If I ruled the kingdom... just for a day
In a startling disclosure, Prince Harry this week said he didn’t think any member of the Royal family wanted to be King or Queen. So, what if the top job was up for grabs? We asked two writers, Tony Macaulay and Una Brankin, to consider the qualities needed to be a popular and successful monarch — and how they saw themselves in the role if they received the summons.
At the court of King Tony
I believe Prince Harry when he says he doesn't think anyone in the Royal family wants to be King or Queen. I think he's a genuine guy. His openness about the loss of his mother and his willingness to talk publicly about his own mental health suggests to me that Harry is a courageous and compassionate man. These are good qualities for a King or a Queen. I believe the prince is sincere when he adds that his family will do their duty for the good of the people.
The same prince who was once dismissed by many as a spoiled, privileged and irresponsible young man is now widely regarded as brave, honest and a good role model. His commitment to breaking the stigma of men talking openly about our feelings is inspiring and will ultimately save many lives.
It's interesting how we assume people with great wealth can have anything they want. This is not true. I think the young royals want to be ordinary.
They don't want their behaviour restricted. They want to have a private life. But they cannot have that which they desire most.
It's remarkable how the Royal family has changed in my lifetime. I remember when I was growing up at the top of the Shankill Road in Belfast thinking unutterable, disloyal thoughts about the Royal family. It seemed to me that the Queen Mother couldn't possibly love us as much as we loved her.
By the end of the 20th century, as society became more informal and less deferential, the Windsors appeared to be increasingly cold, stuffy and remote. The week of Princess Diana's death was a turning point, when people began asking 'Where is our Queen?' and the public mood moved from grief to anger. The Queen listened and changed just enough to restore and then increase the affection of her people and maintain the stability and tradition of the monarchy.
In recent weeks, it was fascinating to see the contrasting images of the Queen and Prime Minister visiting the scene of the Grenfell Tower tragedy. The Queen appeared closer to the people than the PM. Prince William was there too, talking to traumatised families, away from the cameras just like his late mother.
The Queen appears to be allowing the young royals to redefine the monarchy for the era of King William and I think it's working. We are seeing a new model of monarchy emerging that earns, rather than demands respect, and which attracts, rather than commands, followers.
I'm certain that the next generation of the Royal family will do their duty.
However, if there is a vacancy, and no one else is willing to come forward, I'm prepared to offer my humble service as King Tony. As the first monarch from up the Shankill I promise that I would be a fair but kindly king.
I would be more Yul Brynner than Henry VIII. During my reign, there would be less formality and I would remain close to my subjects.
I would build on the work of the Duke of Edinburgh Award by creating a King Tony Award, compulsory for all 18-year-olds. I would do my duty. However, I confess that with such great power I would indulge some of my own personal whims.
My royal image would have a full head of hair on all coins and stamps and there would be wi-fi in the royal carriages. Buckingham Palace would become a hostel for homeless people and I would relocate to a renovated Floral Hall at Bellevue, even with the risk of my corgis running amok in Belfast Zoo.
Instead of summers stalking deer at the Royal Castle in Balmoral I would spend my summers sipping beer on the Royal Yacht in Portrush. All remaining red telephone boxes would be repainted Tardis blue. I would command Abba to reform for the Royal Variety Performance to sing Dancing Queen one last time for Queen Lesley in the Grand Opera House in Belfast.
My first Birthday Honours List would include Sir Julian Simmons and Dame May McFettridge. And, of course, as the first former Belfast paperboy to be King I would permit a royal seal of approval on the front page of every Belfast Telegraph saying ‘Delivered By Royal Appointment, So It Is’.”
Little House On The Peace Line: Living On the Other Side by Tony Macaulay, is available from Amazon, priced £9.99
At the court of Queen Una
There’s a fine line between openness and over-sharing one’s feelings, particularly when it sounds like baseless moaning.
Prince Harry has fallen into the trap and is getting a bashing for whinging and soul baring the exact tendencies which landed both his parents in hot water over the course of their privileged lifetimes.
The young prince was too young to learn the art of media manipulation from his mother, an expert, by all accounts. But no-one with any compassion, who watched the wretched little 12-year-old having to follow Diana’s coffin in a lengthy and very public funeral procession 20 years ago, could wholly condemn Harry for his recent comments in an American magazine, in which he doubted that any one of the Royal family wants to be king or queen.
If he’d qualified the remark with “for the time being, given the great job’s granny’s doing” — which he probably meant — he could have avoided the furore.
Prince William is already doing a junior king’s job, and from what I hear from people who have met both princes, they appear to be genuinely engaged in their royal duties and interested in the stories of the great unwashed they meet at the endless events and award ceremonies they’re obliged to attend.
Other people I’ve interviewed recently have expressed their indebtedness to Harry for his candour on his grief over his mother’s death and the belated counselling he received for “the vast, silent expanse that comes after”.
Quite poetic for someone who’s been described as not the brightest, like his mother before him, who famously admitted she was “as thick as two short planks”. Under the circumstances, he seems to be trying to do his best with his royal role.
Obviously, the palace’s PR team know that mental health is a hot topic, and one most pertinent in regard to the mercurial Diana.
They recognise that William and Harry make the perfect poster boys for mental health awareness, young men making the aloof Windsors more human — “modernising the monarchy”, to quote Harry.
William’s dad-dancing and Harry’s nude partying have played their part, too, in making them more relatable to their sniggering subjects, and it’s commendable that they aren’t constantly excoriating the media for invading their personal privacy.
Harry had to draw the line when it comes to his girlfriend, actress Meghan Markle, but that’s fair enough. Whatever he does in his public role, he’s entitled to a private life away from scrutiny. And the poor fellow has had enough to put up with all those spurious rumours about Major James Hewitt being his father — a chronological impossibility.
Now, I’ve been told by a psychic that I was Mary, Queen of Scots, in a previous life, and I’ve been accused in the past of being a “bit of a princess”, not in the most complimentary way (I can’t help it if I have medieval royal blood ...).
As a modern monarch, I wouldn’t like paparazzi in my face constantly, especially when I’ve no make-up on. They wouldn’t have any fun chasing me, anyway, as I rarely go out at night, don’t drink and don’t have affairs.
I’d hate a job that entailed “winning people’s hearts”, but I’d feel so guilty about having all that taxpayers’ loot that I’d go about giving most of it away to hard luck cases and deserving family and friends.
I’d keep enough for all the luxuries that I currently lack: five-star holidays, a decent car, designer clothes, Sky Movies and maybe even a swimming pool.
But as I’m not extravagant, I could forgo the huge royal allowance and command that it be put to better use, such as more money for carers, nurses and teachers.
I’d pass a royal decree that would make forgiveness compulsory in everyone’s New Year’s resolutions, and I’d suggest that obnoxious urban 4x4s and selfies (unless they’re of groups of people) are outlawed.
I’d campaign for positive-thinking classes in primary and secondary schools and I’d try to banish old-age loneliness by suggesting the blocking of inheritances for negligent family members and fair-weather friends.
Yes, I’d be a right laughing stock. But apart from my fellow over-privileged, I think I’d be popular.