Battle of the brothers as royal rift opens
Are Harry and Meghan the future of British royalty? Some think they are a breath of fresh air in a stuffy institution – but others argue it was selfish to give up their royal duties.
“Almost unsurvivable.” These are the stark words with which Meghan Markle describes her time at the heart of the British Royal Family, in a trailer released yesterday for a lengthy, two-hour interview between Meghan, Prince Harry and Oprah Winfrey.
Many wonder if it will be the latest episode in the increasingly bitter split between the couple and the rest of the royal family. In 2020, the pair stood down from their royal duties, blaming the UK media for its ferocious attacks on Meghan – but also implying that other members of the family had failed to support her.
The new interview, to be broadcast this Sunday, seems likely to fuel the flames. In the trailer, Harry likens Meghan’s experience to that of his mother, Princess Diana. Many felt she, too, was unfairly shunned by the royal family.
That is why some think the younger generation of the royal family is now split between two couples offering very different images of royalty. On one hand there are Prince William and his wife Kate Middleton, who represent the traditional monarchy: private, unexpressive, focused on their royal duties.
But Meghan and Harry seem different. They talk honestly about the difficulties of life in the public eye. Meghan is also the first mixed-race person to join the family. Some feel they are more representative of modern, diverse Britain than the other royals.
And they have thrown out several royal customs. Although royals are required to be apolitical, Meghan has spoken in favour of liberal causes, like Black Lives Matter.
When the Queen issued a statement seeming to imply that the pair had abandoned the “duties that come with a life of public service,” Meghan and Harry hit back, saying: “We can all live a life of service. Service is universal.” In doing so, they appealed to a democratic ideal of service, for which no one is marked out by birth – a breach of royal tradition.
This divide has exposed deep divisions in the attitudes of the British population at large. Some conservatives think it was selfish for Harry and Meghan to give up their royal duties, and that the pair should not endorse liberal causes that could be seen as controversial.
But many Britons are relaxed about the young royals endorsing liberal causes they do not see as controversial. They are more invested in royal personalities than they are in royal traditions.
This could be a problem for William, who will not become king until after both the Queen and his and Harry’s father, Prince Charles, have died. That means he might not ascend to the throne for more than 20 years. By then, the people who like Meghan and Harry’s style of royalty will outnumber those who prefer a traditional monarchy.
On the other hand, some argue that Harry and Meghan are not so different from the rest of the royals. In reality, they claim, the entire Royal Family reinvented itself for the celebrity age a long time ago: coverage of Kate and William’s wedding in 2011 treated them more like celebrities than aristocrats.
Are Harry and Meghan the future of British royalty?
My brother’s keeper
Yes, say some. They think Harry and Meghan speak to a younger generation of Britons: more emotionally expressive, more socially liberal and tolerant, more interested in the royal family as personalities than as the linchpin of a political system. In 20 years’ time, when the Crown will likely have passed to Prince William, this younger generation will be the majority.
Not at all, say others. They argue that however much people might feel sympathy for Harry and Meghan, they do not want their monarchs to be celebrities. For them, Harry and Meghan can only distance themselves from the rest of the royal family because it is unlikely that Harry will become king; the public simply would not tolerate it in someone directly in line to the throne.
- Were Harry and Meghan right to give up their roles in the royal family?
- Is it helpful for other people when figures in the public eye, like Harry and Meghan, talk frankly about their mental health?
- Imagine you are Oprah Winfrey. Write down five questions that you would want to ask Harry and Meghan in their interview.
- Write a script inspired by The Crown depicting the moment that Harry and Meghan decided to step back from their royal duties.
Some People Say...
“Love can flourish only as long as it is free and spontaneous; it tends to be killed by the thought of duty.”Bertrand Russell (1872 – 1970), British philosopher and mathematician
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- Most people agree that the monarchy is good at surviving scandals. In the 1990s, there was a flurry of negative press when Princess Diana spoke publicly about her mistreatment at the hands of her husband, Prince Charles, and it was revealed that both had had extramarital affairs. And more recently, in 2019, Prince Andrew came under suspicion for his close ties to serial abuser Jeffrey Epstein. Throughout all of this, the monarchy’s approval ratings have remained high.
- What do we not know?
- There is some debate over how much influence the Queen really has in British politics. Officially, her role is entirely apolitical: she does not speak out in favour of any political parties or causes. Although she technically has power to veto new laws, this power has not been used by any monarch since 1707. However, a recent exposé by The Guardian found that she has actually vetted more than 1,000 laws since the 1970s. The paper argues that she wields more political power than we recognise.
- Oprah Winfrey.
- A TV host who is regarded as one of the most influential people in the USA.
- Fuel the flames
- To do or say something to make an argument, problem or bad situation worse.
- Princess Diana
- William and Harry’s mother. She was killed in a car crash in 1997 while being pursued by press photographers.
- Not holding any position on any political matters. Some argue that being apolitical is itself a political position, making the term paradoxical.
- By birth
- The UK has a hereditary monarchy, meaning that some people are marked out to reign over the rest by virtue of being related to the monarch.
- A political philosophy that holds that things should not be radically changed. Conservatives argue that it is always better to build on what already exists than to rip it up and start again.
- A social class marked out by what it claims to be noble blood. At one time in English history, all ministers and generals had to come from the aristocracy.
- Literally, a pin added to the end of an axle to keep a wheel in place. As a metaphor, it refers to anything that keeps everything else stable and in place.