CHARMAIN NAIDOO: The UK royal family’s crown is slipping, somewhat
Extramarital affairs, Nazi costumes in the name of fun, pretensions at being a tampon — the British royal family is the world’s greatest (and sleaziest) reality show
When I was an awkward teenager and hugely embarrassed by everything my parents did, said or thought, my father did something unthinkable. He got drunk one night, slipped on a pavement, fell and broke his ankle. I was mortified.
But as embarrassed as I was, my mother’s sense of debilitating shame was disproportionate. She was so ashamed she kept wringing her hands wondering if she could ever show her face in our small town again.
He’s the headmaster. What will they think? Every time they look at his cast, for weeks to come, they’ll snigger about him falling down drunk, she kept saying, as though to us, but really to herself. She was easily embarrassed, my mother. Like when Shaun was caught smoking pot and was sent home from boarding school. Horror.
Or when my teenage, second-cousin M got pregnant at 17. Shame by association.
So I had a more than a little sympathy for the UK’s 93-year-old Queen Elizabeth who must have died several small deaths watching “that” video of her son, Prince Andrew the Duke of York, discussing inappropriate sexual behaviour with a girl of 17.
The Crown, Season 3, is back on Netflix. Based on the Peter Morgan play, The Audience, this television series lavishly narrates the life of the Queen Elizabeth and, of course, her large family. The first two parts of the series had us (well, me and I hope you) gripped as it segued through the early life of the Queen, so brilliantly played by the actress Claire Foy.
And so Royal Family was made in real life as television cameras followed the family through their daily routines: the children at play, Prince Charles working on an essay, the Queen doing paperwork, tending to her horses
In dramatised documentary fashion, we sat through the death of her father, her ascension to the throne at 25, romance (sanctioned and forbidden) in the royal household, intrigues, rivalry, family squabbles. Riveting stuff all of it.
Now this new season is here and I’ve surprisingly learnt something that I, as an ardent royalist, never knew: the royal family was one of the very early adopters of reality TV.
The Crown has a storyline that tells how, in 1969, Prince Philip announced on television that the royal family was broke and had to sell a yacht to make ends meet. To stop the royal family from looking like the ne’er do gooders on the 1969 version of the ever-popular UK soapie Eastenders, Prince Philip invites the BBC to film the family — in what he called a documentary, but which was, by 2019 standards, a royal reality TV show.
And so Royal Family was made in real life as television cameras followed the family through their daily routines: the children at play, Prince Charles working on an essay, the Queen doing paperwork, tending to her horses, meeting leaders of the day while seeming detached from the politics of the day. This politically astute woman dumbs herself down, as is expected from the non-political head of state, and says to Richard Nixon, “World problems are so complex, aren’t they?”
The programme, in modern day parlance, got an astonishingly high number of hits and likes. Records show that three quarters of the UK population tuned in to watch. But the Queen was not happy. It’s not known why, but she banned — forever — the two-hour long show and it had never been seen again.
Off with its/his head
I bet Her Majesty wishes she could do the same with The Crown, which, in this season, will chronicle all the humiliating things her children and their wives and husbands and children have done to embarrass her, and the monarchy.
Enter Prince Andrew, acknowledged friend of disgraced US financier and child sex trafficker Jeffry Epstein, who killed himself in jail awaiting trial in New York as news of his dastardly deeds emerged. Virginia Roberts claims that, when she was 17, the Queen’s favourite son had sex with her on three different occasions. All this while, she says, she was kept as a sex slave by Epstein.
The Duke of York agreed to a sit down with BBC Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis in what is being described as possibly the most cringeworthy, train wreck of an interview.
The Duke of York claimed that he could not have had sex with the teenage Virginia because he was taking his daughter to a children’s party. He rambled, and contradicted himself, and stumbled over the facts and insisted he had not had sex with any women trafficked by Epstein.
I can scarcely imagine what his nonagenarian mum made of it all. Still, the House of Windsor has not been without scandal. In 1992, Prince Charles was caught on tape during a phone call telling his then mistress Camilla Parker Bowles that he dreamed of becoming her tampon. Yeuch! He was married at the time, to Diana.
Also in 1992, cameras captured the Duchess of York, Fergie, having her toes sucked by Texas businessman John Bryan.
Three years later, in 1995, Diana admitted she’d had an affair with James Hewitt, who — after her death — caused more scandal by trying to sell her love letters.
Charles and Diana’s younger son Harry caused countless scandals — playing strip poker, being photographed naked in a compromising situation. But the worst of it was his “joke” appearance as a Nazi at a high society costume party.
But none of these bouts of humiliating, embarrassing, errant behaviour have been as damaging to the monarchy as the allegations levelled against Prince Andrew. Roberts was 17 when she claimed she was obliged to have sex with the Duke, but the legal age of consent in the UK is 16, so she was not under age at the time. But claims that she was Epstein’s sex slave are exactly the kind of thing that started the #MeToo movement.
Even if Andrew is “sex-offender-adjacent” in that he has just been good friends with a man who has been unmasked as a sexual predator, it bodes badly.
My mother’s life-lesson to me was to repeat, over and over, this age old adage: be careful who you associate with; you will be judged by the company you keep.
I bet the Queen gave her arrogant, entitled, self-important son Andrew the same advice. I bet he wishes he’d taken it.