Royals Under Spotlight

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From afar (i.e. America), Britain's royal family is unimpeachable. The style, the protocol, the history, the funny dancing. Swoon!

Within the United Kingdom, however, Queen Elizabeth II's loyal subjects are proving increasingly hard to please—or at least increasingly easy to offend.

While scandal has been a concept associated with royalty for as long as royalty has existed, and the tabloid press has been around in at least some form for a few hundred years, just when it seemed as if the modernizing monarchy was heralding a new age of compatibility with the demands of the people, it appears that the people are just as anxious to take the royals down a peg as they ever have been.

While the outrage is sure to die down as soon as Prince William and Kate Middleton arrive in Paris for an official visit on Friday, the outsized reaction to William's ski trip in the Swiss Alps—which prevented him from attending the annual Commonwealth Day service on Monday at Westminster Abbey—showed that no royal, not even the one married to the irreproachable Duchess Catherine, is immune from becoming so much fodder for a salacious headline.

Not to mention, it was a reminder that not even Kate Middleton is irreproachable. (The tabloids did once dub her "Waity Katie" after all, for her willingness to hang in there until William was ready for marriage. What a questionable life choice!)

The furor over the short trip to the Swiss village of Verbier for what appeared to be a guys-only getaway was multi-pronged, but mainly involved the usual suspects (such as the head of Republic, the most visible anti-monarchy group in the U.K.) proclaiming that this proves William doesn't take his royal duties seriously, obviously doesn't care that much about his position and probably doesn't want to be king.

Kate Middleton, Prince William, Prince George, Princess Charlotte


Which, in turn, leads to the inevitable discussion about who's paying for all this—a question that plagued Will and Kate's family ski trip a year ago to the French Alps. Royal sources at the time told various members of the press that the duke and duchess booked and paid for the private holiday themselves.

Also this week, there was the faction—including the editor of Majesty magazine—that didn't bat an eye at the prince's trip, either defending his right to have a vacation or noting that it's not as if he just blew off the queen. If he was away, his grandmother, Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II, knew beforehand that he would be.

Basically, what the opposing reactions also proved was that, just like in any sort of politics, one camp is going to believe what it perceives to be true and so will the other. One side may actually be right, but both sides will think that it's them.

Prince William, Kate Middleton, 2017 BAFTA Awards

Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Then there's the royal family's wonky relationship with some of Britain's many, many tabloids—all of which feed happily off the family in joyous times, but are also quick to pounce when they get a whiff of scandal. Some more than others.

The 168-year-old New of the World shut down in 2011 following a devastating hacking scandal in which it was uncovered that various higher-ups at the News Corp.-owned paper had given the OK to a private investigator to access a number of voice mail accounts over the years, including those belonging to Kate and William, Hugh Grant, the Duchess of York, former Prime Minister Tony Blair and a 13-year-old murder victim.

The breach was appalling but, at the same time, just like with the Sony hacking scandal that rocked Hollywood, readers didn't exactly turn away from the private details that emerged just because the information had been illegally obtained.

Then there's The Sun, another News Corp. tabloid and the highest-circulating newspaper of any kind in the U.K., which has never missed an opportunity to ding the royals ("Their Royal Heilnesses," anybody?)—and this week was no exception. The Sun was the quickest to note that Australian model Sophie Taylor was sitting with Prince William and his pals at lunch in Verbier, its headline reading that the royal had skipped Commonwealth Day to "chill with Aussie babe Sophie Taylor on lads' ski holiday." The paper took the liberty of illustrating its point by grabbing sexy modeling and personal shots of Taylor off her Facebook that were not taken on the trip; The Sun followed up today with an everything-you-need-to-know about her.

In case anyone forgot, The Sun was memorably the first tabloid to publish uncensored naked photos of Prince Harry taken during his infamous Las Vegas trip in 2012. While other papers backed off out of respect for the royal family, the pictures having seemingly been taken during a rambunctious game of strip billiards without Harry knowing, The Sun argued that press freedom gave them license.

So it's no wonder that the queen and The Sun and vitriol go way back. 

But The Sun is just giving the people what they want. Or at least that's probably what they'd argue, and as the paper with the largest daily circulation in the land, who's to argue with them?

