A Royal Mess: The Uncertain Future of the British Monarchy

When 49.1 million people around the world tuned in to watch the Harry and Meghan’s interview with Oprah Winfrey in March 2021, it was hard not to speculate what bombshells they would drop about the British Royal family. After all, much of the Royal’s appeal stems from the mystery still shrouding how the monarchy functions and the dynamics between its members.  The revelations that surfaced from the interview aired cast the Royal family in a very unflattering light: behind the immense wealth is a life ruled by duty, where pleas for help when the mental health of its members is declining go unheard because they threaten the institution’s public image. As the UK gears up to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee this year, whether the institution has the longevity to remain a permanent fixture of British society is once again being thrown into question.

The last few years have seen a rise of anti-Royal sentiment in the UK, with one prevalent Republican group launching a campaign to eradicate the monarchy when Her Majesty dies. Queen Elizabeth II has remained scandal-free for the entirety of her 70-year reign and is consistently voted as the most popular Royal in opinion polls, but this fondness no longer extends to those around her. A recent Netflix documentary depicts Prince Charles’ close relationship with Jimmy Saville, the BBC presenter who abused hundreds of children throughout his career. The heir to the throne regularly consulted Saville for PR advice, asking how to conduct himself and what to say at public events, hoping to come across as less of a stuffy Royal and more as a man of the people. More recently, Prince Andrew’s involvement with Jeffrey Epstein and the assault allegations made against him led many to wonder what other behaviour is protected by the veneer of the monarchy.

When stripped of the titles and the palaces, the job of the monarch is to represent common values. This is what William and Kate have tried to embody following the Sussex’s exit from Royal life – the Cambridge’s, especially Kate, juggle aspiration and relatability when presenting the world with a wholesome, family-oriented image far from any scandal. But while this has endeared them to the older generations, it is questionable whether it will be enough to capture the hearts of young people. For Millennials and Gen Z, neither of which are likely to enjoy the same financial security as their parents, the hereditary privilege of the Royals is a far cry from their reality of mounting student debt and job hunting in a post-pandemic economy,

Perhaps the easiest criticism to lever against the British Royal family is that it needs to modernise and reinvent itself, but what does this look like? Welcoming Meghan into the fold was heralded as a turning point for the monarchy, but her damning account of life as part of the Royal household has not inspired hope for change. Only time will tell whether William and Kate will succeed in making the public fall in love with the Royals once more – ultimately, no one actually expects the monarchy to be relatable, rather just look like they are. But with millions of Britons feeling the effects of the rising cost of living and mounting distrust towards our political leaders, there is no doubt next monarch will have to strike the right balance between tradition and modernity and curate a new, more down-to-earth image that makes the British public feel represented.

Ellen Morgan

Ellen is a studying her MA in Broadcast Journalism at City University London, where she specialises in political reporting. She has lived in Peru, Paris and Barcelona and loves discussing all things to do with language, literature and politics.

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