The UK loves its royalty, even if the House of Windsor is of German descent, and Buckingham Palace is as popular a tourist destination for the English as it is for the Indians and the Japanese. But even so, debate periodically rages in the local press about the benefit to the taxpayer, who subsidises the lifestyle of the royals. Now, in a development unprecedented in our times, Price Harry and Meghan Markle have announced their decision to step back from their duties as senior royals and — in a move that must be deeply unsettling to the royal family — to spend time away from the UK, and to make a living. Like plumbers. Like accountants. Like artists in garrets. Like that. Well, almost.
They are obviously uncomfortable with the deeply formal, structured nature of life as a royal. Since their wedding, the couple has been doing the rounds and taking the tours that their largely ceremonial role demands. These outings are closely scripted, with the prince taking the lead in public, and his consort silently… well, consorting. This division of labour would be irksome to modern sensibilities, and the constant attention of the media may remind the prince of their role in his mother’s death, and of a ridiculous controversy about his parentage.
But perhaps the thought of freedom from the straitjacket of royalty alone is sufficient stimulus. Recall that King Vikram went out in mufti to experience real life in Ujjain. A world deeply enmeshed in complex sensitivities and ever-growing legal and financial obligations is becoming stifling even for ordinary people. The protocols of royalty, many of which are archaic, must tighten the cinch even harder. Significantly, the royal couple made a clean break with tradition, announcing their decision without consulting the family. Clearly, they don’t intend to step back.
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