Arabella Byrne

The perils of public grief

  • From Spectator Life
Image: Getty

There is no greater tabula rasa in the public imagination than grief.  Prince Philip’s four children – no strangers to the glare of public interest – now find themselves the target not of global ire, but rather unusually, of collective sympathy. For public figures, the warm light of communal compassion imbues recognition and significance on the lives of lost loved ones; their grief is one that is shared, which must be a consolation. But in today’s 24/7 news cycle public grief of this kind comes with its own pressures and expectations.

In the annals of Royal public relations, this should be a relatively straightforward chapter. Approval for the Royal family soars amid a public outpouring of hagiography, and all is well. When the Queen Mother died in 2002, the statements that followed were fond and fair: Prince Charles spoke of his ‘darling grandmother’ who had served ‘this ancient land with panache, style and unswerving dignity’ while the Queen spoke of her ‘beloved mother’, eliding mother and country gracefully together. But Prince Philip was, in many ways, the most unprecedented of Royals and these are the most unprecedented of times for the Windsors. A Prince has died during a pandemic and the family is still reeling from the bombshell accusations of racism made by its younger members from across the Atlantic. A formulaic statement of grief will no longer suffice. In the era of social media and constant news-flow, the stakes are higher, the scrutiny more intense, the public more demanding. The management of public mourning is no small task.

Thus far, all four of Prince Philip’s children have issued statements of some sort, as have Prince William and Prince Harry. Prince Charles, heir apparent and eldest son led the way with his careful message, tightly choreographed outside Highgrove.

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