By Dilip Bobb
I am currently engrossed in the Netflix drama, The Crown, season 3 of a series on the British royal family that, like all popular TV serials, segues between fact and tension-building fiction. The real irony, however, is that I am watching an episode where Prince Philip, husband of the young Queen Elizabeth, decides to expose the Royal Family to TV cameras, in the hope that it might bring them closer to their British subjects, and show them as humans rather than fairy tale characters. It turned out to be a PR disaster. The family came across as too formal and stilted and unabashedly aloof. The ultimate irony came in the shape of an extraordinary interview given by Prince Andrew, the Queen’s second son, to the BBC’s royal correspondent, in Buckingham Palace, the official residence of the royals. Before the interview, the two walk for quite a distance through the cavernous palace corridors with royal ancestors staring down at them, some quite disapprovingly. Andrew should have heeded those stares. The interview, which focused on his relationship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, boomeranged badly, with his feeble protestations that he never had sex with girls supplied by the late disgraced billionaire, in particular one 17 year old, Virginia Roberts, who has said she had sex with Andrew on Epstein’s orders, sounding so unconvincing that the British tabloids had a field day. Even the broadsheets reflected the near-universal condemnation.
What makes the interview such a disaster is that it seemed to be an impulsive decision taken by him with no tutoring by his senior royals or well trained royal household officials. At one point he says: “If you’re a man it is a positive act to have sex with somebody. You have to take some sort of positive action.” The implication was that the female sexual experience is an inherently passive one. The other elephant in the room was Epstein, and the fact that Andrew continued to visit him in America even after the allegations of him and his friends having sex with underage girls surfaced. British newspapers and TV commentators gave it a sordid spin—a story of young, working-class women being sexually exploited by a wealthy elite. This goes beyond well beyond Andrew and his alleged sexual escapades. The interview has put the royal family back in the crosshairs of the media, and this after the Queen’s grandson, Prince Harry, also gave an interview where he slammed the British media for their obsessive and negative coverage of his marriage with American model/actor Meghan Markle. Moreover, it has damaged the image of the royals, considered the bedrock of Britain and its subjects. It also comes at a time when the drama over Brexit and a general election next month has plunged the country into a political crisis.
Beyond Britain, there’s a lesson for all members of the privileged class, which, in India, generally refers to politicians. When someone is in a position of power, normal sensibilities and ethics somehow fly out the window. The other lesson, of course, is how people in power choose their friends. None of our disgraced millionaires, from Mallya to Nirav Modi and countless others would have amassed the fortunes they did, without some help—a word or a phone call—from their politician friends. Andrew has become as much a figure of ridicule as he is a symbol of misused privilege.