THOSE of us born and brought up in the French Republic have every reason to be captivated by the psychodrama currently enveloping the British royal family. This is not simply media-stoked voyeurism, but because our two countries are very close neighbours, and we are both always trying to work out which society is better organised.
The modern French tradition – one based on liberty, equality and fraternity – is by definition opposed to hereditary elites. Thus, when a reigning queen is threatened by an actual grandson who appears to have turned against the entire system of monarchy and indeed emigrated from the United Kingdom, then constitutional affairs become very interesting indeed.
Prince Harry might not yet call himself a republican, but his American wife Meghan Markle almost certainly does. Since ‘stepping back’ from royal duties and quitting England, they have relocated to the most high-profile republic in the world – one that broke away from the British empire by force of arms. The couple now openly criticise the relatives they left behind, accusing them of all kinds of despicable behaviour.
In this sense, could there be something of the revolutionary in a twosome still bizarrely known as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex? As titled royals who want to change, if not bring down, royalty, they are acting in a manner that is absolutely unprecedented. Just look at the way Markle used a tortuous TV interview with chat show host Oprah Winfrey to blame racism for her estrangement from the House of Windsor.
Markle claimed – but did not prove – that an unidentified member of the royal family had discussed the skin colour of her then unborn baby in disparaging terms.
She intimated that her son, Archie, had subsequently been denied paid security and the title of prince because he was not a conventionally white heir. The potentially incriminating accusations were sketchy, but Harry seemed to concur, albeit in a characteristically imprecise manner. This spread collective guilt as viewers tried to work out who the alleged racist was.
Hysterical French reactions to the more poisonous claims included the controversial magazine, Charlie Hebdo, likening the Queen to a racist killer. The publication ran a front-page cartoon of Her Majesty choking the life out of Markle, in the same way that black American George Floyd died after a Minneapolis policeman’s knee was forced against his throat during an arrest. It was an outrage that rightly emboldened the Black Lives Matter movement.
In turn, the subtext to the macabre Charlie Hebdo image was that an archaic system based on genes, class and rank could not work for a mixed-race retired showbiz worker and divorcee from California. So vive la révolution?
Non, not at all. Note that Markle actually wanted Archie to be a prince, and that neither she nor Harry has made any effort whatsoever to get rid of their duke and duchess monikers, let alone his own prince one. In other words, they are intent on preserving their status, and also the status quo.
Moreover, by far the worst proven racism by a royal in recent years has been from Harry himself. He wore a Nazi uniform at a fancy-dress party, and used bigoted terms while serving in his grandmother’s army, infamously racially abusing a brother officer from a Pakistani background, as well as employing equally foul language to describe Muslim enemies.
Rather than downscale from the trappings of royalty, the Sussexes now live on a multi-million-dollar estate on the US west coast, complete with staff and easy access to limousines, helicopters and private jets. They actually retain ‘spokespeople’ among their large entourage and Markle pontificates pompously about the downtrodden of this world while wearing designer clothes and expensive jewellery. Beyond this, both send out toadies to drop favourable messages on their behalf in the international media.
Charity – the ultimate attempted excuse for the lavish lifestyles of the undeservedly super rich – is deployed frequently. The Sussexes have no interest in the angry poor – those who are alienated and who bear political grievances – but only in compliant victims who do not have a problem with wealthy celebrities involving them in their PR.
Then there is the personal gain – the cash. The Sussexes are obsessed with raking in as much as they can. Not only did Harry openly seethe at his father, Prince Charles, for allegedly withdrawing handouts and then refusing to take his calls, but he justified lucrative contracts with media companies such as Netflix and Spotify as being essential to increase income.
The only way such commercial deals can work is if the Sussexes continue to invade their own privacy with interviews like the one they granted to Winfrey. Yet Harry clearly believes the millions he has already inherited, or been given during his cushy years as a taxpayer-maintained royal, are not enough. Like the ancien régime nobility, Harry and Meghan revere material excess, even if it means selling out to media they have often professed to despise. In this sense, they are now far more interested in royalties than royal duties.
Absurd contradictions – rejecting royalty while living like royalty, using gas-guzzling transport and mansion homes while championing ecological responsibility – are entirely consistent with the madness of aristocratic life.
Like Marie Antoinette, the last Queen of France, Harry and Meghan want to preach compassion and empathy with the masses, while also hogging far more resources than they could ever possibly need. This not only makes them feel good about themselves, but cynically promotes their global brand.
By having their cake, and wanting to eat it, the Sussexes display the kind of grotesque hypocrisy that effectively destroyed the spirit of the French Revolution. The kings and queens of France might have technically disappeared but that does not stop a self-serving Paris establishment from setting themselves apart through wealth and privilege.
One only has to look at the criminal scandals that have followed recent French heads of state and other senior public servants out of office to see how power and money remain their ultimate goal, and how easily they are corrupted.
In challenging the British Crown, the Sussexes simply expose themselves as shallow chancers whose impact on the Queen – a woman who has served her country according to duties that were spelled out to her in childhood – will actually be negligible, to non-existent. The system she personifies may well have its faults, but it is extremely slow to change, and does not take kindly to pseudo-revolutions, least of all from within.
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