Leading Article: The royal choice: citizen or soap star

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The Independent Culture
"PRINCE PLONKER". "Edward the Ludicrous". "Plankie goes to Hollywood". With one throwaway, and highly unoriginal, remark about the British attitude towards success in an interview with The New York Times, the Prince, formerly known as Edward, has pulled "The Firm" into a yet another damaging controversy.

Of course, much of the "outraged" comment is over the top, the "fury" a little fabricated. What the fourth child of the Queen thinks about success - as with his views on, say, the future of the Balkans, or the fortunes of Newcastle United Football Club - is unlikely to shift the balance of debate much, and is of little interest to many. True, given that Edward's production company depends for much of its turnover on exploiting his family connections, his comments were a little cheeky, to put it mildly. But the fact that a young man whose kitsch excesses define the expression "minor royal" should ignite such an explosion of coverage tells us that the Monarchy, and our attitude to it, remain far from healthy. Two years after the death of the Princess of Wales - an event that was supposed to change everything - and in the week of the report on the crash that killed her, things were not supposed to be this way.

Press intrusion continues. But it has to be said that some members of the Royal Family are still happy to behave like characters from the Dallas-style soap opera launched in the Eighties - Palace. The damage of the long years of trivialisation is only now becoming clear. The "Cad" James Hewitt's love letters from Diana. The Duke of Edinburgh's racist remarks. The Palace's manipulation of Prince William passing his driving test. The Queen taking tea in a council flat. The freeloading of the Prince of Wales and his entourage in the Mediterranean. All "soap opera" incidents, inviting mockery. The House of Windsor is slowly dying from ridicule.

The Royal Family has a choice. It can carry on as pure soap. Or it can speed up the slow modernisation that began with the death of Diana. The royals can be citizens rather than celebrities. The Monarchy has reinvented itself before, often with the advice of a clever prime minister, be it Benjamin Disraeli or Stanley Baldwin. Tony Blair tells us that he is a man with a mission to modernise Britain. The Monarchy is a small but symbolic part of that. Education is a more important theme. What better way, then, to symbolise a modern country and a new model of public service than to install one of the Prince of Wales's sons as, say, a state primary school teacher in the year of his grandmother's Golden Jubilee in 2002? New Labour, New Monarchy.