The last time we had a royal wedding of comparable dynastic importance (i.e. only a bit important), Prince Andrew married Sarah Ferguson, in 1986. The Spectator of those times, which I was editing, carried almost nothing about it. The only piece was a television review by Alexander Chancellor, complaining that ‘The royal family are at the moment completely out of control.’ He found this very upsetting. He was ‘absolutely in favour of the royal family. I have always liked the way they keep their heads down, avoid controversy, shun jokes, and conceal whatever personalities they may have.’ So he was shocked that the Princess of Wales (Diana) dressed up as a policeman (I think for Fergie’s hen-night) and went to Annabel’s, and that Prince Andrew said in a press interview shortly before the wedding that ‘A woman should have a trim waist, a good “up top” and enough down the bottom.’ By ‘up top’, Prince Andrew did not mean brainpower. That column was Alexander Chancellor’s last in the role. He went off to join the new-minted Independent, one of whose selling points was that it carried nothing whatever about the royal family.
The Chancellor theory surely remains correct. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are decidedly more ‘woke’ than his uncle and Fergie, but the same principle applies. The more that members of the royal family become public personalities, the more likely their lives are to implode. The poor Duchess of York — as Sarah Ferguson, by her marriage, became — was (is) a good-hearted person, but there was something about her outgoing, Sloaney lack of guile which inspired ribaldry from the start. Inevitably, the papers started to search for evidence of what she was like ‘up top’. Inevitably, they found and published it. The whole thing ended rather sadly with divorce, ‘vulgar, vulgar, vulgar’ and toe-sucking. It was a sideshow to the too-much-personality main event of Diana. At present, Ms Markle is well defended because the people who would normally sneer at a new princess are claiming her for their own, and the people who like new princesses are polite anyway. She and Prince Harry are much more winning and adroit than their 1980s predecessors. But on the ‘for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer’ principle that all marriages encounter storms, theirs is a high-risk strategy. The Cambridges, on the other hand, quietly abide by the Chancellor rules.
This is an extract from Charles Moore’s Spectator Notes, which appears in this week’s magazine, out now