Everyone's still talking about the Meghan/Harry interview that Oprah did on Sunday night. It's been the leading news on CBS for two mornings now. (The fact that the interview ran on CBS might have something to do with it.) I thought I'd add my own thoughts because why not?
Let me backtrack and say that I have a slight fascination with the Royals. Like many things in life, it ebbs and flows. When Charles and Diane married I was seriously obsessed. I had magazines and books (no social media yet). I got up early (because back then I was a teen and didn't get up early like I do now) on a summer day to watch the wedding. (On a black and white tv no less!) I, like many other Anglophiles, followed her new life unfold. I remember the births of William and Harry. I had a sheep sweater similar to the one she had worn before she got married. (If you don't know what I'm talking about Google it...if you do you'll know that I rue the day that I got rid of it for some unknown reason.) I watched Sarah and Andrew get married. I was shocked at the toe sucking "incident." (Does anyone else remember that?) I don't remember the wedding of Edward and Sophie...which speaks volumes of the hierarchy and media interest of the Royal family. The media (at least in my view from this side of the pond), focused on the first two sons of the Queen, but never didn't care much about Princess Anne (who, as a female, was not in serious contention for the throne) or Prince Edward. By the time Ed was married Charles and Diana already had two sons and Andrew and Sarah had two daughters and that was enough to dote upon. The view is probably different from the other side of the ocean, but that's what I saw.
When I traveled to England in the June of 1992, Andrew Morton's book on Diana was just coming out and excerpts were being published in the papers daily. At the end of my visit (I believe the day before I was to fly home), I was able to attend the annual Troop of the Colour (the Queen's birthday parade.) My boyfriend at the time, had entered the lottery and "won" two tickets. So I was able to see the Royal family "in person." (It's important to note "in person" was not unlike attending the Super Bowl in person. I wasn't sitting on the 50 yard line, but rather high up in the stands that were erected for the occasion.) Diane was present that day, riding in a carriage with the Queen Mother. Somewhere I have photos of the event, but they aren't very good and definitely not clear. (Who is that dot?) Nonetheless, it was thrilling to attend the event.
Years later, I watched the shocking tv interview with Martin Bashir. All of which led up to the divorce and then shocking death of Diana. (I remember exactly where I was and who I was with when we heard that she had been in an accident; no one imaging that she wouldn't survive.) The initial response from the palace was one that followed protocol and that angered people, understandably. But the reaction then and the recent actions (or lack thereof) and response (or lack thereof) explain a great deal to me.
"We" as people (generally) see each other as fellow human. We (generally) treat people as we wish to be treated. We focus on humanity first. A mother puts her child first; we see that as "natural." We act and behave based on certain percepts that are taught to us. But that's NOT what Royals are taught/trained (at least from my view.) It is duty/job first; humanity second. The focal point is following protocol; everything else comes after (and that would include family and relationships). You act on your duty, NOT on what we would consider the "human" thing to do. The focus is on hierarchy and rule; that's what being a Royal is. What we see as a lack of compassion may be just that, but it's not that there is no compassion, it's just that it doesn't fit into the rule. I'm not saying that it's right (or wrong), but it makes the picture clearer. For example, the flag was not flown at half-mast initially when Diana died; if you look at it from a hierarchical perspective, it makes some sort of sense. Of course, we (generally) don't look at it that way, so it makes no sense and angers/frustrates us. Our expectations are not theirs. What is engrained in us is not engrained in them.
As I see it, the Royal family has made some steps forward since the death of Diana. In light of the interview with Oprah, the "institution" (which is exactly what it is...an institution first and foremost, a group that happens to be family/related is secondary) has definitely NOT moved forward enough. Is it really surprising that someone (we don't know who, but I think we all have our best guesses) related to Prince Harry was concerned about the color/tone of his son's skin? No. It is a sad commentary, but is certainly not surprising. In some ways it's surprising that Harry and Meghan were allowed to marry at all.
Just as they have a limited concept of what "normal people" expect, so do we have limited knowledge of what life is like in a Royal institution. We have a fairy tale picture painted for us, but we need to realize that what the public sees and what goes on behind the doors is not the same. They have not walked in our shoes nor have we walked in theirs. I do not think I could conceive of what the experience must truly be like and it is unfair to judge their experience based on what we THINK we know. How can any outsider be prepared to enter the gates of royalty and become one of the family when we have no idea what the life truly is on a daily basis? Any building, even a palace, can feel like a prison, when one is trapped inside, but would we ever consider that?
What is clear to me is that the "institution" needs some lessons in humanity. Certainly duty cannot and should not go away, but if the public is to see the monarchy continue the Royals need to realize that while they may stand apart, they must also stand with. Duty and royal responsibility need to go hand in hand with an understanding of the needs and wants of regular people. Change is a must. And while change will be slow (it is unfair to expect centuries of presuppositions to change overnight), it needs to be measurable. The House of Windsor needs to be more than an institutional “thing;” it needs to recognize its own humanity and allow its members to evolve, learn and even embrace it. It won’t be easy, but it is needed to ensure that the monarchy continues.