I don’t know. Three words rarely uttered by commentators seeking a paid berth on a television studio sofa or a cruise ship. In this lucrative royal world of certainty, the Queen walks on water; Prince William is sinned against, Prince Harry is the sinner; and Andrew’s transgressions are the fault of no one other than a prince who perspires no more. Viewed through this lens, any jubilee balcony appearance in June by Meghan and Harry would teeter on the edge of being treasonable.
Such clarity defies the reality. The Windsors inhabit a world of grey, where obfuscation trumps transparency and ‘sources’ or ‘royal insiders’ fill the void left by the paucity of on the record statements.
In the real world, a now 96-year-old Queen reigns remotely and no longer presses the flesh with a gloved hand. She’s castle bound, venturing out sparingly. We don’t know what, if anything, might be wrong with her beyond her advancing years impacting her mobility. We probably never will. Her right to privacy wins out over accurate medical bulletins on the health of the constitutional head of state.
For millions of people, her birthday and Platinum Jubilee are opportunities to honour a monarch who’s navigated turbulent times over the past 70 years while remaining true to herself. She engenders considerable affection as the figurehead of an ever-dwindling generation, the like of which we won’t see again.
The celebrations in the coming months should help restore the institution’s equilibrium after a cascade of crises. These have included the departure of Meghan and Harry; an ongoing police investigation into an alleged cash for honours scandal involving the Prince's Foundation; and Prince Andrew’s friendships with a convicted child sex trafficker and a now convicted sex offender.
The cheers for the Queen will be loud and sustained; more muted will be the questions as to how a nonagenarian, not many years shy of becoming a centenarian, will continue to discharge her duties. The core ones, including appointing a prime minister, remain hers for life, unless incapacity catapults Charles into the role of Prince Regent.
Elizabeth the Second is signed up for life. Her uncle, Edward, ensured retirement was removed from her lexicon. So she will soldier on. The on-the-job training for her eldest son will ratchet up and the passage of time will increase the focus on how he will conduct himself when he does take on what Diana called the ‘top job’.
Charles will be a short-term king, keeping the throne warm for William. To navigate these transitions with no set dates, father and son will need to be closely aligned. A recent briefing about the ‘Cambridge Way’ of doing things when William moves to Buckingham Palace wasn’t good for Charles’ blood pressure or for avoiding renewed chatter about skipping a generation. Such talk only serves to remind people of the anachronistic nature of the hereditary principle their dynasty relies on.
Precedent means William has no idea how long he’ll wait in line. The behaviour of a past king shouldn’t, but does, limit the options of his successors. The uncertainty would be removed if his father decided the 1936 abdication crisis didn’t have to haunt their family. Future sovereigns could choose to be crowned and consecrated for a fixed term. When the time comes, a bold Charles might be tempted to declare from the off that he will step down when he turns, say, 80.
An end date would give him a focused reign and the promise of a royal retirement. It would be the action of a visionary king who accepts the limitations of longevity and turns abdication from a negative threat to a positive outcome. Will Charles be inspired and remove the burden of a ‘job for life’ from himself and those destined to follow him?
I don’t know.