Catherine Mayer says anger over racism, misogyny and wealth in the royal family can undermine public consent for a monarchy
The “absolutely catastrophic” implications of attacks on the behaviour of the royal family in the new memoir from the Duke of Sussex are being ignored, according to Catherine Mayer, the royal analyst and biographer of King Charles.
Early publication of the Spanish edition of Spare has put the focus on personality clashes, some of it fed by the royal publicity machine, and this could threaten the constitutional monarchy, whether or not the British public is calling for such a change, Mayer believes.
“It is possibly something that will mark the beginning of the end of the monarchy, and that is what we should discuss. It is important, given the lack of trust in the state at the moment and an upsurge in rightwing politics. Members of the royal family have become our proxies for anger about racism, misogyny and wealth. This is, after all, an institution that stands for inequality, so there are huge things at stake.”
Mayer, whose book The Heart of a King was subject to similar pre-publication security leaks and distortion when it came out in 2015, argues that fundamental questions raised by Harry in his Netflix series and new book, in addition to his interviews with Oprah Winfrey and with ITV’s Tom Bradby on Sunday, are being dodged. Accusations of bullying, racism and misogyny, as well as the class distinctions shored up by the monarchy, will eventually combine to undermine the basis of the consent by which the royal family rule, if they are not addressed, she predicts.
“There is a general misapprehension that this is a light story about a British tourist attraction. The polarisation on both sides of the row is styled as a defence of the monarchy, but it’s not that,” said Mayer. “This is not just a celebrity knockabout story. What we are talking about is the status of a significant institution of state, with significant powers and significant taxpayer funding, so whether you are pro- or anti-monarchy, it deserves to be considered seriously.”
The author first condemned the confrontational tone of much media coverage of the dispute in a tweet on Saturday morning, writing “It’s as if UK journalism, stung by #PrinceHarry’s criticisms, went down the pub, chugged 17 pints of lager top, and came out swinging, staggering and shouting ‘you think *that* was bad!? Just you watch!’ #Spare”
The prospects for reconciliation were remote even before the book, Mayer said, “but there is a strong incentive for King Charles to initiate some kind of truce – this is bringing back the fallout from his first marriage and questions about Queen Camilla are resurfacing already.”
Mayer notes that the alleged racism, bullying and image manipulation inside the institution are not being examined. Left alone, they have the power to dissolve faith in the idea of a hereditary head of state.
“The extreme reaction, and probably confected outrage, when Meghan mimicked a curtsey in the Netflix documentary is a case in point,” said Mayer. “In fact within the palace staff there is competition to see who can go lowest without falling over. So she was not being so disrespectful. She had a point.”
Partly to blame, Mayer holds, are the “layers of secrecy and obfuscation” that surround the royal family and encourage misunderstandings. “It is intended as a defence, but it will defeat the organisation if they concentrate on the personalities. The whole family is meant to be an idealised reflection of the British people themselves and Harry’s marriage to Meghan made the job much easier,” she said. “The failure of that project is absolutely catastrophic for the royal family.”
The emotional impact of the new book gains extra weight when Harry tells Bradby about his feeling of numbness following the sudden death of his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997: “I cried once, at the burial, and you know I go into detail about how strange it was and how actually there was some guilt that I felt and I think William felt as well, by walking around the outside of Kensington Palace … Everyone thought and felt like they knew our mum, and the two closest people to her, the two most loved people by her, were unable to show any emotion in that moment.”