We’re getting to the point where we just don’t want the royal family any more

The late Prince Philip was once asked why the royal family do what they do, and how long they might carry on for. He replied they did it ‘because people want us to’. So now what?

Tom Peck
Wednesday 16 February 2022 17:28 GMT
What's next for Andrew after out-of-court settlement with Virginia Giuffre

Whenever the British public are asked who they trust the most, the top two positions are routinely contested between Sir David Attenborough and the Queen.

Sir David always ascribes his trustworthiness to never once in his life having taken a penny to advertise anything. In seven decades in public life, not once has he uttered an opinion that is anything short of entirely his own. Her Majesty has gone one better. She has managed nine decades and has never offered an opinion on anything at all, sincerely held or otherwise.

So it is unfortunate that, having styled it out for as long as she has, the Queen’s first meaningful contribution to public life has been to pony up the hush money for the alleged victim of her son’s sexual assault.

You’ll have noticed the a-word there. Alleged. And there it shall stay, for evermore. Twelve million quid’s worth of adjective, that. They shall remain forever allegations. There shall be no court hearing, no evidence under oath, no jury trial. The mystery shall never be solved. The truth shall never come out.

We shall be entitled to know only that Prince Andrew continues to maintain he and his accuser, Virginia Guiffre, never met. That, as far as he is concerned, she has “false memories”, that the picture of the two of them together, with his arm around the teenager’s waist while the convicted sex trafficker Ghislaine Maxwell grins in the background, is not real. But that also his mum has proffered the cash to avoid any of this preposterous story facing any kind of cross examination. (It has, after all, already been cross-examined once, by Emily Maitlis. It did not go well.)

Does it seem unfair to bring Her Majesty into it? That would be her son – allegedly. And though switching the genders involved rarely, if ever, illuminates a point, it is still reasonable to consider the general reaction if it were a king, not a queen, dipping his hand into the public coffers to shut down the allegations against his son, that come from his very long friendship with a convicted paedophile.

(Technically, we must point out that it’s not public money. The Queen has a substantial private income from the Duchy of Lancaster. But it’s also worth noting that one’s private income is a touch more disposable when none of it is required to meet your breathtaking living costs.)

It is only the Queen’s cash that permits Nicholas Witchell and others to sit on the TV news, and ruminate on whether there might be “a route back to public life” for the prince. They have, by and large, concluded that there won’t be. But should the prince have faced the kind of justice that normal people do, it is not unreasonable to suggest that such ruminations might not have been possible. Again, that’s what the £12m adjective buys you. Possibly... but we’ll never know.

We are told that Prince Charles demanded the payment be made, with the ongoing court case at risk of “overshadowing” his mother’s platinum jubilee year. He may discover that the allocation of what, in any meaningful sense, is public money to hush up allegations of sexual assault on the part of his brother does rather more “overshadowing” than the shadow itself. Daylight, certainly, has not been let in.

In Harry and Meghan’s interview with Oprah Winfrey, I personally was slightly startled to hear Meghan use the phrase the family apparently routinely uses for itself – “the firm”. When thinking of the royal family, many people no doubt imagine an affable, bumbling, not especially bright lot, doing their bit with the ribbon cutting and the gladhanding as a moderate price to pay for an easy life of unimaginable luxury.

But you don’t have to think too hard to see how accurate the phrase “the firm” really is. Five per cent of the world’s population live under monarchy. Most countries hold gaudy celebrations on the anniversary of the moment they got rid of theirs. To hang on for as long as the British one has requires a whole lot more cunning and ruthlessness than the Windsors get credit for.

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The late Prince Philip was asked why the royal family do what they do, and how long they might carry on for. He replied without a second’s hesitation. That they did it “because people want us to” and they would carry on doing it “for as long as they want us to”.

Republicans consider the royal family an anti-democratic aberration, which they certainly are, but simultaneously, it must be acknowledged that no would-be prime minister who pledged to get rid of them would ever get a sniff of power.

They are hardly illegitimate. They’re loved. But Prince Philip was entirely right to say that it will only go on for as long as we want it to. Prince Andrew’s behaviour is as abominable as it gets.

If Prince Charles is panicking it’s because he knows the score as clearly as his dad did. And he knows that it might not be very long before the people decide they just don’t want them anymore.

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