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ROBERT HARDMAN: A steely, wise reply… Amen to that, Wills!


He could have said nothing at all. In the circumstances, it would not have been surprising.

The Royal Family do not normally respond to shouty potshots from the media on the basis that a) it only encourages more of the same and b) they are not politicians with an opinion on everything.

This week, however, has been anything but normal. And the Duke of Cambridge is in a uniquely sad and painful position. His once-doting brother and his sister-in-law have landed a series of wounding blows on him, his family and his wife. They are accusations which will linger and fester for years to come.

The most serious of them all – racism – has been presented in a manner so nebulous as to be almost unanswerable. All things considered, is it any wonder that when that was thrown at him point blank yesterday, he replied: ‘We’re very much not a racist family’.

To which, I have no doubt, the vast majority of people in this country will say: ‘Amen to that’.

This sensible, steely intervention will be long-remembered in years to come.

The Royal Family do not normally respond to shouty potshots from the media on the basis that a) it only encourages more of the same and b) they are not politicians with an opinion on everything

When the Prince of Wales had a similar question tossed at him from the media pen on Tuesday, he declined to comment. That was wise and appropriate. The monarchy, like the country, was still digesting the Sussexes’ remarks from the night before and the Queen had yet to release her statement.

However – to coin a phrase – responses may vary. By yesterday, many people wanted to hear a member of the family say something. Indeed, they probably needed to hear from Prince William – the person torn in more directions than anyone in the current royal crisis.

This was not a stage-managed intervention. Under lockdown rules, only a handful of media are permitted to attend royal engagements (they take turns according to a rota system – and not, as the Sussexes have claimed, by dint of some chummy cartel).

Those who were allotted slots at yesterday’s visit to an East London school had specifically been told that the duke would not be answering questions. They were also warned, rather primly, to remember that they were on school premises (where, presumably, no one ever misbehaves).

Yet, one TV reporter decided that the world wanted an answer and raised his voice. The duke was happy to oblige.

This week, however, has been anything but normal. And the Duke of Cambridge is in a uniquely sad and painful position

This week, however, has been anything but normal. And the Duke of Cambridge is in a uniquely sad and painful position

Prince William also revealed the depth of the royal fault lines when he said that he had not spoken to his brother since the Oprah Winfrey interview. This was honest, not evasive.

Needless to say, social media was soon ablaze. The usual ranks of the perpetually offended were thrilled to take fresh offence. ‘How dare Prince William talk about racism!’, shrieked the same people who had just been attacking the monarchy for not talking about racism.

While they were rattling around in their echo chambers, however, the silent majority – that overwhelming and constant 75 per cent of the population who have always preferred a monarchy to a republic – will have seen yesterday’s remarks for what they were: welcome words from a taciturn man understandably goaded beyond endurance.

For, just as the wartime generation came to know and love a pair of very close, very different royal siblings – the quiet, serious Princess Elizabeth versus the wilder, cheeky Princess Margaret – so later generations would come to feel the same about William and Harry.

It makes it all the more significant that the quiet, serious Duke of Cambridge spoke out in the way he did.

These ostensibly casual remarks amount to an intervention reminiscent of the Queen’s words outside Crathie Church in 2014. Shortly before the Scottish referendum, she told worshippers she ‘hoped people would think very carefully about the future’. Yesterday was also a reminder of Prince William’s coolness in a crisis. This week brings echoes of one of the most febrile situations I have witnessed in Britain in recent years.

In the immediate aftermath of the Grenfell Tower disaster, all forms of authority were targets of visceral hostility. Both the Prime Minister, Theresa May, and the Labour Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, had to be escorted off the premises. It was a highly volatile situation, stoked by a toxic racial dimension. Everyone was shaking fists.

And then, all of a sudden, everything fell silent. I was standing outside the emergency rescue centre, underneath the A40 flyover, as the State Bentley pulled up unannounced. 

Out stepped the Queen and the Duke of Cambridge. It was as if a switch had been flicked. The pair could offer no solutions, of course. But here was the sovereign and future sovereign, showing support and very visibly moved by it all.

After meeting people inside the centre, they emerged. At which point, emotions started to crackle. ‘What about the children? Queen?’ yelled a man in the crowd, and kept on shouting. It was an ugly moment – until Prince William, ushering his grandmother in to the car, addressed the heckler. ‘I’m sorry, I’ve got to go. I’ll be back,’ he shouted. ‘I’ll come back.’ And he did.

In years gone by, Palace staff had a phrase for a typical royal response in times of crisis: ‘going ostrich’. 

Judging by yesterday’s firm but measured response from the Duke of Cambridge, no one is sticking their head in the sand this time.



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