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Is it time to stop treating the Royal Family like a living soap opera?

If you're hooked on the world's biggest reality show, The Windsors, it may be time to take a step back, says Lollie Barr.

The world is obsessed with the British monarchy. Unless you're a fellow countryman when it comes to the members of Germany's Hesse-Darmstadt dynasty, most of the relos, i.e., all of Europe's reigning hereditary monarchs, slip under the radar. While I'm on first-name terms with King Charles, I have no idea who the reigning King of Sweden is. After a quick Google search, it's King Gustav, in case you're interested.

Of course, we Aussies are super invested in the British royal family. After all, Australia is a constitutional monarchy, and King Charles is our head of state. I'm a republican by heart who'd love to see us completely disconnect from the British empire and choose our head of state. However, like most people, I still know the most ridiculously intimate details of The Windsors' lives, and I'm the first to click on wave after wave of love, tragedy, birth, deaths and scandal.

Kate Middleton (left) and the royal family leave church at Christmas (right).
Princess Catherine and the rest of the royal family have been our source of entertainment for years, for better or worse. Photo: Getty

A soap opera of Shakespearean proportions

But it's not just Commonwealth countries; the Windsor family is a worldwide phenomenon that has taken centre stage in a soap opera of Shakespearean proportions: powerful matriarchs, cheating husbands, ill-fated beauties, power-hungry mistresses, arch-nemesis brothers, dodgy uncles, conniving interlopers, and the senseless tragedies that have consumed their lives. You couldn't make it up.

Every minute detail of the Windsors' lives is gobbled up for public consumption as we wait hungrily for the next instalment. The Crown even went as far as to tell their story, with cleverly imagined private conversations now accepted as truth.

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Our addiction to The Windsors as entertainment had become so great that when the soap opera went into hiatus for a second due to the withdrawal of two royals from public life due to health reasons, we created the drama ourselves, with fanciful conspiracy theories filling the reality gap.

A public reckoning

However, with the news of Princess Catherine's cancer diagnosis, it feels as if there has been somewhat of a public reckoning. Now, our entertainment comes with a microdose of shame if you laughed at an infamous Fuzzy Cardigan Sleeve Photoshop controversy photo meme or bought into the alleged infidelity conspiracy.

Even the most dehumanised celebrity in the world, Kim Kardashian, got in on the fun by posting a photo of herself posing in front of a luxury car wearing leather pants and a black crop top. "On my way to go find Kate," she captioned the post. Unlike many celebrities like Blake Lively, Kardashian still hasn't apologised.

Prince Harry called out dehumanising of royals

Just like we did with the tragic death of Princess Diana, the world has had to take a step back as we once again evaluate how much we've dehumanised the Royal family. For all his churlishness, it was this kind of behaviour that Prince Harry was calling out back in January 2023 when he was doing the rounds for Spare.

When asked during an interview with ABC News in the US if he felt dehumanised, Prince Harry responded with a definite: "Yes, 100 per cent." Before adding, "There are some people, especially in the UK, who've been led to believe that because you are a member of the royal family, somehow, everyone owns you or has a stake in you, and that's a message that's being purely pushed out by the British tabloids. And it creates real problems within that family and that relationship."

Meghan Markle, Prince Harry, Prince William and Princess Catherine.
Harry has previously warned of treating the royals as just cast members in a soap opera. Photo: Getty

The answer prompted the interviewer, Michael Stahan, to suggest that his family was akin to a soap opera. Harry agreed, "There's a lot of soap in there. But you know, for a lot of people, that's entertaining. In numerous parts of the world, news has become entertainment. And I think there's a lot of people who consume this stuff as if it's news when it's not."

"And the only person, the only people, the only organisation that really benefits from it is the tabloids themselves… but at the heart of this is a family," he added.

It seems a bit disingenuous from Prince Harry when you consider the public oxygen he and Megan stole by airing his family dramas and his frost-bitten todger to the world, perpetuating further headlines for months.

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I have often wondered how the Wales' would be perceived now if, instead of returning to the glare of the world's media spotlight in California, they'd disappeared quietly to their beloved Botswana to raise their family and work for Rhino Conservation, where Harry is a patron. Giving up that power and privilege for privacy would undoubtedly mean they'd be respected as the most loved, coolest people on earth.

Global headlines keep royals relevant

Prince Harry illustrates the dichotomy facing the Royals: wanting to keep the power, the money, and the dynasty alive while naturally craving privacy to live their very human lives.

As we've seen since Princess Diana's tragic death, the public is too invested in the British royal family to look away. The Windsors can't afford to. Their very existence is tied to service to the community. Public adoration keeps the public purse open, while the headlines keep them relevant.

I'm contributing to the ongoing dialogue by writing this article. However, at the crux of it, a young mum is undergoing preventative chemotherapy, trying her best to reassure her kids, who must be scared knowing their mummy is sick.

This is a sentiment most of us can relate to directly. As drama-fuelled as the Windsors' lives seem to be, so is every family on earth. Love, birth, illness, deaths, betrayals, and family fallouts fuel our lives. The Windsors are amplified due to their power, privilege, pride, money, castles, jewellery and beautiful dresses.

Still, in the end, like any other family, they are just humans living life as it unfolds. We may need to give them space to let that happen and focus our attention on the crucial issues that challenge our very existence.

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