God Save the Queen
Reading Time: 4 minutes
Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, and Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, sat down for an interview with TV mogul Oprah Winfrey on March 7, 2021. “There is no subject that is off limits,” promised Winfrey, and the interview certainly delivered. Over the course of the two hour-long special, topics including race, mental health, and relationships between various members of the royal family were discussed. Meghan opened up about having suicidal thoughts throughout her time as a member of the royal family, saying that she felt “trapped” after numerous pleas for help with members of “the firm” brought her nowhere. In addition, she mentioned an appalling conversation that occurred behind the scenes involving the race of the couple’s first child, Archie, as an anonymous member of the royal family was concerned about “how dark his skin might be when he is born.”
This interview left the world in a state of shock, as the public had been largely unaware of the damage and emotional burden that accompanies a role in the royal family. But that was the point. One threatening part of this facade that is frequently overlooked is the media. The British press has a huge role in delineating between the “commoners” and the monarchy with an “invisible contract,” as noted by Markle. They hold unchecked power and are able to twist headlines to portray certain people more favorably than others. For example, there were stark differences between how the media looked at Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, when she was pregnant, compared to Markle. She believes that those headlines were due to the royal family not providing them as much protection from the ruthless tabloids compared to her counterparts.
Though the interview highlighted questionable aspects within the institution, this is not a new occurrence. It became increasingly clear that the royal family was not the ideal that it made itself out to be, especially in the 1980s with the treatment of Diana, Princess of Wales. Formerly known as Diana Spencer, she married Charles, Prince of Wales, in 1981, and had two sons, William and Harry. Her influence took Britain and the rest of the world by storm, earning her the title as the “princess of people’s hearts.” Tragically, Diana, along with her new lover Dodi Fayed, was killed in a car crash in 1997. The death of the people’s princess came a year after her husband admitted to having an affair, bringing massive backlash onto both Charles and the entire family due to their lack of support, intent to cover up the scandal, and overall toxic environment which contributed to Diana’s misfortune.
This accident is still incredibly relevant, and it has irreparably tainted British history. Many today believe that the royal family was accountable for Diana’s death, and they idolize her legacy while demonizing the royals. But this massive heat mainly comes from the reverberating impact the monarchy holds on Western pop culture. One key example is television series “The Crown” (2016-), a historical fiction drama that takes viewers through Queen Elizabeth II’s reign. Initially, when the United Kingdom was a monarchy, the Royal Family was particularly relevant in Western governmental affairs. Part of that was attributed to the position the monarch held in government as the head of state, with the rest of the family supporting their affairs. Nowadays, the monarch and their family mostly serve a symbolic role, with the majority of government leadership falling onto the shoulders of the prime minister.
That isn’t to say the royal family isn’t overwhelmed by responsibilities. According to the Royals’ official website, the Royal Family “carries out over 2,000 official engagements throughout the UK and worldwide,” which includes official State events, receptions, banquets, garden parties, national celebrations, and national mourning. This omnipresence in the global sphere is what makes their lives so pervasive in our culture.
For example, Princess Diana was known in the media sphere for her iconic fashion moments. She wore her heart on her sleeve, in that her clothes often conveyed the way she was feeling or the significance of the event perfectly. Also known for the boldness in her choices, Diana distinguished herself in her experimentation: she was the first woman of the Royal Family to wear trousers to an official evening event, matching them with bow-ties and tuxedos, and—of course—the infamous “Revenge (Mini)Dress” that had a plunging neckline and fell off her shoulders in a daring and unprecedented way.
The revenge dress was worn on the night a documentary aired in which Prince Charles admitted to having an affair, one of many clandestine scandals that have come to be associated with the Royal Family. The other recent one was the question of Prince Andrew, Queen Elizabeth’s son, and his associations with Jeffrey Epstein, who had been federally charged with sex trafficking of minors. Epstein’s circle of friends was notorious, and Prince Andrew was known to be a core member, allegedly even visiting Epstein on his island in the early 2000s. The investigation into Epstein, and the clamoring for Prince Andrew to be held accountable for his relationship with the criminal, got so overwhelming for Prince Andrew that he had personally requested to take a break from his royal duties.
Of course, that’s nothing compared to Meghan and Harry, who have requested to “take a break” from their royal duties permanently. After watching the interview, it’s clear why.
Still, “Megxit” has raised questions about the relationship between the Royal Family and its people, as well as how sustainable this public obsession with their image can be.
There is no doubt that the royal family has been a centerpiece of British history for centuries, and despite the scandals, the royal family still has a significant cultural impact across the world. To many, they can provide a sense of unity amongst the people when they need it most—a constant in people’s lives. But the beauty of life is that there are no constants, and there shouldn’t be an “ideal” to live up to. The royal family is perpetuating this notion of perfection, when in reality, they’re far from it.