A modernised monarchy? I don't think so - just look at poor Harry

Though Harry has lost his mother he will be sent to an establishment where women will be few and far between
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The Independent Culture
THOSE POOR, poor boys must be left alone. This was the sentiment when Diana died. Her sons must be left to develop as "normally" as possible. The gentlemen of the press agreed. At the funeral we were asked not to look at Harry and William, even though millions watched those kids walk for what seemed like miles behind their mother's coffin.

Prince Harry, however, is back on the front pages. He is not being left alone, and I feel as sorry for him as I ever did. The boy has not only got to cope with his loss, but is now being sent off to Eton. This is apparently considered what's best for him. When I look at this teenager in a tweed jacket with leather elbow patches, I could weep. What other 13-year-olds do you know who wear "light sports jackets"? What are they doing to this kid who, when he changes out of his sports jacket will have to change into a penguin suit ?

He will, we are lovingly informed, be referred to as an "F-tit". He will have an armed detective sleeping next door, and he will, according to past survivors of Eton, probably feel so intimidated by the older boys that he will not be able to eat anything. He will follow in the footsteps of his older brother, who was so nervous that when asked what religion he was, had to be told that he was C of E. Perhaps his father had never told him that this was yet another institution that he was head of.

Though Harry has lost his mother, he is being sent to an establishment where women will be few and far between. There is, of course, "the dame" of Manor House who he will have to call Ma'am. Last year, The Daily Telegraph, writing of the plight of Prince William, said that: "No boarding school is better equipped than Eton to offer consolation and support to a boy who has lost his mother." I beg to differ. For a start, inspectors from other independent schools have recently commented on the shortage of women in senior positions on the teaching staff; Fewer than 10 out of 146 means that the pupils have "only limited opportunities to witness adult females in key roles in the school". Eton prides itself on its pastoral care, but please don't try telling me that knowing a few "dames" amounts to anything resembling normality.

This may be the Nineties, when some people are talking about the end of the age of deference, yet, for all the baseball caps and chats with various Spice Girls, the young princes have entered a system that effectively by-passes the 20th century. I am well aware that putting children into care and calling it education is a long time habit of the ruling classes, but please let us not pretend it has anything to do with a modern sensibility, which apparently the royals are now keen to convey.

Charles, who some would say was permanently traumatised by his experiences at Gordonstoun, could have made a stand about his own children's schooling, but when it comes to public school, we know that the sins of the father are invariably revisited upon their own sons. Those who are happy to tell of the dreadful abuse and loneliness they suffered, in what Orwell once called the "nurseries of empire", still feel compelled to inflict such experiences upon their own offspring.

We have witnessed the efforts that the ageing, dithering, impossibly sheltered Charles has made to be more touchy feely since the death of Diana. According to certain opinion polls, it has paid off. No one, not even me, is totally devoid of sympathy for this damaged specimen.

Yet, despite pronouncements from the palace, and despite the presence of spin doctors on fat cat salaries, what has the modernisation of the monarchy actually amounted to? The public reaction to Diana's death provoked a re-think. Not, you understand, a re-think about the reality of the monarchy, but a re-think about the way that reality is to be presented. "We have certainly learned lessons from the way the Princess carried out her engagements," a palace spokesman said. "We have tried to incorporate a greater informality into the planning of royal events." The palace has also recognised Diana's unerring ability "at picking issues".

But what is planned informality apart from an oxymoron? It appears to mean that the Queen has seen single parents, a pensioners' flat, a public house and a hamburger bar. Little else has changed. Even the Palace admits that when it comes to the Queen, a change of image has not occurred, but rather there has been "a fine tuning" of the way she is presented. This makes her sound like an old boiler, but obviously we all know the Queen is too far gone to alter much. Asking her to appear hip is as silly as expecting us to believe that Tony Blair is fundamentally cool.

Something though, is expected of Charles, and his faltering attempts to deliver a public persona slightly more in tune with the times seems to have fooled at least some of the people some of the time. Yet what has happened to Earl Spencer's pledge to continue to help bring up the boys in "the imaginative way" his sister had pioneered? There was, it must be said, a limit to Diana's imagination, for she presumably must have consented for Prince William to have been sent to Eton in the first place.

Now, as privilege drearily replicates itself in its institutionalised form, we must ask if any thing resembling modernisation has really occurred. The stilted efforts at the common touch have been left to the younger generation of royals, as if we might be persuaded that the products of this archaic institution are just like us. Sometimes they are. Fat, drunk, divorced, gay and miserable.

I'm afraid though that the sight of Harry in his "light sports jacket" should remind us that, in others ways, these people are not like us at all. Not for them the nightmare of parental choice over schooling, or even the qualms that ordinary people might feel about single sex education, about not living with their own kids for much of the year or about handing over their emotional care-taking to employees. Instead, they are confident that an upbringing which promises "surrogate mothers" and sexual apartheid, which is broken only by the groups of suitable girls who are bussed in occasionally, is character forming.

Diana may have done some of this differently, but on the whole she went along with the programme. Her extraordinary ability was to make people feel she understood something of their lives, even when her own was so vastly different. Not one of the other royals has this gift, and nor is likely to happen if these awful traditions are carried on.

A year ago, we thought that if the monarchy did not modernise, it would be finished - a year later it has made concessions only in its style, not in its substance. Compassion for Harry and William is not enough to quell the demand for change. The monarchy should still be concerned, not at republican hatred, but at public indifference. The odd informal visit to the real world - the way the people of this country live now - only reinforces their distance from it.

What evidence is there that the firm has, in any serious way, become more modern? The Blairs have been annointed as favoured in-laws and, oh yes, Zara Phillips has got her tongue pierced. How radical.