Though impossible to fathom what was going on inside Prince Andrew’s head as he sat down opposite Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis at the start of what would an hour later go down as one of the most horrific and also revelatory interviews ever conducted by a royal, what became clear after just a few minutes was the sheer unreality of the world he lives in compared to the one that’s inhabited by the rest of us.
The sense of entitlement emanating from him throughout the interview, the manner in which he seemed genuinely shocked and nonplussed when confronted by Maitlis’ forensic questioning of his relationship with American financier, sex trafficker and paedophile, Jeffrey Epstein, provided an invaluable insight into the cloistered world of a family whose existence in the 21st century is a shameful indictment of our toleration of a class system that makes Britain more akin to an 18th century theme park and museum than a modern democracy.
Matters weren’t helped by the palatial surroundings of Buckingham Palace in which the interview took place. That any society which purports to be civilised could balance such obscene ostentation with levels of poverty and despair that conform to a war being waged against its poorest and most vulnerable is astonishing. It’s almost as if we’ve been sent hurtling back to the to the Victorian age in a time machine.
“No, it was a shooting weekend. Just a straightforward shooting weekend,” the Prince replied to one of Maitlis’ questions, as if shooting weekends are par for the course - like popping into Costa for a latte. It actually took on the character of a spoof interview at times, it was so toe-curlingley embarrassing - watching this big bag of useless royal wind sitting there with his chin hanging over his collar like a latter day Jay Gatsby, blinking like a man who’d just emerged into the light after decades spent in the darkness of a world of obscene luxury and self-gratification, his eyes the dead eyes of a man who’s spent too many late nights in the world’s fleshpots.
Prince Andrew has been filling his boots at the UK taxpayers’ expense for decades. His cause is not the public interest but his own interest, drowning himself in hedonism as a current, or at least former, member of an international and cosmopolitan partying circuit of wastrels. Even his role as UK trade envoy was mired in scandal and controversy, as he helped broker arms sales to Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and various other despotic regimes.
He and the other royals are human mannequins, products of an institution that is utterly incompatible with modernity. Its popularity among a large swathe of the British public is a sad metric of our infantilsation and the extent to which we’ve internalised the tropes of the most entrenched and wicked class system the world has ever known since the fall of Rome.
The army of rough sleepers that colonises London today, the survivors of Grenfell, the 14 million living in poverty in Britain, all of those who’ve found themselves on the receiving end of a battering in the name of austerity this past decade, including the loved ones of the 120,000 who have died as a direct result, are entitled to ask when the revolution will begin?
The rest of us, meanwhile, are obligated to demand not merely economic or political change in Britain, but constitutional change. For the time, surely, has come to sweep away the gown and wig semi-feudalism that underpins our major institutions — the Commons, House of Lords, judiciary and, yes, the monarchy.
‘Every country where begging, where mendacity, is a profession, is ill-governed,” Voltaire once wrote.
The French Enlightenment philosopher clearly knows us better than we know ourselves.