The crisis that has engulfed the royal family, sparked by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s bombshell announcement that they are jumping ship, is about far more than just their personal future. If that wasn’t the case, it wouldn’t be so important. Families fall out, scandals come and go and the monarchy marches on. But this announcement and the extraordinary Sandringham summit convened by the Queen was about something much more fundamental.
Three years ago, Sir Christopher Geidt departed as the Queen’s private secretary. For years, he had done much to hold The Firm together, but his influence was resented by Prince Charles. The festering acrimony between Buckingham Palace and Clarence House came to a head in 2017 when Geidt, a Cambridge-educated former Scots Guard, convened a meeting of staff to announce Prince Philip’s retirement without first consulting Charles’s aides.
The 1960s were swinging. The 1970s were stagflationary. In the 1980s we made loadsamoney and greed was good. The 1990s were dot.commy. And the 2000s were the boom and bust decade.
Characterising ten-year periods in this casual way is something journalists love to do. It’s deplorably unscientific and yet pleasingly decentralised. A consensus simply emerged that the 1960s were swinging, even if the overwhelming majority of human beings did not turn on, tune in and drop out.
Back in October, Boris Johnson and the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar met for ‘last-ditch’ Brexit talks at a hotel on the Wirral. After nine years in power and having lost control of parliament, the Tories were in disarray. Few thought Johnson could win concessions on the Irish backstop — that perennial stumbling block, the key to securing a new withdrawal agreement with Brussels. ‘It will be very difficult,’ said Varadkar, as the Merseyside ‘wedding venue’ summit began.
Roger Scruton changed the course of my life. He addressed my school’s philosophy society when I was 16, speaking so compellingly about Wittgenstein and language that, when he finished, no one wanted to ask the first question. So, more to fill an awkward silence than anything else, I stuck my hand up and asked him what he saw as the role of a conservative thinker. ‘The role of a conservative thinker,’ he replied, in his charmingly diffident manner, ‘is to reassure the people that their prejudices are true.
When I told friends that I would be spending Christmas Day helping the homeless at a Crisis at Christmas centre in north London, they all congratulated me for doing something good for someone else. And then they congratulated themselves for having already done Crisis at Christmas years ago. Volunteering at a Crisis at Christmas centre is, I discovered, the Glastonbury of good causes.
Crisis veterans all told me about what a ‘rewarding experience’ it had been for them; some claimed it had been their ‘best Christmas ever’.
White House Farm began last week on ITV; a six-part factual drama about the notorious murders. I play Sheila Caffell, Jeremy Bamber’s sister and one of the victims. She was initially thought to have committed the crimes, and was described in the tabloids as ‘crazed’ and ‘deranged’ — an unfair portrait of a mother who was suffering from schizophrenia. I hope people who see it understand the turmoil she had to go through in life.
Don’t worry, this isn’t a piece about fishing quotas. It’s about the word ‘mackerel’ itself. Specifically, the fact that St John’s Wood is the only London Underground station to share no letters with it.
Really? Half a page in The Spectator, just about that? Well, yes. The fact has gathered a life all of its own. It’s been doing the rounds in pub quizzes for ages. At least 20 years: in a trailer for his 1999 TV chat show, Jeremy Clarkson promised to reveal the answer (and then didn’t).