The Queen must have a sickening feeling of deja vu as she sits at Balmoral this summer and watches the good name of her family, yet again, being dragged through the mud.
It is hardly the relaxing break that at 93 she has every right to enjoy.
In 67 years, this extraordinarily wise woman has brought nothing but credit to the institution of monarchy. Duty and service have always come first; she has been discreet and dignified; she has had a loyal circle of genuine friends and never chased celebrities or thought of herself as one.
And despite her wealth, and all the glittering trappings, privately she has lived a modest life and earned the love and respect of millions of people the world over. She has been an exemplary role model to her children and grandchildren. And yet not all of them seem to have learnt from her.
It was at the same time, same place, in the summer of 1992, when the tranquillity of breakfast was ruined one morning by lewd pictures of her daughter-in-law gracing the front pages. The Duchess of York, newly separated from Prince Andrew, was snapped topless on a sun lounger in the South of France, while apparently having her toes sucked by her ‘financial adviser’.
The Queen getting into the driver’s seat of her Range Rover at Balmoral today as the royals began their summer getaway
It was just the latest in a spate of embarrassments — including the release of a mysterious tape recording of an intimate late-night phone conversation between the Princess of Wales and her supposed lover, dubbed Squidgygate. (A similar recording of the Prince of Wales and then lover, dubbed Camillagate, followed.)
That year Charles and Diana separated, the Princess Royal divorced Mark Phillips, Andrew and Fergie separated, and Andrew Morton published his explosive book Diana, Her True Story (a frank and damaging account of Diana’s unhappiness within the Royal Family). To cap it all, a devastating fire broke out at her beloved Windsor Castle.
No wonder the Queen referred to 1992 as her ‘annus horribilis’, a year she would ‘not look back on with undiluted pleasure’.
This year is not quite as bad as that. No marriages are officially on the rocks, there are no illicit recordings we know of, and one hopes there will be no fires. But the damaging revelations have come thick and fast and leave an even worse taste in the mouth.
The Duke of York’s extraordinarily ill-judged relationship with the odious, multi-millionaire paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, who killed himself in prison two weeks ago while awaiting trial for more sex crimes, is of course the most distasteful and alarming — and I shall return to that.
But Zara Tindall? She who has always been so admirably down-to-earth, a world-class horsewoman and mother of two, hasn’t exactly covered herself in glory either.
Prince Andrew taking a stroll through New York’s Central Park with Jeffrey Epstein after he was released from jail
Prince Andrew pictured with his arm around the waist of Virginia Roberts, then aged 17, who was Epstein’s ‘sex slave’
Did it never cross her own mind that accepting large sums of money for very little work might be a bad idea if your grandmother is the Queen? Was there no one to advise her against it?
When first asked by this newspaper about her relationship with the Hong Kong businessman, Dr Johnny Hon, a lawyer acting on Zara’s behalf strenuously denied she was in Dr Hon’s pay as a non-executive director of his group.
It was only when the Mail provided documentary evidence of the £100,000-a-year contract between Zara and Dr Hon’s firm that they accepted she had held that role. That is the sort of response we have come to expect from our politicians, not our Royal Family.
Then there is the blatant hypocrisy of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Both of them have been very vocal on their concerns about the future of the planet — and good on them: the Royal Family are the original influencers — but if they are going to talk the talk, they also have to be seen to walk the walk.
Taking private jets to Ibiza and Nice — four flights in less than two weeks for a family holiday — is not walking the walk. It is the behaviour of spoilt celebrities.
According to the BBC’s fact-checking team, those two return flights would have created 37.6 tonnes of CO2, ‘more than six times an average Briton’s yearly emissions or 111 times those of a person in Lesotho’ (where Harry’s charity Sentebale does such excellent work with children orphaned by Aids). What was Harry thinking? Were there no airlines with flights to those destinations?
Meghan Markle carries baby Archie on to a luxury private jet after she and Prince Harry enjoyed a three-day family holiday at Sir Elton John’s stunning mansion in the south of France
Photographs of the two of them, plus baby Archie and new nanny, boarding a scheduled flight to go on a holiday that no one would begrudge them, would have gone down well. Instead, they have had brickbats and filled the front pages for all the wrong reasons, yet again.
William and his family took such a flight to Aberdeen just two days ago. FlyBe at £73 per person. I do not believe that he and Kate did it to make Harry and Meghan look bad, but what a crushing indictment.
