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The royal family’s quest to be environmentally right on

22 January 2019

5:58 PM

22 January 2019

5:58 PM

Well, it was kind of Sir David Attenborough to grant an interview to Prince William at Davos (by way of compensation for the absence of presidents Macron, Trump and Putin plus the PM) to discuss environmentalism and show a clip from his latest Netflix series, displaying an entire chunk of glacier the size of a skyscraper slipping into the Arctic. He’s a class act, Sir David, and the demeanour of the Prince was altogether respectful, as you’d expect from someone who has called Sir David in the past ‘a national treasure’ and ‘the single most important impact in my conservation thinking’. So, we got some nice recollections from the great man about the happy days of broadcasting in the fifties when you just had to show the troops a pangolin to have them marvelling. The direct pitch, though, was at the Davos crowd, being the capitalists with the power to actually change things:


All dandy, though Prince William is not, really, up there with the Attenboroughs as an interviewer; the tone was mainly deferential with the odd awkward quip. But the effect of the exchange from the point of view of the royal family is to reinforce the impression that, in encounters with celebrities, it’s the young royals who look like the party on whom the lustre of the great is rubbed off. I imagine having a royal as well as Sir David got more people to turn up for the interview, but the encounter did its bit for the Duke too, by bringing home that ‘Brand Windsor’ is terrifically on message when it comes to global warming. Prince Harry’s interview with Barack Obama in 2017 had a similar dynamic: a young royal seeking to associate himself with someone popular, not to say, grand. (It was hard not to wince during that encounter when Prince Harry asked the former president a quick fire question: Boxers or Briefs? Only for Mr O gently to swat the impertinence away.)

David Attenborough is indeed a phenomenon and is an ornament among 92 year olds – he’s the Queen’s almost exact contemporary. But the anxiety of the Duke to associate himself with the Attenborough grand project is an interesting instance of the way the upper-class young and the royals in particular have taken up environmentalism as a substitute for old-style philanthropy and religion. Mental health and global warming; that, they seem to think, is the way to stay in business.

Anyway, Sir David was kind to him. You can’t imagine the Queen doing it, can you?

PS. If there are impertinent questions to be asked, I wish someone would put them to Prince William. His insistence that minding about elephants means banning ivory of any description and age is, I think, just wrong. He goes around the royal palaces hungrily eyeing up ivory keyboards made from the tusks of creatures killed long, long ago and preaching to anyone who will listen about the iniquity of antiques made from tusks at a time when elephants were plentiful. He has made it impossible to buy the kind of exquisite carved brooch I once possessed from a time, a century and more ago, when ivory was a not-particularly rare commodity. He will have no truck with the kind of compromise that seeks to allow trade in antique ivory – difficult but not, I think, impossible to identify – or in ivory from elephants that have died naturally (see the stories of Sinbad the Sailor for this sensible idea). He’s an absolutist, at least on a subject on which he sees himself to be swimming with the tide; I think it’s a mistake, but on this one, he appears to have the self belief of, er, Prince Charles.


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