The Queen had a pretty full day yesterday with Trooping the Colour at Buckingham Palace and then returning to Windsor for the lighting of the Platinum Jubilee Beacon which is why royal officials announced ahead of today that she would not attend the Service of Thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral and would be watching on television instead.
The palace also announced that Prince Andrew had tested positive for COVID and would also be missing out on the Service of Thanksgiving. Some people are side-eyeing this because, well, for weeks now there’s been discussion about the Andrew problem; word is he was insisting on being part of the service today that marked the largest gathering of British royals since 2018. But he’s also the big family stain and shame and on an occasion that’s supposed to be celebratory and positive-only, having him there would be a negative distraction, no matter how supportive the Queen is of her son. So there is speculation that COVID is a convenient way to explain his absence without him having to lose face. Whatever the truth is, it's a loss for Andrew no matter how you see it. Because we all know how f-cking desperate he was to puff his chest out in front of a global audience to remind the world that he is, indeed, royal. And now he has to remain in his (luxury) cave, hidden away, while almost every other royal, save Her Majesty, turned up for the show and were greeted by cheers.
That may not have been the case for Andrew. Can you imagine? And it’s not like this was a crowd that was too polite to boo. They booed Boris Johnson! That doesn’t necessarily mean, of course, that Andrew would have been greeted the same way but, like, this is why they couldn’t take that risk.
You know who wasn’t booed though? Prince Harry and Meghan.
First loud cheers of the day outside St Paul's are for Harry and Meghan arriving - despite people claiming they're unpopular, they seem to be pretty popular with the royals crowd— Jane Merrick (@janemerrick23) June 3, 2022
This is in reference to the British tabloids’ relentlessly claiming that people don’t want Harry and Meghan there. To be clear, they weren’t the only royals to have received cheers but the reason people are making note of this is because you would think, from the way the Daily Mail for example goes on about it so breathlessly, that they would have been the ones who got the reception that Boris Johnson received. And it was, in fact, the opposite.
For the British royal family, everything today went as they had planned it – no drama, no distractions, nothing to take away from the Queen’s milestone. This was a return to unity, with everyone on the same page: let’s give them nothing to sensationalise… which is why the most the Daily Mail and the tabloids can do is to try to make a story out of the fact that Harry and Meghan were seated on the opposite side of the aisle from Prince William and Kate and that the four had no contact. The intrigue then, if there is to be any, is the seating plan and whether or not it’s indicative of continuing tensions between the brothers.
Those tensions, however, are not new. I mean it’s been years now so there’s a limit to how much more they can spin it. But what we can take away from the fixation on Harry and Meghan is, well, the fixation on Harry and Meghan. In the absence of the Queen, especially, let’s not pretend that many of the people watching today, if not most of them, were focusing on the presence of the Sussexes and their return to royal participation. Harry and Meghan are no longer senior royals, no longer working members of the British royal family, but they command the same attention, if not more, than those who are. They’re generating just as many headlines, if not more, than those who are. With the Queen scaling back her presence, the Jubilee kind of needed the Sussexes, non?
And still, even with Harry and Meghan there to boost interest, the Jubilee itself has been rather muted in comparison to how much the royal institution has tried to hype it. It’s been muted for months, with the Queen’s age and health concerns limiting her visibility this year – which is now half over – and the mess coming out of Will and Kate and then Edward and Sophie’s Caribbean tours. But also, even without those issues, an event like the Jubilee, in and of itself, in these times, might be a harder sell in comparison to say, a big royal wedding.
That’s the last time we were treated to this kind of royal blowout, right? With live broadcasts of royal events beamed around the world? The thing about a wedding, though, is that there are moments of suspense that are traditionally built in to create anticipation. And they’re designed to increase in momentum.
First we see the celebrities in attendance, that’s the first thrill. Then it’s the royal groom and his best man, in their uniforms, arriving at the chapel, that’s the next thrill. Then the bridal party, the little flower children adorable in their little wedding outfits – it’s thrill upon thrill, a gradual crescendo leading up to the biggest thrill of them all: the wedding dress reveal, it’s probably THE moment that people wake up for when they tune in to watch a royal extravaganza. Everyone wants to see the royal bride alight from the carriage and ascend the steps to the church. And after that, you take a breath during the service, and it all rises up again as you wait for the kiss at the altar, before it all culminates in the ultimate fairytale moment, when the royal bride and groom exit the church for the first time officially married to the sound of church bells ringing.
Think of William and Kate’s Cinderella moment at Westminster Abbey. Think of Harry and Meghan’s moment at St George’s Chapel.
To go back to the Jubilee then… well… the event itself, or the series of events this weekend, just don’t have that same punch. There’s no equivalent photo to use from this weekend that would match at all the power of those wedding shots. They’re trying, bless them they’re trying their hardest, but again, let’s not pretend that millions of people around the world were putting this into their schedules the way they were for Will and Kate’s wedding and also Harry and Meghan’s.
And that’s the PR conundrum that the royal institution will have to address going forward. Because all the energy that’s put into the Jubilee is meant to boost interest in the monarchy and ensure its future. Yes, yes, we’re here to honour the Queen but the always and forever guiding purpose is that in honouring her, they reaffirm what she represents, which is monarchical continuity. Which means that, well, Jubilee ratings matter. And I’m not sure people are tuning into the Jub in the numbers that they were hoping for. Because the truth of the matter is, where continuity is concerned especially, is not who’s been on the throne for all these decades, but who’s coming up behind her. And the circle of royal people who will surround them.
So to go back to the royal representatives who were at St Paul’s today, the ones attracting the eyeballs, the ones bringing in the viewers and capturing the public’s imagination, who are the stars that the monarchy can rely on to keep people interested and caring? Who are the stars that they’re WILLING to rely on to keep people interested and caring?