Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Magic and the Daylight: Royalty in the 21st Century

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
"Its [The British monarchy's] mystery is its life. We must not let in daylight upon magic", Walter Bagehot once famously said. The perceived magic surrounding monarchies is what seperates the royals and us, and sets them apart. After all what is the point of having a person just like us, by accident of birth, have a position that sets them above everyone else?

Lately, Prince Harry has gotten in a bit of hot water over comments he made in an interview with Newsweek. The fifth in line to the British throne said, "We are involved in modernizing the British monarchy. We are not doing this for ourselves but for the greater good of the people…. Is there any one of the royal family who wants to be king or queen? I don’t think so, but we will carry out our duties at the right time."

Naturally most headline writers simply took the line "No one wants to be king or queen" and ran with it. If you read the whole interview, you will see that the line was taken out of context. Yes, I did think that the part about "the greater good of the people" did sound patronising, but on the whole the matter was blown way out of proportion. Royal reluctance is nothing new. There are several reported instances of current heirs to the throne (or those who recently became head of state) needing to promise their younger siblings that they would never give up their position. In addition, I also recall an interview many, many years ago with the late Prince Claus of the Netherlands including a question on how Germans admire royalty and a possible restoration of the monarchy in Germany, to which he simply replied something along the lines of, "No one in their right mind would want to take that job."

It is no secret that both Prince Harry and Prince William have struggled with their role - as did many other royals in their teens and twenties. Born into a life of enormous privilege and duty probably isn't as rosy as it may sound. Harry and William are also in a special position with the British Royal Family being the most famous of them all. Their personal struggles, their mother's early death, every foot that they ever put wrong has played out in front of not just their nation's but the world's eyes.

However, the British Royal Family - like all the other European royal families - has seen plenty of daylight. All these struggles, divorces and disagreements being in the very public eye has already rubbed off parts of the magic of royalty. So is it wise to speak about the matters publicly? As the saying goes: He who sows the wind shall reap the whirlwind. Prince Harry himself says in the same interview, "It’s a tricky balancing act. We don’t want to dilute the magic… The British public and the whole world need institutions like it."

Again, while I think that the last part sounds slightly patronising - cause, really, couldn't Britain and the whole world go round without monarchy - the real question is whether Harry is damaging the institution with interviews like this (even when the quote was blown out of propertion). From a personal point of view I understand where he is coming from, but I don't feel like he is doing his family any favours. Monarchy and royals in the 21st century are always treading a fine line. You cannot seem removed from the people, yet being too normal can also be risky in the long run. While most people living in a European monarchy will probably want to stick to the status quo for the forseeable future, calls for a republic will always be there.

Very public remarks by royals about even just possibly being reluctant about their role will fuel these calls. If nobody wants to be king or queen, why should there be a king or queen? Don't get me wrong, Harry's interview will not bring about the end of the monarchy. In fact, it will likely be pushed out of our minds in a few weeks time and replaced by another story. Yet if he and more members of the royal family continue with statements like these, it can slowly start to undermine the institution. An institution that, for better or worse, is grander than one person and relies on its perceived magic to gather support with the people.

Openly reluctant royals are very bad PR for the brand. Even though I still think Harry's comments were blown way out of proportion, he and his people should have known that they were a bad idea to begin with. We all know that any comment can be taken out of context to stand alone and send a stronger or even different message than we planned to. Hence it's better not to give comments that can be blown up so much. Harry could have easily talked about his personal struggles without speaking about the monarchy as an institution greater than himself. Most people will - despite understanding a sole person's personal troubles - fail to feel sorry for someone born into such great privilege and honour yet seeing it all as a burden. While humanising the monarchy is the way forward in the 21st century, don't let it become human. 

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