Britain is one of those oddball countries that is a ‘modern democracy’ but also has an unelected head of state in the form of the Queen, who represents the larger institution of the monarchy. The Queen and other members of the royal family serve a ceremonial role, and are usually used to open buildings and be patrons of charities. And to a large extent it seems that the British public is happy with this. A recent poll put approval for the British monarchy as a whole at 68% with the Queen’s individual popularity put at 83%. Yet, should the royals stray into territory that does not seem to be within their remit, there is often a mixed response amongst the public.
In June, Prince Harry sat down with Newsweek to give them exclusive access to his life and to speak about a number of things. Topics included how no member of the royal family was actively seeking the crown, how he wanted a normal life, and how he handled the death of his mother. Whilst the interview was eye-opening, there were those who disapproved of what the young royal had to say.
On the part of wanting to have a ‘normal’ life, there were those who accused the Prince of “crying wolf, despite living in a life of luxury”. There were those such as the group Republic, who stated that perhaps it was time for a discussion about a ‘head of state who was actually willing’. These were all comments that drew on the negatives of what Prince Harry had said, and by doing so, missed his point.
The Royal Family have the best of everything, whilst there are countless numbers of their subjects living in poverty. It would be easy to cast aspersions on Prince Harry when he speaks out about the grief and the mental health issues he suffered after his mother’s death and serving in war. It would be easy to lambast him for wanting to live a normal life. But the monarchy is part of the glue that holds the country together, so when they speak we should listen.
Prince Harry, alongside his brother Prince William, has led the younger generation of royals in modernising the monarchy. They were behind the move to establish the monarchy on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, and they are trying to live as normal a life as they can with all the attention and scrutiny they get with their position. They should be commended for this. It cannot be easy trying to live as a normal person whilst also knowing that you represent an ideal that is much bigger than any one person. That they have done so for as long as they have shown just how dedicated they are to ensuring the monarchy continues.
The Princes are patrons of numerous charities and both have done their best to ensure that war veterans get fair treatment in life after service, with Prince Harry having started the Invictus Games as a means of giving soldiers and veterans a chance to maintain their spirit and camaraderie. Prince William and his wife Kate have done their best to ensure that young families are not ignored, with the Duchess constantly speaking to many noteworthy figures about the issues of post-natal depression. Then there is Heads Together, the mental health charity that the three royals set up to encourage a more frank and open conversation about mental health and its effects. Both Prince William and Prince Harry have spoken about how they were affected mentally after their mother’s death, and how they coped with it in different ways.
When I interviewed Alison Kerry, the head of Media at Mind, the mental health charity partnered with Head’s Together, she had this to say: “Since Their Royal Highnesses got involved and shared their stories of mental health, the number of people who have got in contact with us has increased significantly. Many have admitted that seeing the royals talking about mental health made them far more comfortable talking about it with their loved ones and others. I think their involvement has been crucial to starting the conversation we so desperately needed”.
That says it all. The royals have ensured that more people feel comfortable talking about mental health – an issue often considered a taboo subject. They were able to do this by being more open than previous generations of royals. They removed the air of invulnerability for a moment and allowed the people a chance to see what they were really like.
Whilst there might be some disbelief amongst certain parts of the population when the royals speak about their worries, they should be listened to. For their worries are often not that different to our own. And if it helps make the royal family more relatable and helps address issues, such as mental health, that were previously not even on the agenda, then surely that is worthwhile.