The Spectator's Notes

The royals who do best are those who restrain their personalities

19 May 2018

9:00 AM

19 May 2018

9:00 AM

The last time we had a royal wedding of comparable dynastic importance (i.e. only a bit important), Prince Andrew married Sarah Ferguson, in 1986. The Spectator of those times, which I was editing, carried almost nothing about it. The only piece was a television review by Alexander Chancellor, complaining that ‘The royal family are at the moment completely out of control.’ He found this very upsetting. He was ‘absolutely in favour of the royal family. I have always liked the way they keep their heads down, avoid controversy, shun jokes, and conceal whatever personalities they may have.’ So he was shocked that the Princess of Wales (Diana) dressed up as a policeman (I think for Fergie’s hen-night) and went to Annabel’s, and that Prince Andrew said in a press interview shortly before the wedding that ‘A woman should have a trim waist, a good “up top” and enough down the bottom.’ By ‘up top’, Prince Andrew did not mean brainpower. That column was Alexander Chancellor’s last in the role. He went off to join the new-minted Independent, one of whose selling points was that it carried nothing whatever about the royal family.

The Chancellor theory surely remains correct. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are decidedly more ‘woke’ than his uncle and Fergie, but the same principle applies. The more that members of the royal family become public personalities, the more likely their lives are to implode. The poor Duchess of York — as Sarah Ferguson, by her marriage, became — was (is) a good-hearted person, but there was something about her outgoing, Sloaney lack of guile which inspired ribaldry from the start. Inevitably, the papers started to search for evidence of what she was like ‘up top’. Inevitably, they found and published it. The whole thing ended rather sadly with divorce, ‘vulgar, vulgar, vulgar’ and toe-sucking. It was a sideshow to the too-much-personality main event of Diana. At present, Ms Markle is well defended because the people who would normally sneer at a new princess are claiming her for their own, and the people who like new princesses are polite anyway. She and Prince Harry are much more winning and adroit than their 1980s predecessors. But on the ‘for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer’ principle that all marriages encounter storms, theirs is a high-risk strategy. The Cambridges, on the other hand, quietly abide by the Chancellor rules.

As previously mentioned (Notes, 3 March), the Guardian has not adapted well to tabloid form. I feel particularly sad about its Review section on Saturdays, which were the fullest books pages in Fleet Street and well understood how to be broadly left-wing without becoming doctrinaire and therefore unliterary. Now tabloid, the Review has boiled itself down to a repetitive essence in which almost every cover is about women’s rights — abortion in Ireland, Meghan Markle being ‘divorced, a woman of colour and a feminist’, and ‘Why feminist fiction needs to break free’ (to take three recent examples). You have to be very woke indeed not to fall asleep.

Watching Nick Clegg, Nicky Morgan and David Miliband sort of launching what might one day become a sort of new centre party amid a granary-full of Tilda rice in Essex, I realised why we still need the Labour party. Despite their equation of themselves with rationality — Sir Nick’s office advertises itself online under the name of Open Reason — the moderates are a bit crazy. They are centrist Bourbons, who have forgotten nothing about how they all, in their different ways, fell from power, yet have learnt nothing about why. How could they possibly think that the key to the future of our country is to be found in membership of the European Economic Area? I think I can see the chain of reasoning that got them there, but the conclusion is irrational nevertheless. What makes them think that millions could ever rally to this banner? The last time something like this happened, with the invention of the SDP in the early 1980s, Margaret Thatcher privately scorned the idea that it could succeed. Labour would not go away, she thought, because Labour ‘is the party of the underdog’, which she saw as a worthy and eternally necessary role. Obviously Jeremy Corbyn is currently perverting that cause, but that does not mean that Labour cannot survive him. Morgan Clegg Miliband (it sounds like an investment bank) is a vehicle for the overdog — the class of people who run NGOs and the CBI and the European Commission and have diversity audits and access monitors and are, by self-definition, virtuous. They are often perfectly nice, but they are a ruling class more impermeable than the old aristocracy, and they still do not realise that voters no longer want them. Labour and the Conservatives, despite current appearances to the contrary, have deeper roots in human nature, and therefore greater supplies of common sense.

I didn’t know until this week what a ‘gammon’ now is, so I haven’t quite worked out whether I am one, but I don’t see why people so described by Corbynista tweets should claim to have suffered racial insults. A gammon is so called, apparently, because of the colour of his (less commonly, her) face. The hue comes on in mid-life because of the pressures of living in a PC world. No gammon should feel ashamed. He should be unafraid and sing noisily ‘With a rowley, powley, gammon and spinach/ Heigh ho, says Anthony Rowley.’

Leilani Münter is a professional racing driver. She has recently become a patron of Population Matters, a charity which campaigns to end population growth. She is proud of the fact that she and her husband are ‘child-free’ (she dislikes the word ‘childless’), and urges others to partake of this freedom. An approving story in the Times carries a picture of Ms Münter dressed in a motor-racing jacket which says ‘GO 100% RENEWABLE’. Has she considered what will happen to the human race if we cease to renew ourselves 100 per cent?

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10

Show comments