Yet another biography has been written about Queen Elizabeth II. This new one is by Clive Irving and it’s called The Last Queen: Elizabeth II’s Seventy Year Battle to Save the House of Windsor. Provocative title for royalists, I suppose. To promote the book, Irving chatted with Vanity Fair about what QEII has done right and why Irving thinks the Crown is actually on pretty tenuous standing these days. Irving seems to be intensely critical of Prince Charles and Charles’ autocratic tendencies as Prince of Wales, but he isn’t *as* critical of William and Kate. Some highlights from this VF interview:
The monarchy could go off a cliff with King Charles: “I think we know far more than we would ever really want to know about Charles, right? I think there’s a really real risk that if Charles does succeed her that the monarchy will go over a cliff very fast. This question of the survival of the monarchy hasn’t really arisen since the time of [Edward VIII’s] abdication, but it will come up as a real smack in the face. She’s enjoyed such a command of the role that the whole idea of abolition or republicanism has been beyond reality. Charles has a serious problem. One problem is that he doesn’t look like an invigorating generational shift, does he? That’s what would be needed, something that reinvigorates and sends a sense that they’ve understood the modern world. In some ways, Charles looks older than the queen. He’s a man more suited to the 18th century than the 21st, and I’m not being facetious about that. That’s his deliberate and chosen style, like a younger brother of the queen rather than a son.
Charles thinks like an autocrat: “He’s also run [the Duchy of Cornwall], a separate branch of the Firm, for such a long time, that it’s revealed to us the ways in which he likes to operate, which presumably would be the way he would continue to operate if he were on the throne. He’s talked about the method he’s preferred to use his influence, which he calls his “convening power.” He pulls in groups of advisers he targets for his issues and invariably they’re sycophants. He doesn’t like to be challenged, and he thinks like an autocrat. And he’s shown himself to be a hypocrite. He was an early campaigner for recognizing the importance of climate change and that’s very good—he even lectured [Donald] Trump on the subject, which was pretty brave to do. But at the same time, he flies around on executive jets, uncaring about the enormous carbon footprint of that. If he had been using commercial flights for the same trips, he would have saved about 95% of the emissions. He’s born with such a sense of entitlement that it’s never occurred to him that maybe you can’t continue to do that.
On Meghan & Harry: “If you take the case of Meghan and Harry, it’s been an atrocious act of hypocrisy on Charles’s part to [take the view] that it wasn’t right for them to use a brand, Sussex Royal, to monetize the royal name, because Charles was the first person ever to do that in a serious way, with the Duchy brand of grocery items. He makes about $27 million a year [off of holdings that include] grocery items like ginger biscuits, party crab, and so on. It never seemed to strike him or anybody else in the royal family that it was hypocritical to attack Meghan and Harry for wanting to do their own brand, and in their case not to sell groceries but to do good work. They’re much better understood here in America, mainly because the opinion of them in the U.K. was driven by the right-wing press and all the people who held up an incredible groundswell against Meghan because she was seen as an outsider, or some kind of exotic show-business plant who wasn’t suitable.
Why Meghan got the hell out: “In an odd way, the members of the royal family are the least free people in the nation. They’re like indentured actors in a theater company, and they have to perform the same drama over and over again from birth to death. They have little choice about where they live, their program is fixed in precise details months ahead and the success of the show is not assured. A lot of people wouldn’t want to be trapped in that life to begin with. I think that’s what Meghan discovered very rapidly. As a career actress, it was like being enlisted in the wrong repertory company, and she didn’t want to play in those plays. She wanted to do something more serious. Otherwise, it was like a series of waxworks dummies performing.
The Sussexes are holding up a mirror to the Windsors in the same way Diana did: “The first person to hold the whole family’s feet to the fire on that one was Diana. She went out there and led by example, like in the anti-land-mine campaign. It is deciding that your position enables you to be an influence to get things changed that need changing, and then going out and leveraging it. Diana really did that, and by doing it to the extent that she did, she really did shame them. In a more modest way, Meghan and Harry are doing a similar shaming exercise. Though their move to Hollywood and deal with Netflix sounds like show business, what they’re really intending to do is to leverage their ideas and their philosophy in ways that can be positive. They have these toffs in London pissing on them for doing that, but at the same time, missing the point.
The larger problem: “The [Windsor] family’s good works and their philanthropy is not in line with their wealth and their position. You get a feeling that they’re much more into themselves than they are interested in thinking about what they can do to follow in the tradition of Diana and really do something really good. I think that Prince William and Kate Middleton are probably acutely aware of that problem, but they’re not really able to do much about it. But Charles gets very peevish if people raise the question of, “well, why don’t you do more?” He’s not transparent about his own finances, and he runs a miniature palace of his own, Highgrove; it stinks of privilege and entitlement, and a lack of understanding of what they can really do in a positive way.
Will the monarchy be in okay shape for King William? “That’s probably the key question: Can it survive long enough under Charles for it to be still intact for them to take it over and do a better job with it? We don’t know. Wouldn’t it have been nice if it could just jump a generation and go straight to them. And does it matter in the end? It does to the Brits a lot. I’ve always felt this placebo effect of the monarchy as a head of state. It’s a very valuable thing, not having a politician or a general as the head of state—as we can tell in the United States. If the head of state turns out to be really wrong, things go down the tube very rapidly. As long as the head of state and the people to whom the people swear allegiance and the person that they look up to is not a politician, a church figure, or a general, there’s a healthiness to it.
[From Vanity Fair]
I think Irving raises a lot of solid points, actually. I’ve never really thought of Charles in terms of his autocratic tendencies, but Irving isn’t wrong there. I guess I always think of Charles as someone who means well when it comes to charitable and philanthropic efforts, but doesn’t always know the right way to speak about those efforts so he ends up getting a raw deal. I mean, Charles does so much environmental stuff, he’s got The Prince’s Trust, and a million other charities and issues he’s working on. If anything, even with Charles’ autocratic tendencies (and he is surrounded by sycophants and limited thinkers), he’s still better than William and Kate, who seem lazier and duller by the moment. I especially think Irving makes a really solid point about Meghan and Harry holding up a mirror to the Windsors like Diana did in her day. That’s exactly what’s happened, and if the past is prologue, that means that the Windsors will just copy what H&M are doing, claim that they were doing it from the beginning, and continue pushing H&M further away.
Photos courtesy of Avalon Red, Backgrid.
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