Royal adviser for The Crown Robert Lacey weighs in on the Netflix series11/16/2020
The royal expert, 76, on his favourite royal and asking Prince Andrew a rather awkward question…
Were you enthralled by the royals from a young age?
I grew up in Bristol and when the coronation was televised in 1953 there was just one TV in the street. We all piled into our neighbour’s house where lots of dining room chairs were set out in a line like a cinema and we watched it.
I was nine and it was a massive occasion. I went from grammar school to Cambridge, studied history and, after winning a writing competition, ended up on The Sunday Times, where I set up the Insight consumer affairs unit.
We investigated mouldy pork pies and stale yoghurts because in those days under the pies or yoghurt there was a mysterious code nobody understood.
I launched a campaign saying we should all know what they were, which was the beginning of sell-by or expiry dates. So I played a small part in that improvement in our lives.
So how did you move from sell-by dates to royals?
I was writing historical biographies, then in the middle of the 1970s everybody started getting ready for a jubilee. It struck me that I should write a more analytical book about the monarchy that had the power to stir people’s emotions.
Until then, the only books about the royals had been written by either court correspondents or nannies. I was invited to see Martin Charteris, the Queen’s private secretary.
I had long hair, platform shoes and a leather jacket. I said, ‘I’d like to write about the Queen,’ and he said, ‘That’s my subject!’
I did interview Lord Mountbatten and Prince Philip, and talked to people close to the royals. The book became a best-seller and for the next 40 years I wrote about contemporary history and the royals.
Has interest in the royals heightened recently?
When I started, many of my friends thought I was a bit bonkers because the royal family wasn’t regarded as a serious topic but it’s endlessly fascinating and it explains how we as a society behave.
Who would have thought a few years ago that the once united brothers at the heart of Prince Charles’s slimmed-down monarchy would divide and go in different directions?
Now we have this picture of Harry creating a branch of the royal family on America’s west coast.
People compare it with the abdication of King Edward VIII, and it was the same clash of duty and love, but whereas the Duke of Windsor produced one set of memoirs and never said anything again, Harry and Meghan will continue pursuing their causes and using social media to spread their word, and the division will remain.
Do you have a side?
I try to make clear in my book that there are two sides to the split and both sides have made mistakes but I’m pretty sure the split will now become permanent.
The ‘spare’ is a very difficult role to play – look at Princess Margaret, Prince Andrew and now Prince Harry.
Both William and Harry came from a troubled family background but Prince William drew the lesson of duty. He transferred his allegiance from his parents to the Queen, who became his mentor.
What was the Queen’s lowest moment?
That was definitely after the death of Diana. The Queen shies away from emotional issues. She was in Balmoral and she had a plan to come to London for the day and get the funeral over with and then go back to Scotland.
Tony Blair had the wisdom to say, ‘No, you have to meet the crowds, stay the night and give a speech.’ People look to the royal family for hope and inspiration.
When the Queen gave her address to the nation this Easter amid the pandemic, it was one of the great moments of her reign and she once again had the ability to capture the feeling of the nation.
Mistakes – you’ve made a few?
Yes. Asking Prince Andrew what he thought of The Crown. It happened at a Buckingham Palace reception and I thought it was a conversation opener.
It turned out to be a conversation closer. He muttered something about shows like that shouldn’t be made while people are still alive.
Who is your favourite royal?
Princess Anne because there’s no other royal in Europe who works harder than her, and she’s the best value for money because of the sheer number of engagements that she does.
She’s very down to earth, she’s much more of a support and ally of Prince Charles than people realise, and she’s a straight talker.
How did you become the royal adviser for The Crown?
I’ve known the director Peter Morgan for years and I was his royal consultant on the movie The Queen, with Helen Mirren. Even though I’ve worked on it, I still can watch each episode several times over.
Peter has a great knack of capturing the emotion in any situation and the sort of personal truth that’s shown in the Prince Philip episode, which covers his interest in science and his search for a meaning in life.
What was it like seeing Diana in the new series?
What’s wonderful about Emma Corrin as Diana is that she doesn’t just look like Diana but she captures her fragility and appeal, and also her toughness.
The death of Diana was such a shock and it was a supreme example of the whole nation being moved to the very depths of emotion.
Battle Of Brothers: William, Harry And The Inside Story Of A Family In Tumult by Robert Lacey is out now (William Collins)
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