The House of Sussex may have flopped in Britain, but elsewhere it does seem to be inspiring others. Here in Stockholm a trendy podcast Värvet (The Task), known for host Kristoffer Triumf’s in-depth interviews with media and entertainment figures, had a surprise guest recently: Carl XVI Gustaf, King of Sweden. He was not so gauche as to attack the constitution or to drop any Prince Harry-style bombs, but his presence on a podcast was seen as the latest part of a royal awokening.
Even in exile, Harry has created an interesting challenge for the world’s monarchies. They can be regarded as old-fashioned — normally aligned with the state religion and run by a pensioner. But certain royals are trying to reinvent themselves as a progressive force, as warriors for justice, by becoming allies with campaigns to end racism, transphobia etc. They bypass traditional media, create their own social media accounts and go on edgy podcasts to command the world’s attention.
The Queen Elizabeth model has been silence in public, while supporting worthy (but not necessarily sexy or Insta-friendly) charities. She raised her son the same way. Prince Charles once published a children’s book about an old man living in a cave. A couple of years ago Sweden’s Princess Madeleine pushed the envelope somewhat with one called Stella and the Secret. The secret in question is not a magical pony with wings, but incest. The book is about a child who has been sexually abused by a family member and confides in a friend. Inbreeding may well be an area of expertise in Europe’s royal families, as the ‘Habsburg jaw’ attests. But abused kids have enough problems without a princess using their traumas to score political points.
Madeleine’s sister, Victoria, is the Crown Princess and has long been involved in LGBT issues. She gave an introductory speech at the last Pride march in Stockholm. Leaders of almost every Swedish party can be found at such marches — but it is revealing that Sweden’s royals are joining them. A few weeks ago, the once anorexic Victoria opened Stockholm Fashion Week with a call for greater ‘diversity’ in the fashion industry, both in model sizes and ethnic origin. Who could be opposed to that?
Sweden’s royals are prohibited from expressing political views by a long-standing tradition. In the King’s case, his duty of political silence is enshrined in the constitution. But whether it’s Prince Harry-envy or something else, Sweden’s royals are straining at this leash. The King recently criticised Sweden’s Covid strategy, saying there had been a ‘failure’. He meant in general terms, but his statement still led the world’s press to report that he was referring to the refusal to lock down.
It’s understandable that the young Swedish royals want to do something meaningful with their lives. They’re stuck in a strange limbo: King Carl Gustaf lost all formal power in 1975, but they still can’t go out and get ‘real’ jobs. This must be particularly vexing for the consorts who were once commoners: Crown Princess Victoria’s husband Prince Daniel used to be a gym owner and personal trainer.
At one time Prince Carl Philip was destined to become king, but he was surpassed by his elder sister Victoria when the male gender requirement was removed from the order of succession. He married the former glamour model and reality TV participant Sofia Hellqvist (now Princess Sofia) in 2015. Younger European royals free of the burden of future reigns used to be known for their party-loving ways — think of Princess Stephanie of Monaco, or ‘Randy Andy’ in their heydays — but Princess Sofia is Sweden’s version of Meghan, Duchess of Sussex. She even established and ran a successful foundation for African children, Project Playground, many years before marrying her prince. The couple now run a foundation together to campaign against bullying. It could have been Sofia who inspired Meghan, not the other way around.
As a survival strategy for Europe’s monarchies, wokeness has obvious flaws. Or as my spell-checker puts it: ‘Consider changing it to “weakness’’.’ What does Queen Elizabeth II think about, well, anything? No one knows, and that’s the mesmerising, oracle-like quality that helps make her a unifying force with approval ratings politicians can only dream of. Once royals start pontificating about how people should live, they divide opinion. If royals act (and preach) like any run-of-the-mill celebrity or influencer, why should they get a share of anyone’s taxes? Go woke, go broke. Queen Elizabeth understands this. Do Sweden’s royals?
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