Claire Black: Burst royals’ bubble of privilege

Prince Andrew has proved the royal family exists in a 'ludicrous bubble of privilege.' Picture: Getty
Prince Andrew has proved the royal family exists in a 'ludicrous bubble of privilege.' Picture: Getty
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IT COULD be that the reason I feel a particular loathing for those rent-a-quote crisis management people – the ones who write “apologies” for undesirables such as Ched Evans or denials for Prince Andrew – is that most of them were once in a similar job to me.

They were journalists. I’m sure some were born wanting to spend their lives obfuscating and bullying on behalf of morally dubious, sometimes criminal, individuals in need of image management, but many just followed the money out of newspapers and into plush offices where the burying of bad news is the business of the day. They work closely with lawyers who have chosen a similar calling and I usually try to spend as little time as possible thinking about them. But at the moment they’re hard to avoid.

Take Buckingham Palace’s move to deny the allegations that are currently miring the fifth in line to the throne in his latest putrid bucket-load of scandal. In an unprecedented and unusually swift move, aides have categorically denied claims that Prince Andrew had “sexual relations” with an underage girl who had been forced into sexual slavery by the billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, as has been claimed in an American court case. They then went a step further and wrote to newspaper editors reminding them their responsibilities under the Independent Press Standards Organisation code and the law.

They didn’t offer an explanation for the photograph of Prince Andrew with his arm around the bare midriff of the young woman in question - she was 17 at the time she alleges that she had sex with Prince Andrew in three different locations. Nor did they mention Prince Andrew’s decades long friendship with registered sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, who served 13 months of an 18-month jail sentence in 2008 after pleading guilty to soliciting prostitution. Well, why would they? Their job is to protect the reputation of Prince Andrew. And to be fair, that’s no easy task.

There’s no term I don’t know about that should be used to elevate members of the royal family above the status of mere mortals, is there? I mean I know they’re not subject to the Freedom of Information Act, they don’t disclose how much tax they pay, they certainly don’t make public the number or purpose of the many meetings they have with members of government, but they are nevertheless human just like the rest of us. Anyway, Prince Andrew appears to have some very human failings. Over many years a litany of rumour has surrounded him. He has been accused of accepting a $30,000 necklace from a convicted gun smuggler, he makes a habit of dining with the family of despots as long as they are obscenely wealthy, and in Epstein, at least, has enjoyed very odd company indeed.

I don’t know the veracity of Virginia Roberts’ claims. I don’t know either whether the case in which the revelation about Prince Andrew has been made will play out in favour of the women who are the victims of Epstein. But what Prince Andrew makes increasingly and unavoidably clear is the utterly ludicrous bubble of privilege in which the royal family exists. And the growing necessity that it should be pricked.

Older actresses stymied by sexism

I’VE made no secret of my feelings about Meryl Streep: the woman can do no wrong in my eyes. So when she sticks up for Russell Crowe, I find myself in a tricky position. The stooshie was about women actors playing age-appropriate roles and I confess when I first heard that Crowe had waded into the discussion about a perennial problem of sexism in Hollywood – the representation of older women – I felt a little like Joaquin Phoenix does in Gladiator when he discovers that his dad, old Caesar himself, actually prefers Russell Crowe to him – really quite angry. Then Streep claimed that Maximus had been rather shabbily taken out of context and she agreed with his point that older women actors should stop wanting to play the ingenue and instead just act their age, like he does. Of course women actors of all ages should be festooned with interesting, multi-dimensional, roles that they can play without having to resort to extreme cosmetic surgery. But they’re not because the sexism which pervades culture and erases older women from cinema screens (among other places) means that the only roles available are those of the ingenue, since no one seems to believe that women over 40 have lives worth talking about.

Makes friends with books

THE billionaire founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, has, in a rather marvellous digital-native-discovers-analogue-culture shocker, resolved to read a book every fortnight throughout this year. Now, I will never mock anyone for reading. But I will enjoy the comedic value of Zuckerberg explaining to the rest of the world (via his Facebook page, of course) what books are: “Books allow you to fully explore a topic and immerse yourself in a deeper way than most media today,” he wrote. Yes, Mark, we know. Books have been around for a while. A lot of us like them. We’re glad you’ve got your finger on the pulse of progress