Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

The Royals? There's just too many minor ones

Lindy McDowell, Belfast Telegraph

Blackmail is a serious and unpleasant subject. But possibly because the stories making the headlines in recent weeks have tended to be bleak and often repetitive (are there two more stultifyingly boring words in the English language than 'global warming'?) we have all perked up at the news of an alleged shady plot to obtain money from an unnamed Royal.

Who can it be?

At the time of writing the identity of the victim has not been revealed - not even on the internet, it seems. But speculation is intense. It is reported that behind the blackmail plot are allegations of drug taking and sex. Allegations that could very well be entirely false.

But this doesn't stop us wondering.

Two things however suggest that this story may not live up to the billing it's received this week thanks to those early splash headlines.

One is the confirmation from Buckingham Palace that the victim of the alleged plot is not a "senior Royal". The second is a report that similar allegations were being touted around the tabloids earlier this year but that the tabloids "lost interest".

Given that it was during the normally quiet summer silly season that the tabloids lost interest this certainly does not suggest that we are talking about someone of first division royal status.

In fact, it may well transpire that the mystery minor royal in question has as much chance of ever ascending the throne as Jordan and Peter Andre's daughter Princess What'sHerName.

And here we come to the crux of the story.

The sheer number of 'minor royals' who are out there. According to one report there's dozens of them.

You can see the argument for having a few spares to the heir.

But the House of Windsor currently appear to have a bigger squad on the subs bench than they do at Windsor Park.

Is this a good thing for either them - or for the monarchy?

True, being able to name-drop your royal connections is undoubtedly a distinct advantage in some circles. But it also entails a scrutiny, as the blackmail story illustrates, that might otherwise not be there.

The person at the centre of the alleged plot has quite rightly and bravely gone to the police. But he or she must wonder that without their royal connection (however distant) would the story have ever caused such ripples?

Many of what's described as minor royals might actually better be described as roylebrities. Their celebrity such as it is, is based entirely on their link to royalty.

As the blackmail case shows that can backfire on them.

But it also has a tremendous potential to backfire on the royals.

Surely it's time we whittled them all down a bit?

Not necessarily a la Marie Antoinette but by making clear that only the immediate family of the monarch qualifies for the 'royal' tag - and the perks that go with it.

As for the victim at the centre of the story, he or she has, as I've said, done the honourable thing.

But whether in this cyber age they can keep their identity secret, is another matter. It may comfort them to know, however, that allegations of sex and drug-taking - unfounded or otherwise - no longer shock society as they used to (just ask Pete Doherty.)

And it could have been so much worse.

The unfortunate target could have been accused of something really awful.

Like, say, global warming...



We're not living Scot free

Hackles have been raised at Westminster over the fact that while Scottish MPs can vote on matters that affect only England, English MPs are unable to vote on Scots issues. These are now dealt with by the Scottish Assembly.

To rub salt in Anglo wounds is the fact that the Scottish executive appears to have created a tartan Utopia where, among the many benefits, students do not pay tuition fees, prescriptions and health and dental tests are free, pensioners get central heating installed without having to pay a penny and transport for the over-60s is also free.

All this and many drugs including treatments for cancer which are not available on the NHS in England are freely available north of the border.

Of course, our Northern Ireland MPs can also vote on matters affecting England despite the fact that we also have our own executive.

Oddly, though, our Assembly does not appear to have inspired the same jealousy.

Could it be because there's still a long, long way to go before the local population is enjoying anything like the same benefits as those lucky old Scots?



I'll Pasa on this ...

I still find it very, very hard to take Strictly Come Dancing seriously. I don't want to sound ballroomist but, to me, the Pasa Doble still looks hideously OTT and dated - even if it's Rod Stewart's leggy missus Penny Lancaster doing the twirls. How did this stuff ever catch on with the iPod generation? It's beyond me.



Another episode of UDA soap

The dissident wing of the UDA (South East Area Brigade) is this week reported to be disarming. That's the dissident wing which last week was reported to be standing down to be replaced by the suspiciously similar sound UDU.

The thing about this plot line is that we've heard various permutations of it so many times 1before. Reports of the UDA - and its dissident wing/s - disbanding, disarming, standing down, winding up. Sometime, maybe, never.

The UDA is a bit like a soap opera. You can miss a few episodes but when you come back it's still the same old storyline with, more or less, the same old characters. Nothing changes, nothing progresses. And it's all based on fiction.



War and peace ...

On the day that a young man, gruesomely murdered by the IRA, was being buried in south Armagh, media outlets homed in on angry graffiti painted on the wall along the funeral route.

'Murderin' IRA' it said.

Newspaper headlines interpreted this as 'the writing on the wall' for the IRA.

Well, maybe not. Apart from a few tepid calls from unionist politicians for the IRA Army Council to disband, yet another terrible paramilitary crime appears to have been, in the infamous traditions of the peace process, neatly airbrushed from political debate.

The writing's on the wall? Sadly not yet for the killer gangs and their bloody trade.



Thievin' Yankees

Halloween gets more orange and Americanised by the year. It's all pumpkins and plastic buckets for trick or treat candy. So it's hard to believe that the celebration of the festival actually originated on this side of the Atlantic. Like St Patrick's Day the Americans claimed it for themselves before exporting it back to us. Via major supermarket chains. In fact, the shops are now making such a killing out of selling us the American-style Halloween, it must be only a matter of time before they're also trying to flog us Thanksgiving Day.

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