Leave the Royals alone? If only it was that simple

The monarchy has played the PR game for generations

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The Independent Online

Those bloody hospital doors. With the TV on at work all Tuesday, it was hard to ignore the brushed oak panels, Windexed windows and gleaming Brasso’ed accessories of the Lindo Wing’s entrance - in all their 1930s utilitarian elegance; framed splendidly, but restrainedly, in sandstone with the single, tasteful flourish atop the lintel - as the cameras of BBC and Sky panned in and out and in and out and in and out…

Clocking off, I went to the gym - and there, on the screens, were the same doors. I watched them some more. Charles and Camilla came and went, with the promise that the family would be out soon. Like waiting too long for a meal to be served, or for a package to be delivered, it was hard not to get tetchy about all this waiting; as much as I self-identify as pretty much indifferent. And there and then on the treadmill, as I wished on the Cambridges to appear, it struck me – I’d been coerced!

Grace Dent in Tuesday’s Independent, like many other commentators, beseeched the media to let the royals be. I couldn’t agree more, but this is to miss an important point: the royals don’t want to be left alone. The monarchy has put centuries of hard work into their public image, and they ain’t stopping now. Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1952 was, at the time, the most watched televised event in history. You think they’d have made all that fuss if it was just for those inside the four walls of Westminster Abbey? In fact, as historian Sir David Cannadine points out in his chapter in The Invention of Tradition, horse-drawn coaches were rented from a film production company to enhance the on-screen spectacle.

Forty years later the royals still had their nouse for PR. Shook by her ‘annus horribilis’ in 1992, the Queen assembled the ‘Way Ahead’ group, replacing the old military advisors at Buckingham Palace with savvy ex-journalists who advised on making the royals relevant. Out went Fergie, in came the slimmed-down, youthful and telegenic family we know today. Buckingham Palace threw its doors open to the public, the Windsors got a YouTube channel and the Queen parachuted out of a helicopter with Daniel Craig. And One’s popularity ratings soared.

With the easel, the town crier, and all the rest, they’re at it again. The royals know that their role is, in part, to provide international entertainment with a touch of the mystical.  They can give a comforting sense of permanence, especially welcome at a time of economic uncertainty and breakneck technological change. This is fine - but we shouldn’t let the fluff distract from the hand they hold in British politics, as, for one, Charles continues to enforce a media blackout over his involvement with parliament.

As Kay Burley is finally allowed to go to bed, there’s no doubting that the monarchy will bask in an antenatal popularity glow for time to come – as well as having secured their lineage for the foreseeable. And yes, they should be left to it of their own accord; but just remember they play as important a role as the media in frothing up the ‘national appetite’ for their marriages, deaths, births – and hospital doors.