The recent Oprah interview by Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have undoubtedly stirred strong emotions among the British public and the press. Opinions range wildly, with the testimonies being considered everything from indictments of the structural flaws plaguing the royal family to deliberate attacks born out the Duchess’ antipathy for the Crown. Tabloids in Britain have covered the news extensively, and the battle trenches have already been drawn. Despite the domestic upheaval however, observers would be remiss not to appreciate the international dimension of these developments. The Crown is after all the head of the British state, even if only formally. A crisis of identity will precede strong reactions from the international community, the seeds of which can already be observed.
The interview has stirred some debate within former British dominions that still retain the queen as head of state. Australia and Canada for instance, have been home to fresh discussions pertaining to whether the time has finally come to cut ties with the royal family. Given the controversies which emerged during the interview, as well as these countries’ increasingly multi-racial and multi-ethnic makeup, this is unsurprising. It should nevertheless represent a concerning development for the United Kingdom. Indeed, it is reflective of a wider decline in British soft power, more specifically its ability to exert diplomatic influence over the former commonwealth. Whilst the royalty might not carry any concrete influence in these countries’ political sphere, its mere presence serves as a reminder of the historical legacies that bind these nations together. Severing this link might cause long-term diplomatic drifts, which is exactly what a post-Brexit Britain attempting to re-establish pre-European Union connections does not need.
The same could be said with regards to the United States. The response from the White House, albeit somewhat muted, suggested tacit support for the royal couple. This is reflective of the wider American public; indeed, a snap YouGov poll conducted following the interview revealed that a considerable amount of observers sympathised with Harry and Meghan. Once again, this is bad news for Britain. The US makes up the largest share of the country’s annual tourism figures, and it is hard to deny that that allure stems in part from the appeal of the royal family and associated sites. This debacle is thus likely to put a dent in those figures which is not helped by the currently delicate state of race discourse in the country. Brexit inevitably plays a role here too; the UK has made it harder for Europeans to take a casual trip through the Isles. The last thing the nation needs right now is even less international tourism.
Amid the controversy however, not many voices have been heard coming from the European mainland. This should not be surprising. Indeed, many EU members still retain their royal family as a nominal head of state, albeit in a largely muted fashion compared to the UK. Citizens of full-blown republics, however, may be less impressed, and be validated in their scepticism of the monarchical systems abolished decades prior. Much as in America, the interview is likely to resonate with the more liberal-leaning metropolitan cohorts making up the lifeblood of British tourism, once again a market the country cannot afford to lose.
Overall, it is clear that the interview has damaged the royal family’s international reputation. Questions as to the continued relevance of the monarchy have sprang up across the former commonwealth, and most Americans are not hesitant to hide their contempt for the aristocracy. The silence from fellow royals in Europe is deafening; across the continent, is a tacit acknowledgement of the royal status quo’s decline, regardless of its actual powers. This poor press will translate into unsavoury tourism figures and a weakened diplomatic pull in the short-term, and more broadly, signals the incompatibility of royalty with 21st century Western societies. It remains to be seen whether future generations will bring this realisation to its logical conclusion.
Featured photo by Mark Jones. Available on flickr under Creative Commons 2.0 Generic license.