Reflections on recent events, plus the occasional fact
free rant unfiltered by rational argument.
I said I wouldn't write this article. Then my morning stroll today led to an encounter with Jack and Marleen from Portland, Oregon. After the usual exchange of pleasantries about the weather, Marleen ventured "You didn't get an invite to the fairytale wedding.”
I bit my tongue.
So as not to offend, I pointed out the fairytale description is most apt. Then, I reminded my new American friends that fairytales have monsters, ugly sisters and nasty step-parents. Plus, plot twists to keep you on the edge of your seat. This piece is an attempted response to the playful attitude hanging over this Royal wedding.
This Saturday, an ex-British Soldier marries an American actress. So far, so good. She had a role in a TV series called 'Suits'. I've never seen it. He’s had a decades-long role in the unfolding drama of Britain’s longest-running soap opera - the Royal family. Harry, as the son of Princess Diana of Harrods, has remained front-page fodder for his entire life.
We've followed him as he walked behind his Mum’s coffin. Even at a tender age, thrust into the open at the most tragic of times. We’ve followed his gaffes, ups and downs. We cheered him on, as he sprinted for his death-spitting attack helicopter, to bring justice to the Taliban. His target may well have been an innocent tribal wedding or a school outing, depends how the systems functioned that day. Let’s not get side-tracked.
Harry has grown up with us watching and appears to be a decent sort. In recent years his relationship with Ms Markle sent the media into a frenzy. Apparently, she’s black and a divorcée. Although, I have to say I didn’t notice the former. It was a case of “Really, and what’s the issue here?”. Then once the engagement came about, we entered ‘fairytale’ land. This narrative is the troubling part.
Like the start of any decent fairytale, the omens are not promising. In the movie "Men who stare at Goats", Kevin Spacey's character is clairvoyant. Attending a wedding, he congratulates the couple. Then he utters, “Shame, it doesn't work out between you two.” I’m not clairvoyant, and, yet, let’s be honest, it hasn't worked out for many who entered the weird world of the Windsors.
A dark shadow is cast by Diana, Fergie and Captain Mark Phillips. Even Phil the Greek had to surrender himself as subordinate to the Queen. A proud naval officer, a bit of a lad, he gave in and rolled over. Although, he later won the nation’s heart with his mildly racist, grumpy-old-man routine. A sort of upper-class Victor Mildrew, cankerous in a manner old folks get away with. I like him.
Also, this is the first American divorcée to marry into the Royal family in 81 years. The last time it happened a constitutional crisis erupted. Eventually, the King opted to step aside for his brother. There are no such worries this time, as Harry is some distance from the throne.
The relationship between Mrs Simpson and Edward VIII scandalised Britain. This reaction was in part because she remained married during their affair and the morals of the time meant this was unacceptable. Anyway, times have changed.
Nonetheless, for me, the events of 2018 have a sense of deja vu. Doesn’t this sound familiar. In 1981, a similar fairytale rolled out; Charles and Diana. That fable ended with a Mercedes Benz wrapped around a pillar in a Paris tunnel. The Prince in that story married his first love, a shoe-in for the part of the ugly sister. A happy ending of sorts I guess. Meanwhile, the death of Diana wrong-footed the Queen. In an uncharacteristic moment, she misjudged public sentiment and paid the price. Being a sharp operator, she soon recovered.
Never forgot that the Windsors call themselves the 'firm'. That parlance recognises certain basic truths. The modern Royals are a business. Their core product is popularity, which shores up their legitimacy in the eyes of a fickle public. As I've before mentioned, the Royals have a certain utility. By acting as a sort of social glue at times of crisis. To achieve this deft act, they operate outside the political domain, adroitly remaining above the fray. The Queen is exemplary in this capacity. Although, it’s something Brian appears not to understand.
For her new role, Ms Markle has one distinct advantage. She's an actress. Joining the cast of the ‘Windsors’ she's a perfect modern-day fit. This lady has a social-conscious, is a feminist (not too ardent) and of mixed race. It’s almost as if she’s summoned up for the role. Though she will need to stick to the agreed script. Remember, Fergie didn’t play the game, went rogue and paid the price. In the process, she became something of a national joke. That’s worse than getting booted from the ‘firm’.
I detect that Ms Markle may hold strident opinions. While there is nothing wrong with that, caution must prevail. She shouldn’t change her views, except to remember that the English have ‘satire instead of revolution’. This approach doesn’t mean we are too kind. After all, for the English irony is a lethal weapon that can collapse a government. I fear her opinions could expose her to unwelcome ridicule as someone who is ‘pushy’. She’d be well advised to keep things in check, with a degree of modesty. Her future father-in-law suffers because he can’t keep his disjointed ideas to himself.
This weekend will see a period of ‘cultural remission’ as the English do strange things. They will cheer, wave flags and may even talk to strangers. You can have all your pomp and ceremony, the teacups and tea towels. Enjoy the show. But remember these two young people are part of a massive operation. Their marriage, if it succeeds, will keep that operation rolling along. Good luck to them
Walter De Havilland is one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Hong Kong Police.