Some years ago I was bringing a group of well-educated girls from a private school in the USA back from Stratford and, held up by traffic, they started playing a game in which someone shouted out two alternatives and they called out which they preferred. Facebook or Instagram? ‘Instagram’ was the unanimous reply. (Sorry, Mister Zuckerburg.) My contribution was to say ‘Prince William or Prince Harry?’ They all cried out ‘Harry’ immediately. (Sorry William.). There is nothing good girls like more than a bad boy, it seems.
They are two very different characters, Prince Charles’s sons: William all responsibility and duty, a happily married man with nothing more than a fondness for spending time with his growing family rather than on royal cuties to blot his copybook. And why not, in an age when men are being encouraged to be more hands-on fathers? Harry, on the other hand, was the wild child, getting into trouble for wearing a Nazi uniform, playing strip poker, saying and doing inadvisable things but still remaining popular. He may settle down now that he and Meghan Markle have tied the knot.
I was in Ireland for both of the weddings. For William’s ceremony at Westminster Abbey we were going around the Ring of Kerry and, as much by luck as judgement, reached the Red Fox pub just as the ceremony were about to get going. John the landlord agreed to pull down the big screen (which was usually reserved for football games) and we enjoyed the nuptials with Irish coffees. This was a sign of how things have become more relaxed between Britain and Ireland. I would have been dubious about asking for this in a Southern Irish pub not so long ago. The Queen’s visit to the Republic a few years ago also helped to encourage this thaw.
I had no such luck for Harry and Meghan’s wedding, which was very different with celebrities rather than politicians in the congregation (I almost wrote ‘audience’). It was held in Saint George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle and Barbara Askew, a guide who ran our training course there last year, was one of those invited to come into the grounds to help provide a reliable cheering crowd. The whole thing seemed less formal and more user-friendly than the Westminster Abbey event which was a state occasion as much as a wedding.
A lot has been written about Meghan Markle, mixed race, previously married, older than Harry and American to boot. Yet she seems to have won over people and, when asked about her by a passenger not long ago, I said that everyone loves Meghan. Later I thought that I should have added “except for a few racists – and we need not bother with them”. This feeling is known as ‘l’espirit d’escalier’, which I found out at a recent talk was the feeling you got when walking down the stairs about the reply you shouldhave made but did not think of quickly enough. The phrase came from the early coffee houses in London where people met to talk and debate as much to drink the eighteenth century equivalent of cappuccinos.
The royal family, if it is to survive, has to adapt to new times and attitudes without being too trendy or jumping on too many bandwagons. Kate Middleton was a safe pair of hands for William’s wife, the two seem well-suited and have a good family life. Harry, the younger brother who hardly knew his mother before her early death, has a more rebellious and restless streak but Meghan should help him. She will appeal to the kind of people who were affected by the Grenfell fire a year ago and her Hollywood connections will do her no harm overseas. The girlfriend of the leader of UKIP, the United Kingdom independence Party, does not approve of her but, as I almost said, we need not worry too much about that.