IT has been a terrible few weeks for Great Britain, but we should consider ourselves very lucky. We have a Royal Family providing a guiding light in the toughest of times, rising above the clamorous fray, the blame-shifting and the political point-scoring and showing us what they are really made of.
The publication of a revealing interview with the Queen’s grandson, Prince Harry, is timely. He has opened his heart out to Newsweek magazine with a series of startling admissions, chief of which is that none of his relatives are desperate to sit on the throne. “Is there any one of the Royal Family who wants to be king or queen?” he ponders. “I don’t think so, but we will carry out our duties at the right time.”
You might dismiss this comment as flippant, just as many have dismissed the “playboy Prince” as taking advantage of his privileged position to get through life with no apparent responsibilities. He’s 32 now, an age when many of his less-fortunate peers will be struggling to balance student debts, keep a decent job, think about buying a house and wondering whether they can afford to start a family of their own.
Prince Harry can make his extraordinary life sound just as ordinary. He tells Newsweek that he is proud to do his own shopping and would continue to do so even if he became the king himself. It’s easy to do your own shopping, I suppose, when you’re one of the richest young men in the country and you don’t ever have to worry about your credit card bouncing at the till.
Yet, there is something very grounded, humble even, about Prince Harry. He admits that he has sought professional help to deal with the psychological aftermath of his mother’s death, the 20th anniversary of which approaches later this summer. Perhaps this is a contributing factor to his openness and tendency towards analysis. Or perhaps he is just a decent bloke.
What is clear is that this young man is proving well-suited to the changing role of the Royal Family in national life. If recent weeks have brought the country to utter despair, they have also brought the Royals to the fore in quite an unprecedented way.
Who can forget the 91-year-old Queen visiting the teenage victims of the Manchester Arena terrorist attack and speaking to them so naturally? Who could not be moved by her appearance at the scene of the Grenfell Tower disaster, accompanied by Harry’s brother, second-in-line to the throne Prince William?
Cynics may say that these appearances were stage-managed – just like this Newsweek interview. I disagree. There is of course some element of public relations at work in each but – if we must be blunt – the “performance” of the Queen and her family surpasses any crude attempts at stage-management.
Let us not forget that in the middle of a maelstrom in which no politician was effectively in charge of the country, the monarch naturally stepped into the breach. Indeed, there was a moment, shortly after the chaos of the London Bridge terrorist attack, when I allowed myself to wonder what it would be like to live in this country if we didn’t bother with a democratically-elected government at all.
Of course, no one is suggesting this is desirable. However, the presence of members of the Royal Family right at the centre of tragic national events reminds us that their role is not simply ceremonial. It is unifying. It is somehow comforting. But it is also a role undergoing seismic shift.
Change in British society has accelerated at a rate of knots over the past decade or so. When it comes to who we are and what we stand for, we face a series of challenges, both internally and as regards our place in the world.
My 11-year-old daughter was asked to go to school wearing a costume to represent “British values”. I left her to her own devices, as an experiment really. She emerged from her room in an interesting arrangement of camouflage gear, medals on her chest and a string of makeshift bullets slung over her shoulder. I asked her what it all represented and she said that all these things showed that we needed to stand up for ourselves.
I’m not sure that our Lizzie really got to the bottom of the debate, but it is a matter which concerns us all. The sheer difficulty of managing a country of millions upon millions of increasingly diverse individuals, the threat to our security from extremists of all kinds and the outcome of Brexit all make us question what we are and what we stand up for. And I am glad that Prince Harry has shown unequivocally that he is not stepping aside to let someone else assume what he is thinking on his behalf.
He knows that he and his brother, Prince William, are the ones to carry the baton and take forward the modernisation of the British monarchy. “We are not doing this for ourselves but for the greater good of the people,” he tells Newsweek. When did you last hear a politician say anything as wise – and actually mean it?