‘Head in the sand’: Picture that proves the Queen has failed

‘Head in the sand’: Picture that proves the Queen has failed


This story was one of the top-performing stories for Herald Lifestyle in 2020

It looks like any other royal snap – but this picture proves an uncomfortable truth about the Queen and two of her biggest personal failings.

Just how much drama and melodrama can you expect to find inside an imposing, gothic church? If your surname happens to be Windsor then the answer is oodles.

Overnight, the royal family attended the annual Commonwealth Day service which sees the royal family turn up in boggling array of hats and tedious ties to celebrate the far-flung regions of the world their grandma currently rules, before musical luminaries such as Craig David and the occasional X Factor winner are dredged up to belt out non-offensive ballads.

It should be, and is normally, just a passing story in the royal rounds but this year’s outing was a far more significant (if not historic) affair given it marked Harry and Meghan the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s final gig as working members of the royal family.

Much has been made of the bare bones greeting between the couples and the fact that the Sussexes and the Cambridges essentially did not interact (it’s amazing how fascinating an Order of Service program can be when you are studiously avoiding family).

As of today, Harry and Meghan are free agents and as of April 1, will be truly unshackled from any royal bonds, leaving the Queen and Co two less frontline HRHs. This is not the Firm’s only resignation, with Prince Andrew, last November, stepping back from his royal working life over his ties to convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

It has clearly been a calamitous few months for the Queen and the very institution of the monarchy but here’s the thing: None of these crises should really come as a surprise and if you want proof, just take a look at the second row in the Abbey for the very same service this time last year.

There sat Harry and Meghan along with Andrew, the three members of the Windsor clan who have caused the most headaches and been at the centre of the swirling, roiling media storms which have buffeted Buckingham Palace over the last 12 months.

The unavoidable truth is that both the Sussexes’ and Prince Andrew’s PR fiascos could, and should, have been averted.

I hate to say this but the Queen has failed.

If there was ever a lesson to be gleaned from the turbulent 80s it is that civilian women, no matter the calibre of their aristocratic pedigree or years of guzzling Harvey Wallbangers with various Dukes, struggle to assimilate to HRH life.

First Lady Diana Spencer and then Sarah Ferguson were conscripted to become Windsor wives only for them to desperately struggle with the baroque, constricted lives they were expected to happily assume.

Over the following years both women chafed against the pinstriped life of rigid protocol before they separated from their husbands – in the same year – and then got divorced – again in the same year.

Clearly, as the new millennium approached, offering some blushing 20-something the chance to don a tiara occasionally and open all the Midlands sports centres she fancied was no longer quite the attractive proposition it might have seemed.

This is largely why Prince Edward dated girlfriend Sophie Rhys Jones for six years (and reportedly lived with her) before their marriage and a decade later, Prince William and Kate Middleton set up a home together in Wales years before they got engaged.

Clearly, the goal was to ease these two women into royal life so that by the time they had to spend their mornings being instructed in correct waving etiquette and learning which fork to use for grouse, they were well and truly cognisant of the Faustian bargain they were making.

It was a jolly successful approach! Edward and Sophie are happily careening towards their 20th wedding anniversary and the Countess is incredibly close to the Queen.

Kate, in turn, is beloved for her bouncy blow dries and ever-present smile, having truly fulfilled the Queenly requirements: She’s lovely to look at, works hard and never causes anyone even a jot of offence.

All of which is why it is truly gobsmacking that more was not done to help Meghan ease into royal life. In a matter of months she went from being single, working and living in Toronto to calling Kensington Palace home, having given up her acting career entirely, getting engaged and undertaking her first royal duties.

Clearly, she was truly eager to use her platform and to hit the ground running. But where were the sage, experienced voices counselling her? Why was the Queen not more forceful in encouraging her to transition into royal life at a pace and in a manner that was less jarring?

Instead, Meghan’s hunger to do good and ambition collided brutally with royal rigidity, leaving her, allegedly, feeling isolated and rebuffed.

Like Diana and Fergie, the warning signs that things were going off the rails were there, none more so than her emotional TV interview last October when she said: “It’s not enough to just survive something.”

What I can’t wrap my head around is why, after Diana and Fergie, that no one predicted, how badly things were about to spiral out of control.

Then there is the Sussexes’ Westminster Abbey 2019 second row seatmate, Prince Andrew. In 2011, the New York Post published a photo of the Prince with Epstein. In the media fallout, Andrew was forced to resign as a British trade envoy.

A week later, a photo emerged of the father-of-two with his arm around the waist of Virginia Giuffre, then Virginia Roberts – who was only 17 years old when the shot was taken.

Subsequently, Giuffre went on to allege that she had sex with Andrew on three occasions including on the night the photo was taken. In an interview last year, the royal said “no recollection” of meeting Giuffre and said on the night in question he had been to a party at the Woking branch of Pizza Express with his daughters.

A statement put out by Buckingham Palace in December last year said: “It is emphatically denied that the Duke of York had any form of sexual contact or relationship with Virginia Roberts. Any claim to the contrary is false and without foundation.”

When the photo of Andrew with Epstein was first published in 2011, the Queen reacted by investing him with the insignia of a Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order, thus trying to use her regal power to protect her beloved son.

Last year, saw the entire mucky situation rear its head again when Epstein was arrested in July, before being found dead in a New York jail cell.

Come November, Andrew made the calamitous decision to sit down with the BBC’s Emily Maitlis for a one-hour TV grilling which was by turns so bizarre and toe-curling that he was forced to step down as a working member of the royal family.

Overnight, US Attorney Geoffrey Berman told NBC that “Prince Andrew has now completely shut the door on voluntary co-operation” to help with the ongoing New York investigation into Epstein.

Today, Buckingham Palace said it would not comment and that, “The issue is being dealt with by the Duke of York’s legal team”.

Clearly, this situation is not going away any time soon. But again, the question that remains to be answered is why weren’t steps taken to address this mess years and years ago? Instead, the impression is that the Queen has adopted a head-in-the-sand approach, seemingly hoping all this nastiness would blow over.

Sorry Your Majesty. That was never going to happen, and especially not now in the #MeToo age.

Both the Sussex and Andrew situations, while wildly different, are not issues that have popped up out of the blue. They have been bubbling away behind the scenes for months if not years (or in Andrew’s case, nearly a decade).

Why was the royal family so blinkered to the huge amount of damage that both of these escalating crises could – and have now done – the Windsor’s image?

The Queen might be a very loving mother and grandmother but in both these instances, her leadership has to be called into question.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” writer and philosopher George Santayana said. Here’s hoping that the royal family will never be condemned to experience a three months like this again.

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