The older and more frightened I get, the more tolerant I am of monarchy. As the political space becomes more polarised and violent, I see the benefits of letting a disinterested figurehead too rich to be bribed be at the centre of that space: to prevent something more malevolent occupying it. It isn’t dynamic, of course, and it calcifies the class system. It doesn’t have to, it just has. It comforts a declining country which might do better arresting that decline than sinking into the imagined landscape of a commemorative tea towel. But there are worse things than a responsible sovereign. Donald Trump, who I can’t even look at, shows us that.
But what about them? In Robert Hardman’s new biography, Charles III: New King. New Court. The Inside Story, he quotes the Princess Royal on the death of her mother. She felt, she said, “rather weirdly… a sense of relief — that somehow it’s finished”. That’s an odd thing to say about the death of a queen, I thought: unless you really know what you are talking about. I never considered Elizabeth II until I watched the silly Diamond Jubilee flotilla in 2012 when the late Queen, then 86, stood for hours in the rain. Her husband, who stood with her, was later hospitalised. Until then she had been an image to me: a coin, a stamp.
When his mother, the Queen, died, the King could not mourn her privately because a crown fell on his head
It’s hard to be a god, I imagine, which is what we invest them with: magic. It’s cruel because they don’t have it. We pore over their bodies, which are human. What’s wrong with the King? And his daughter-in-law? These are questions of national importance. Perhaps they shouldn’t be, but they are. Louis XIV used to get up and go to bed in view of the court. At least we don’t demand that now.
When his mother died, the King, who has been separated from normality by destiny all his life, could not mourn her privately because a crown fell on his head. It was the latest in a sequence of oddities and impositions: being tortured at Gordonstoun, his public school; being denied marriage to the woman he wanted; marrying a stranger instead, because she was a virgin from the right class; being tortured by the tabloids. Now he is unwell. Barmy monarchists will say it is a sign of decay because the King and the land are one. (No pressure). I don’t think that, but monarchy is stressful. Any 24-hour contortion is.
The Prince of Wales wanted time off to take care of his children when his wife was ill — who wouldn’t? But that is impossible now that his father is ill. Instead, he was pictured with Tom Cruise at a gala in support of London’s Air Ambulance Charity. William is not exactly a reluctant prince — he says he accepts his fate, which is not the same thing as welcoming it. “It’s not a question of wanting to be [king], it’s something I was born into and it’s my duty,” he told the Press Association on his 21st birthday.
My favourite video of William has him talking to the crowds in the Mall the night before his wedding. He seemed so happy. In his memoir Spare, Prince Harry said William had been drinking. But Harry ran away: that says a lot too.
Lord Voldemort’s a nimby...
Ralph Fiennes opposes a wind farm in Suffolk, where he was born, and where he dug up the Sutton Hoo treasure in 2021’s The Dig — though that was partly fictional. He told Laura Kuenssberg that the proposed wind farm is an abomination and should be built offshore as they are in Denmark, though that is more expensive.
Lord Voldemort is a Nimby, a Twitter wag said. It’s true that wind farms are an imposition. It’s also true that we need them badly, and that local people hate them, and that affluent people with views and time to enjoy them hate them most of all. Denmark is an ideal, as Fiennes says, but for another reason. People accept them in Denmark — even on land — because most of them are owned by local communities. Fiennes is superb at conjuring fiction, and the past. But he can’t live there.
Tanya Gold is a columnist