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17 August 2016updated 07 Sep 2021 11:29am

Lines of Dissent

Monarchy is a work of fiction – so stand down, William, and let Harry, a cartoon prince, be king.

By Tanya Gold

I saw Prince Charles tour a farmers’ market in Penzance last month. He was wearing a Victor-Laszlo-from-Casablan­ca grey suit and nibbling, anxiously, on a curry. Then he went to the lido and giggled with people wearing Union Jack swimming costumes. Someone was quoted calling him “ordinary” in the Cornishman – and this is self-deception and denial. I doubt that Henry VIII was called “ordinary”, but things have changed.

Monarchy is no longer required to tyrannise, except by boredom and the repetition of gossip: you are invited, by the Daily Mail, to “steal their style”. It is an era of limp narcissism. If we cannot identify, we do not care, and so the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will take their children to Canada for a royal tour this autumn. Everyone can identify with a baby. They cannot speak. Charlotte will seduce Canada with ease.

Charles is not ordinary. He commissions topiary. I have seen it. I have visited Clarence House and the gazebo in his garden at Highgrove, where he hangs his watercolours and sells expensive suppers when he is not there. I am beginning to think that he will be a good king on monarchist terms. (A good king, for republicans, is the opposite – a very bad king. We dream of Bluebeard and Pennywise the Dancing Clown. We dream of Donald Trump, or Donald Rumsfeld. Or any obvious ghoul.)

I would prefer a republic; I do not want an intercessor with God who is also a tourist attraction. I do not believe, as more analytical monarchists say, that fascists turn from beating up Jews and trade unionists to embroidering cushions and reading Majesty magazine when the Queen arrives. I understand the greed, the secrecy and the self-interest of this family as well as anyone who has tried to self-harm with bunting. They are not “above politics”, which is a lie, and they are not empathetic. They are predicated on their own survival and they are efficient. It is a thousand-year-old scam.

Still, it is interesting to watch the British monarchy mutate, groping for a way through. None of it makes sense critically, and so each reign requires a functional and compelling narrative, like a novel. Living under monarchy is similar to reading fiction because you must identify with a protagonist for it to work.

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Elizabeth II’s narrative was “duty”, and it was superb. Every couture suit and ten-week holiday became another signal of her devotion. It was the least we owed her. Her father’s narrative was identical. Monarchy killed him was the self-serving line. (That is, we did.) Not fags.

Charles’s narrative, for a long time, looked like self-pity, which is duty rejected – and who can sell that? No one looks noble crying on a stamp. The sacrifice must be dignified and willing. (The myths offer a template to guide the unfortunate: Jesus. The Fisher King. Mad King George. Stuttering King George. Aslan.) Charles had a disturbing pseudo-intellectualism; his “black spider memos” to ministers, although trivial, seemed neurotic; he read real books. (The Queen’s books are about Labradors, cricket and gnomes.) The British do not want a clever king. That is not relatable.

Now Charles seems happy – the redemption of a good marriage after a fall, as described by Private Eye’s Sylvie Krin – and has developed the sort of crusty, Hanoverian grandeur that might look good on a plate, or any set of collectibles; and he looks ever more like his mother. He rejected, and then embraced his duty, and that is a familiar and adequate narrative – not as good as Elizabeth II’s, but it will be a shorter book. Whether or not to crown Camilla queen will be his likely climax, and I think that he should. Anything else is cowardice.

It is William, now, who exhibits drastic self-pity. Perhaps it is a phase, but I do not think so. I do not blame him, for his fate is awful, but there is a solution. He could renounce the throne and let Harry – Hal! – be a silly, joshing king, like Edward VII, whose signature activity was adultery, and signature accessory pie.

Handsome idiots make good kings because people like them. They forgive them their mistakes and see themselves in them. There is nothing anxious, or longing, about Harry. He is a cartoon prince, a football mascot, a human Bob the Builder.

Instead William the perfectionist stays and frets, trying to create an ideal family while remaining, to outsiders, cold. He is comfortable with aristocrats. The most memorable praise I have heard of him is: “He can chair a meeting.” He complains about press intrusion, which he should ignore; he lives in Norfolk, works little, consults his lawyers, and lets his son dress in pyjamas and a matching bathrobe, like a tiny Hugh Hefner.

This is only a quibble. Good taste in a king means nothing, as Charles I knew; he collected Rembrandts, and lost his head.
So I will not dwell on the way that William’s expensively renovated houses look like four-star hotels, beyond saying that they do not, from photographs, look like homes at all, but homes imagined by one who does not have one.

No, it is William’s obvious distaste for us, made explicit by his treatment of the press, that grates. It is good sense in a man, and bad sense in a prince. But he is still willing to enjoy the gifts, when he would do better to live as a hermit to match his thoughts, because that would be arresting – not to use publicly owned helicopters as toys and go everywhere with a fiercely blow-dried wife. (But they would not go to the Olympics. Did they fear disease? Or perhaps they merely left others to it.)

William is, to me, a man entirely without fictional possibility, and I cannot think what his narrative will be. Does he even know that he needs one? But I am a republican. Bluebeard will be fine. 

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