Monday, 5 January 2015

The Royal Family

All countries have a 'royal family' of course - even the most republican or communist of territories have a senior ruling elite, most usually a set of people closely related, or otherwise bound to each other, by ties of blood or marriage.

But the British Royal Family is special. And make no mistake, it does matter. It is influential. It is one of the glues that holds the nation together. And despite its constantly-emphasised constitutional impotence inside the UK, it is nevertheless a political instrument. When the British Government wishes to signal to the world that - for example - a one-time erring state is now back in the fold and forgiven, it arranges a Royal Visit as the final and most important gesture of amity. Every Senior Royal has a role as an Ultimate British Ambassador. That's why any reputational damage needs to be dealt with swiftly and completely. Nothing must be allowed to injure any Royal's political usefulness.

I haven't regarded the Royal Family as a mere piece of national decoration for a very long time. Anyone who thinks they exist to only take salutes at tattoos, and lay wreaths, and generally strike a high note at times of tragedy, is not seeing the wider picture. I think that from the Queen down, every Royal is in a kind of bondage to the State. Even if they have no specific job, a member of the Royal family must at least observe strict rules of conduct and behaviour, and resign themselves to a tiresome schedule of necessary engagements and observances. The Firm has its work cut out. It has much to do. The Royal Family helps to oil the unseen wheels of international diplomacy and international business.

I seem to be painting an admiring picture. I certainly think the Royal Family plays a key role in national life. Therefore I do not grumble about the cost of keeping them in their gilded cage. Their prestige value is worth all the money allocated, and is, anyway, nothing to the big money spent in connection with, say, the football industry.

But would I want to join them, or at least work for them? Absolutely not. Because then I'd have to cope with the unglamorous protocols, and inflexibilities, and manoeuvrings, designed to protect all the inner-circle secrets. No thank you. And this is quite apart from the relentless and very intrusive media scrutiny: if my job or position made me visible, I would be approached and pressurised by ruthless news men sooner or later. That wouldn't be fun.

In fact I don't see what in the world of the Royal Family can be much fun. I just see a family that has to guard itself, and try to snatch whatever privacy is possible. A life under siege, behind high walls or a police cordon, behind a mask. A life apart. A privileged life, perhaps. But not the privileges of the private citizen. I don't envy them.

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Lucy Melford