Firstly I must make it clear that I’m not a royalist. I don’t get particularly enthusiastic about the day to day activities of the British Royal Family, nor do I get overly involved with the many lively debates about the cost to our nation of funding them. I simply accept that they are an institution within our country, a living remnant of glorious days gone by. It is also worth noting that despite everything, we are also one of the few European countries who haven’t murdered our monarchy, (well, not for 367 years at least). We ought to be a bit proud of that fact. Good old Elizabeth II is the head of state, and her descendants are set to follow on the royal traditions as prescribed for them by history. The only way that I can see that I am personally affected by the existence of the Royal family is that from time to time the whole country uses a royal event as a legitimate reason for a countrywide piss-up. Oh yes and flags. Lots of flags.
Anyway, this is not supposed to be a history lesson or even a debate as to the validity or merit of the Windsor family, but simply my reaction to a story that is in the news today.
Prince William is second in line to the throne, after his father Charles. Poor Charles has spent his entire life preparing for his role as King, but due to the longevity of his mother this wait has turned into the vast majority of his life. If his mother lives as long as her mother before her he is likely to be approaching his eighties before he gets to wear that crown on his head. Bit disappointing for him really, but its not like he’s sat around knitting while he has been waiting, he’s seen much of the world, racked up a couple of marriages, created a few scandals and essentially had a bit of a whale of a time.
His son William, by contrast, was born into a media glare, his every move charted and photographed by unscrupulous hacks and snappers thirsty for a new fact. If no fact was forthcoming then a fiction would often suffice. Despite his mothers attempts at shielding him from this lifestyle inevitably the boy has been unable to enjoy what most of us would consider a ‘normal’ childhood, privilege aside. Add to this the fact of his mothers early and tragic death, followed by revelations of paternal infidelity and scurrilous behaviour all around him, it’s fair to say that it was all a bit of a disaster for him really.
However, he is a resilient young man, (just as well under the circumstances) and has been able to build a career for himself in the rather vital role of Air Ambulance pilot (albeit part time at present).
He has found himself a nice (its a broad word), suitably well behaved young wife, and she has provided him with a son and a daughter. So on face value somehow, against all the odds, he has managed to put together something resembling a ‘typical’ British family. Ok they might have a ten-bedroomed house but that goes with the territory to some degree.
This week he has been openly accused by various corners of the press of being a ‘do nothing’ Royal, of ‘neglecting his duties’ and of being ‘work shy’.
Now hang on a minute here. So this is a young man, marred by tragedy and sadness that no amount of money could ever heal, whose entire life is pretty much mapped out for him by others. His schooling, his friendships, to some degree his career, and possibly even his matrimonial partner. He has a full diary of official engagements (lots of which are charitable) which he must fit in around his other commitments. As he gains further maturity his role as future king will add more and more of these official engagements into his schedule. These will not be optional but mandatory, with official tours taking him away from home and family frequently for prolonged periods of time. And he will be under the scrutiny of the entire world throughout.
So while his family is young why should he be pilloried by the media for choosing to prioritise his time as a ‘normal’ Dad? It’s probably the only time in his life when things will bear resemblance to the average person. He will be getting puked on from time to time by his offspring, as we all do, possibly even changing offensive nappies. He will be attempting to reason with unreasonable toddlers, and learning that feeding broccoli to a small child is damn near impossible. He will be discovering that small children occasionally smell very bad, regardless of how expensive the outfit they happen to be wearing is. He will be comforting, and teaching and reassuring and hopefully loving. With a bit of luck, behind closed doors he will get to experience the simple things which so many of us take for granted on a daily basis.
If he was working away from home constantly however, filling every available minute with diplomatic luncheons and charitable functions, civil engagements and propaganda opportunities, and only seeing his children on rare occasions (as is commonplace for many families in these modern times) he’d be lambasted for that too. He’d be accused of neglecting his paternal duties and treating his wife badly.
It seems to me that he simply cannot win, no matter what he does.
When his children grow up, they too will be subjected to the same level of interest as the rest of their family are. And the media will hound them constantly too no doubt. And the cycle will continue.
Can you imagine what it must be like to not be able to nip to the supermarket for a pork pie and a six pack of Budweiser on a whim without being mobbed by a crowd of people? Or roll into the pub with the express intention of getting blind drunk and putting the world to rights, having a scuffle with a doorman and then staggering home later with your mate singing Five Hundred Miles whilst you tell him how much you loves him? Or waking up one day and deciding that you want to change careers, leave the country, change your childs school, shave your head, get a tattoo, etc etc etc. The last monarch we had that tried to follow his own path was forced to abdicate and live the rest of his life pretty much in exile.
You may not want to do any of these things, and nor may he, but can you imagine not having the choice? No, nor can I.
I don’t call that privilege, I call that imprisonment. He may never have to worry about financial issues in the same way most of us do, but his worries are far more extensive, and ultimately permanent.
So if William wants to spend a couple of years kicking a football around the lawn with his son, or making pretend meals with his daughter, or the other way round, we should leave him alone to do just that. And applaud him for getting his priorities in order.
After all, when his children are grown up he will revert back to the ownership of us all, the ever judgmental public.