A LONG time ago, I applied for a job at the BBC, where – I think just before he became political editor – I was interviewed by The Herald’s new columnist, the mighty Brian Taylor. As part of the process I was given a list of improbably important news stories and asked to put them in order.

Since they were along the lines of Home Secretary resigns, Pope dies, nuclear facility explodes, America invades China, and so on, I didn’t take long to put “Prince Edward announces engagement” at the bottom of my list (this was about 10 years before he did).

Brian and the other interviewers questioned, no doubt correctly, whether this chimed with the viewers’ priorities; I think my defence was the example of the recently-launched Independent, then very successful and with a policy of not reporting royal stories at all. But I didn’t get the job.

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I mention this to demonstrate my long-standing absence of interest in a subject that fascinates large chunks of the rest of the country. It’s not rooted in a dislike of the royal family: I’m interested in the monarchy when there’s some constitutional point, or actual drama, involved. I just don’t pay much attention to what Princess Eugenie calls her children, and that kind of thing.

Except that, as that last example shows, you can’t altogether escape that sort of stuff. Imagine how much worse it is to be on the receiving end of it. If you were born into the family, presumably the only way to escape all the press attention would be to marry a Hollywood actress, emigrate, announce that you’re relinquishing the whole business of royal duties and then go on James Corden and Oprah Winfrey’s chat shows to talk about how you’ve been silenced.

Perhaps I’m missing some subtle aspect of Prince Harry’s strategy, but though – like everyone else – I’ve always thought he was very likeable and fundamentally a good egg, I haven’t had him pegged as the Metternich de nos jours. But, as I say, I’m not one of his closest observers. Oddly, since it wasn’t a big hit here, I may actually have been more familiar with Meghan Markle, as she then was, because I watched Suits when it was first on.


It’s a great shame that the Sussexes have given up on their royal role in order to build some sort of Californian lifestyle brand and go in for various forms of right-on activism, but I’m afraid it’s definitely that way round. It is Prince Harry who has opted out; whatever account he gives on television next week, it’s clear from his earlier public statements that his view of what could be done within a royal role was incompatible with the position that the family has taken.

The complaints from the couple about the British press may be understandable – I doubt many of us would relish the kind of attention the tabloid press gives them – but it’s not true that the newspapers have always had it in for them. In fact, the initial coverage of them was tremendously favourable.

One of the reasons their departure from royal duties is such a shame is because the duchess (despite being an American and a glamorous actress) had something in common, including a mixed race background, with large chunks of British society that the royal family had never resembled. Of course, they don’t resemble the rest of us, either, but – as with Prince William’s break with precedent in marrying someone without a title – there seemed to be general enthusiasm that they were beginning to look a tiny bit more like the rest of the country.

It would also be understandable if the duchess, hurled into this bizarre life, was the motivation behind the break but despite a few rather misogynistic implications, similar to those levelled at Carrie Symonds, I don’t see that we can know that.

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It’s not as if fame and press attention were entirely foreign to her, and Prince Harry has never made any secret of the fact that he loathes the media. It’s true that she expressed a few opinions that veered into the realm of politics but, had there been the willingness to do so, that could probably have been smoothed over.

It’s also possible that her views on issues that currently might be thought off-limits for royalty might, over time, cease to be thought of as political. Subjects such as Aids and landmines, which were the interests of Diana, Princess of Wales, in the 1980s and 90s were at the time regarded as dangerous; they wouldn’t be controversial now. But like his mother, Prince Harry can’t seem to accommodate himself to the fact that, while the royal family does change, and indeed has done so comprehensively during the Queen’s reign, it doesn’t do so at all quickly.

More than 50 years ago, the television documentary of the royal family, showing them pottering about Balmoral and so on, was seen as a huge shift in their presentation. It’s hard to imagine now, but for quite a few years afterwards there was still some discussion in the royal household about whether it had been a good idea. The monarchy may be studiously apolitical, but it can hardly help but be extremely conservative with a small c.

The duke and duchess aren’t. My guess is that Prince Harry never was (so his wife shouldn’t be getting slated) and that the duchess may never have appreciated how confining royal duties are.

The trouble is that while its possible to be patriotic, even traditionalist, while being politically radical, free-wheeling, outspoken, “progressive” or downright eccentric – indeed, there’s a long-standing tradition of that as an extremely British type – you can’t do that with the neutrality expected of the royal family.

Very few of us, given the choice between hobnobbing with celebrities while sounding off on our pet topics and campaigning for causes we believe in, or having to bite our tongues and endure decades of Trooping the Colour and Royal Variety Shows, wouldn’t opt for the former.

I wish the Sussexes hadn’t made that choice, but I don’t blame them. Most of all, I don’t feel the need to hear them explain why they think they’ve got the rough end of the deal.

Let them eat cake, as long as they don’t expect still to have it, too.

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