So it’s goodbye Meghan and Harry. Well, at least you both exited in style. The photograph of Harry sheltering his wife from the rain under a large black umbrella at an awards ceremony in London was an instant icon. Artistically, it was a masterpiece. The colours are bold, the composition arresting, the lighting impeccable. Meghan’s turquoise dress and Harry’s royal blue suit are off set by a paler blue tie and brilliant white shirt that gleams as brightly as Meghan’s teeth as they stare delightedly at each other. Raindrops sparkle as though the Duke and Duchess are being showered with diamonds — as they probably soon will be as they embark on a new career across the Atlantic.
A less flattering portrayal of the world’s most famous power couple and their relatives can be seen on Channel 4’s The Windsors. This rather clever and often very funny satire is now in its third season. Sharply written, edgy and topical, The Windsors is a welcome, irreverent counter-point to the Harry and Meghan hysteria.
Harry Enfield’s Prince Charles generally steals the show, as he should for his red-faced, jug-eared portrayal of the angst-ridden heir to the throne, destined to a life in the waiting-room rather than on the throne. In episode one of season three, Charles suggests the family goes on strike until they get an adequate pay rise. Andrew agrees, nonchalantly declaring: “Yeah, this whole Epstein thing has put quite a dent in my, er, other income streams.” Charles says: “Oh yes, your nonce chum who hanged himself.” Andrew indignantly replies: “Hey, I just used to go to his parties, fly on his jet and stay in his house. I was never his friend.”
I especially enjoyed episode six of season three. Charles resigns to become King of the United States, after an invitation from a magnificently orange Donald Trump, played by Corey Johnson. A hapless Harry and super-woke Meghan are in New York. At first she is aghast at the news that Charles is moving across the pond, until Harry reminds her that Charles is the only one who doesn’t laugh when she talks about homeopathy. Meanwhile, a vamped-up Pippa Middleton has inserted herself as Harry and Meghan’s nanny. Pippa’s real plan is to win Harry from Meghan. Chaos soon ensues.
The royals occupy a curious place in our affections. That’s why The Windsors’ satire is often biting, sometimes on the edge of cruel, but not venomous. The scriptwriters know we love to laugh at our supposed betters, but as we might be amused by a slightly bonkers relative, who, despite his foibles, remains part of the family.
In my younger days I was a fervent republican, righteously outraged at the royal family’s inherited privileges. Britain, I believed, should be a republic, where every man and woman was the other’s equal. Nowadays I still think we spend too much money on the royals, especially the younger, minor ones. But overall, the cost is a price worth paying. The House of Windsor may originally be a German import but it is now one of our most effective bastions of stability and continuity.
I lived and worked for many years in post communist Eastern Europe and saw what happens when institutions are destroyed. The death of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy brought down not just an empire but a value system: the rule of law, the sanctity of property and religious tolerance. e dual monarchy was often dysfunctional. But at its heart was an essential benevolence, a belief in progress, no matter how stuttering.
In its wake followed a succession of brutal revolutions, authoritarian, quasi-democratic regimes, then war, Nazism and communism, with half a continent ruled for decades by terror states. Moscow’s satellites wrecked not just the economy of the Soviet bloc but its moral fabric. From the Baltics to the Balkans, communism’s legacy of corruption, cynicism and mistrust of fellow citizens and the state remains profound. It will take decades to repair.
And it’s in decades that we need to think about our royal family and their role at the centre of British life. Yes, for now, Harry and Meghan are annoying. their woke hypocrisy — preaching about climate change while crossing continents in private jets, moaning about privilege while enjoying a gilded existence — grates. It’s clear from their last public outing as royals, at the Commonwealth Day service in London, that relations with William and Kate remain frosty. Harry looked miserable, Meghan’s smile determinedly fixed. But still, I hope that their departure is an au revoir and not adieu.
The photograph of the Sussexes in the rain showed that they have something which is impossible to buy, earn or learn: star power. As our world order creaks and fractures from perils known and others not yet manifested, the House of Windsor will need every weapon in the royal armoury to survive.
Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print
Try three issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £5Subscribe