Journalists find it pretty hard to avoid the royal family, especially on local papers. When I learned my trade in Hull the royals seemed to buzz round the city like flies, snipping a ribbon here, unveiling a plaque there.
Somehow I managed to talk my way out of reporting the visits. Naturally this lack of experience and interest disqualified me from working for a tabloid – not that I lost any sleep over it – because the royal family is red meat for red-top reporters. Some believe the monarchy might have faded into obscurity if it wasn’t for obsessive coverage by The Sun, Daily Mail and Daily Express.
Nowadays even the likes of the Times, Telegraph and Guardian take more interest, but that hasn’t been especially good for the royals. The posh papers tend to focus on the increasing catalogue of scandals surrounding the Windsors, most recently an allegation that Prince Charles’s office was prepared to help secure a knighthood for a Saudi donor in return for a substantial charitable donation, and Prince Andrew’s multi-million pound pay-off to a woman who accused him of sexual assault.
All this is grist to the mill of the most ardent off-with-their-heads republicans, but recent opinion polls still show huge support for the royal family. This doesn’t surprise me, because the same thing happened a decade ago when the Countess of Wessex, the Duchess of York and her freeloading ex-husband Air Miles Andy (how he must hanker after that moniker now) were caught using their titles to make money. Despite these misdemeanours they caused barely a flicker when it came to polls of the family’s popularity. It seems we as a nation will tolerate almost any behaviour to protect the Queen and pomp and pageantry like trooping the colour.
But ominously for the royals, a poll before Christmas sounded a warning. Whilst the monarchy was supported by 81 per cent of those over the age of 65, younger age groups were progressively less likely to give the family the benefit of the doubt. Of 18-24-year-olds, 41 per cent said they would prefer an elected head of state, suggesting our 1,200-year monarchy may not survive the 21st century.
Its survival is said to lie squarely in the hands of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their children. They certainly look like inhabitants of a different planet to the rest of the Windsors. But now even the Cambridges have shown they are capable of appallingly bad judgement.
Their recent tour of the Caribbean was perhaps the most misconceived foreign trip ever taken by the royals. We’ve got used to seeing these junkets, usually with a commentary by the BBC’s Nick Witchell, in which local dignitaries line up to bow and scrape. Over the years Prince Charles seems to have participated in tribal dances across the length and breadth of Africa. But I don’t recall any royal tour being so insensitive as the Cambridges’ who – sometimes resplendent in colonial regalia – travelled round Belize, Jamaica and the Bahamas, where Great Britain once ran so much of the slave trade. Predictably, many gave them a frosty reception.
If the Cambridges really do represent the monarchy’s best hope for the future they will need better advice, and also a realisation that these ridiculous, patronising tours of the old British Empire must end.