Prince Harry

Arthur Edwards - WPA Pool /Getty Images

Meanwhile, how the tables have turned. Prince Harry—the wild child who once provoked the most concern that he'd be an unsalvageable rogue for the foreseeable future—was in damage control mode today, donning fleecy winter wear on a visit to Epping Forest to learn about a project to keep a centuries-old woodland management tradition alive.

That makes 18 official days of royal work for Harry this year, to William's 13.

Keeping centuries-old tradition alive, however, is what this family is about, and with millions of supporters in their corner, no one is actually predicting the imminent demise of the monarchy aside from those who desperately want it to go away.

That doesn't mean the microscope on the royals isn't going to be zooming in as much as ever and then some as the day-to-day duties shift further onto William's generation. Prince Charles is poised to become king and, judging by his genes, he isn't going to be slowing down anytime soon, but at 68 he has a certain routine and causes—particularly agriculture and eco-conscious farming—that occupy his time, and he'll be delegating heavily to his sons and daughter-in-law.

Prince Harry, Prince Charles, Prince William


Not to mention, Charles already starred in his own throne-rocking scandal decades ago and presumably has no interest in attracting more than the usual, "what exactly is it that you do, Your Highness?" type of criticism in his golden years.

And for all of the 48-hour vacations that he takes, William—who was also roundly criticized for being a "reluctant royal" when he was spending about 20 hours a week as an air ambulance pilot (and donating his salary right back to the nonprofit he flew for)—seems fully committed to his day job, which remains inexplicable to some and incredibly important and symbolic of a thousand years of Empire and history to others.

"I think royal duty is extremely important," William told the BBC for an online documentary about his air ambulance work that premiered last fall. "It's part of the fabric of what the royal family and any future monarch has. I take my responsibilities very seriously. But it's about finding your own way at the right time and if you're not careful duty can sort of weigh you down an awful lot at a very early age, and I think you've got to develop into the duty role."

Exactly, and he's still got plenty of time, or so the world can only hope.

The queen's husband of 69 years, 95-year-old Prince Philip(who was by her side on Commonwealth Day this week), beat all the kids in 2016 with 110 days of public engagements, to Harry's 86 and William's 80. Prince Charles was the leading male, with 139 day, while his sister, Princess Anne, had 179.

Prince William, Kate Middleton, Prince Harry, Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles, Prince Philip, Royal Family, Christmas

Danny Martindale/WireImage

But the queen, who will be 91 next month, trumps them all. Forever destined to be the leader so long as her health agrees, her majesty logged 341 days of work in 2016, according to the Court Circular. (The Telegraph reported last year that everyone's tallies seemed to be going down because of a new system in which the days were being counted, rather than individual engagements.)

So far in 2017, the queen has 24 days to her esteemed, albeit still scrutinized, name.

Meghan Markle, Prince Harry, Jamaica


"I think the royal family has to modernize and develop as it goes along and it has to stay relevant and that's the challenge for me," Prince William also told the BBC. "How do I make the royal family relevant in the next 20 years' time—you know, it could be 40 years' time, it could be 60 years' time—I have no idea when that's doing to be and I certainly don't lie awake waiting or hoping for it because it sadly means my family have moved on and I don't want that."

And while Harry has done a 180 in recent years, doubling down on his humanitarian work and like William becoming a "full-time" royal now, a litany of obstacles await him too as far as public opinion goes. His now six-month relationship with Meghan Markle became public on a sour note when he was forced to release a statement imploring the press to respect the Suits actress' privacy and the trolls to cool it with the slams on social media.

Moreover, also like William, he has designs on being a devoted family man first and foremost.

"I'm not putting work before the idea of a family, marriage and all that kind of stuff," he told London's Sunday Times last May. "To be fair I haven't had that many opportunities to get out there and meet people. At the moment my focus is very much on work. But if someone slips into my life then that's absolutely fantastic."

But unlike William, at least for now the ever-endearing spare heir has less pressure on him to be the guy who always attends the Commonwealth Day service. Though he did, indeed, attend the service along with the queen, his father and grandfather.

"What you see is what you get with me," Harry said. "It's genuine. I will always try and bring an element of fun and happiness to everything I do. That probably is subconsciously very much part of my mother [the late Princess Diana], trying to fill that void. Trying to fill an unbelievable pair of boots, whether it's her or especially the Queen. It's a hard thing to do."

And considering there will always be some people who think the boots are long out of style, it's not going to get easier.

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