And how desperately sad it is to see these two families, the Cambridges and the Sussexes, pitted against one another. Even allowing for some media hype, there is clearly something awry with the once ‘Fab Four’.
This week, the Royal Foundation, set up by William and Harry in 2009 to oversee their joint charitable projects, was formally disbanded when ‘the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex formally sent notice to Companies House that their joint name should be struck from its official register’.
The Sussexes are establishing their own Foundation.
William and Harry were once so close: friends, allies, brothers, always teasing; so obviously happy in each other’s company. Kate seemed to fit into the relationship seamlessly. They had each other’s backs and there was every expectation they always would have.
It would be nothing short of a tragedy if that bond between ‘Diana’s boys’ was to fall apart permanently and something the public would hate to see. As his biographer, I know there is great affection and admiration for Harry, not just in this country but around the world. He has represented the Queen on many occasions now and been a fantastic ambassador for the British monarchy.
Dr. Johnny Hon with Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York. Dr Hon has been linked to Zara Tindall after claims he paid her £100,000-a-year as a non-executive director of his company
He is charming, funny and modest; he has genuine compassion and a very real desire to use his position to help others; and in things like founding Sentebale, walking with wounded veterans to the South Pole, and launching the Invictus Games, he has done exactly that.
But things have soured in the last year and many of us feel this is not the behaviour of the Harry we know and love — the Harry who wanted to be treated like just one of the blokes. Following news of the private jet jaunts to Ibiza and Elton John’s home in the South of France, Harry and Meghan have kept silent, but a posse of high-profile celebrities have taken to social media to defend the couple.
Sir Elton said he had provided the jet to Nice so the family could have a private holiday ‘inside the safety and tranquility’ of his home there. And the jet was ‘to maintain a high level of much-needed protection,’ citing Diana’s untimely death and claiming press intrusion contributed to it.
He claims to have paid ‘an appropriate contribution’ to offset the carbon emissions. But that is missing the point.
Pink, an American singer, described the way Meghan is being treated as ‘the most public form of bullying I’ve seen in a while’, while American chat show host, Ellen Degeneres, who has 78.3 million followers on Twitter, chipped in with: ‘Imagine being attacked for everything you do, when all you’re trying to do is make the world better.’
The British actress Jameela Jamil, who featured on the September issue of Vogue guest-edited by Meghan tweeted: ‘Ugh. Dear England and English press, just say you hate her because she’s black, and him for marrying a black woman and be done with it God dammit. Your bullying is so embarrassing and obvious. You’ve all lost your marbles. It’s 2019. Grow up.’ To use the racist card is insulting to us all. Where was Jamil on that glorious day in 2018 when the Prince of Wales stood in for her father Thomas Markle and proudly walked Meghan down the aisle? Seldom have I seen such outpouring of love from the public and it was for Meghan just as much as Harry.
As a nation we were thrilled that Harry was so in love and we took his bride to our hearts — and also her mother, Doria, a lone but dignified presence at the wedding.
Zara initially denied being employed and paid by Dr Hon but eventually admitted her role, where she is given large sums of money for very little work
We loved it that Meghan was mixed-race and that her celebration reflected that — a gospel choir and the Episcopal Bishop, Michael Curry, who quoted Martin Luther King.
This was just what the Royal Family needed. It made them relevant to swathes of the population that had felt no great connection with monarchy. And then the arrival of a healthy child this year was the icing on the cake. It was also, sadly, the moment when the goodwill began to slip away. The secrecy around the birth didn’t sit well. Neither did being shut out of Archie’s christening. These are two milestones that give the public great pleasure to feel part of and do nothing but strengthen the bond between the royals and the rest of us.
When the Sussexes accepted £2.4 million from the taxpayer to do up their new home, Frogmore Cottage, on the Windsor estate, they lost their right to turn their back on those that paid it. They can’t have it both ways — and that, Jameela, is what the media and the British public are critical of.
Jameela Jamil’s second tweet addressed the question of security which made private jet travel a necessity. ‘And ALSO,’ she wrote, ‘it’s not safe for us to be on the same planes as royals or presidents you absolute muppets. They are prime targets for kidnap and … assassination. It’s in the interest of us civilians to not be endangered by proximity to people in such powerful positions.’
Well, during World War II, when bombs were falling on London and destroying entire communities, the King and Queen were advised that it was not safe for them to remain in the capital. They chose to stay defiantly in Buckingham Palace and take their chances along with the rest of the population — the civilians as Jameela would call them — appreciated that loyalty. Surely we should stand together against the threat of today’s terrorism.
