusive and relevant in an ever-changing world”.

Markle is a bi-racial divorcee, a liberal foe of Donald Trump and Brexit, and a television star whose roles have seen her snorting cocaine, doing striptease, performing oral sex and generally displaying flesh. Her Tinsel Town fame and income was duly balanced, however, by the requisite good works (soup kitchen volunteer for the homeless) of toiling among the needy.

Markle is no Hollywood airhead — she has a degree in international relations, during which she became a fan of Noam Chomsky, the left-libertarian, anti-imperialist intellectual.  The feminist child prodigy (she had written letters of complaint about sexist advertising) went on to become a United Nations gender-equality advocate.

Markle’s common, even radical, attire, though, has its fraying edges. She clearly didn’t pack Chomsky’s selected works for her visit to the troops on her United Service Organizations entertainment tour of US military bases and Navy destroyers. On the contrary, she felt “very, very blessed” to support the US war machine.

Markle does not explain how her television persona, which traded off her looks, helped to advance the cause of female emancipation, or how, as the voice of World Vision, a global evangelical Christian charity that refuses to employ same-sex couples, advances equality.

Nor can Markle square her love of multi-thousand-dollar dresses and fashion accessories with her outreach to ordinary people and their rather more down-market sartorial prospects. 

True, she does flaunt her “ethical brand” handbags, “conflict-free” diamonds and “cruelty-free” coats. But the moral gloss wears thin when Markle retires with the royal women-folk on Boxing Day while the men engage in the jolly Christmas past-time of slaughtering hundreds of pheasants on the Queen’s estate.

The ordinary-titled Markle is now Her Royal Highness, Duchess of Sussex, Princess, and the once-feminist equality campaigner who bent the knee to no man, but now gives, and receives, the curtsy by rank.

Markle’s social ascension is meant to show that economic class is so much conceptual old hat — it is all about being “aspirational” now. All you have to do is marry a prince.

Every royal birth, death and marriage, every syrupy episode in The Royal House of Windsor, this week and every week until the end of time, carries the message that hierarchy and inequality are inevitable.