The Duchess of Cambridge and her husband, Prince William, were seen enjoying the peace and quiet of the grounds of the Queen’s Balmoral Castle in Scotland today as the Royal Family enjoy their annual summer get-together on the Scottish estate
The 93-year-old monarch was helped by a member of the staff as she clambered up into the seat of the 4×4 near the castle
If Harry and Meghan want to support the Queen then they have to start following her example and that of her parents. Back in the 1990s, her annus horribilis was just the beginning. It heralded a dangerous decade for the monarchy that saw Charles and Diana engage in an undignified battle for public sympathy, before an acrimonious divorce.
The nation took sides, and when Diana was killed alongside Dodi Fayed in a tunnel under the River Seine in 1997, while being pursued by paparazzi, the public blamed Charles. Had he cared about Diana, so they reasoned in their grief, and not been obsessed by his lover, Camilla Parker Bowles, Diana would have been protected and not been racing through the streets of Paris with a playboy lover.
Charles was so unpopular in the aftermath of Diana’s death that if the Queen had been run over by the proverbial bus at that time, it is arguable that the nation would have rejected him as its king.
Now he is infinitely more popular, and deservedly so, largely thanks to Camilla who has made him a happier man, and at last his private life is not getting in the way of his achievements. When the time comes he will be the best prepared monarch this country has ever had, and William is a popular character for the future.
Yet both of them must be concerned by recent events. There are still many people who believe that the monarchy will end when the Queen dies and the damaging revelations in the past few weeks have done nothing to make that prospect completely unthinkable.
Which brings me back to the deeply sordid Epstein affair. Jeffrey Epstein was on the sex offenders’ register. He had admitted to having sex with an underage girl and had allegedly molested 36 others. In 2008, he went to prison for soliciting prostitution from girls as young as 14. Several of them, now grown up, have taken out law suits against him and his former girlfriend, Ghislaine Maxwell, that are still pending.
One alleges Epstein raped her. Virginia Roberts Guiffre, pictured with the Duke of York’s arm around her bare midriff when she was 17, claimed she was kept as a ‘sex slave’ by Epstein and forced to have sex with the Duke three times. Her allegations went to court in 2015 and were thrown out by a judge as ‘immaterial and impertinent’.
Andrew has said he is innocent of any wrongdoing, and we want to believe him. This week he issued a statement, but only after a video came to light of him furtively waving goodbye to a young woman leaving Epstein’s house in 2010. The statement said the Duke is ‘appalled’ by his friend’s ‘alleged crimes’. We all are; but is he only appalled now?
It beggars belief that Andrew did not suspect what Epstein was up to — even before he went to jail the first time. They had been friends since the mid-1990s.
He had holidayed with Epstein on his Caribbean island, nicknamed ‘Paedophile Island’. He had been a guest in Epstein’s New York mansion, where many of these girls were allegedly kept, and no doubt where guests washed their hands with their host’s phallic bars of soap.
Yesterday, new claims emerged that Andrew was seen — alongside the convicted paedophile — at the mansion receiving a foot massage from a Russian woman called Irina in 2010. Buckingham Palace has reiterated its outright denials of all allegations against Prince Andrew.
He had, however, accepted lavish hospitality and free flights for years and girls were part of the picture.
Friends and courtiers told Andrew he must put an end to the friendship when Epstein was released from jail, but he refused, and is reported to have shouted: ‘Being loyal to your friends is a virtue.’ Indeed it is, but blind loyalty smacks of stupidity.
And let’s not forget that his ex-wife, the Duchess of York, was accepting thousands of dollars from Epstein to pay off her debts. When rumbled, she admitted it had been a ‘gigantic error of judgment’ — in a long, long line of them that have tarnished the Royal Family, too.
There are dangerous and uncertain times ahead politically. None of us knows what the future will hold and we have lost faith in our politicians ability to tell us. It is at times like this when the stability and integrity of the monarchy come into their own.
Neither Zara Tindall, the Yorks nor the Sussexes are crucial to its future. That lies with Charles and Camilla and William and Kate, who all go from strength to strength.
Nothing will change while the Queen is alive. But as she reflects on the unpalatable events of past weeks she will be well aware that not everyone believes in the monarchy; and the controversies swirling around Andrew, Zara, Fergie, Harry and Meghan do nothing but give fuel to those who would like to see the abolition of this revered institution.
Will that thought make the scandal-hit royals see sense?