How the monarchy could have ‘disappeared’: 12 things we learned from royal experts ahead of the platinum jubilee

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Princess Diana and Prince Charles watch an official event during their first royal Australian tour 1983 (Getty)
Princess Diana and Prince Charles watch an official event during their first royal Australian tour 1983 (Getty)

Had Prince Charles become King in the Eighties, when his popularity was at an all-time high, the monarchy may no longer be active in Britain, royal expert Sean O’Grady has said.

O’Grady was joined by former BBC royal correspondent Jennie Bond during an event for The Independent last week, where the pair spoke about the highs and lows of the royal family.

With the Queen’s platinum jubilee on the horizon, Bond revealed the events to look for, and also described why the week Princess Diana died was of the “most difficult of her life”.

Read on for all the things we learnt from our panellists.

You can watch the full video of the panel event, The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee: A look back at 70 incredible years here

The monarchy ‘would have disappeared’ had Charles become King in the 1980s

O’Grady explained how, in the Eighties, there was “Charles and Di mania”, and that there was an idea “put around for a while” that the Queen should retire.

“I think the reason why she didn’t do it was two-fold,” O’Grady said. “There was an abdication in 1936, which had a very bad hangover effect on the monarchy and on the institution, and secondly, I don’t think there’s much doubt that [the Queen] is a religious person, and she takes her beliefs very seriously.”

“I think she also realised better than most that the Charles and Diana show wasn’t what it seemed,” he continued.

“If [the Queen had retired] it would have been a disaster, because what would have been King and Queen consort would have been rowing and divorcing, and by the Nineties, I think the monarchy would have disappeared.”

Commonwealth countries will reassess ties following Queen’s death

William and Kate during their tour of the Caribbean in March (PA)
William and Kate during their tour of the Caribbean in March (PA)

Following several controversial visits to the Caribbean and Canada by senior members of the royal family this year, O’Grady said Commonwealth countries are “waiting for the change” after which they will “reassess matters”.

“When Charles takes over it is going to be very, very difficult for [the royal family] indeed. I think a lot of Commonwealth countries are waiting for the change and then they will reassess matters. I think he will always be in her shadow. He may be better than people think,” O’Grady said.

Charles may need to tone down political views when he becomes King

“He’d be well advised to not be so political,” O’Grady said. “Princes of Wales’ are allowed to speak out in certain areas and he has done so, and I think he’ll just have to stop doing that when he is King. And I think he does understand that.”

However, Bond said she would “welcome” a more political King. “I would welcome the King to put forward his views on matters that are not party political, that has to be the distinction,” she said. “But matters that are sensitive, that are global, good for the environment et cetera, I see no reason why he can’t continue to talk out on that.”

Charles will “make a fine King”

“Knowing Charles a little bit as I have over the years, I’ve always maintained actually, that I think he has the makings of being a very fine King,” Bond said during the panel.

“He’s a decent person you know, he made an absolute mess of his first marriage and his private life, of which a lot of us have done that. It took a long, long time for the public to forgive him.”

It is “right” for Camilla to be known as Queen consort

Camilla and Charles are coming to the end of a three-day tour of Canada (PA Wire)
Camilla and Charles are coming to the end of a three-day tour of Canada (PA Wire)

After receiving the Queen’s blessing earlier this year, when the time comes for Charles to be King, Camilla will be known as Queen consort.

“If your name is King, then your wife’s name should be Queen. I’ve argued long and publicly that Camilla should be accorded that respect,” Bond said.

O’Grady added that this change in attitude has come from a “more mellowed” public.

“I remember in 1997, what a dangerous moment it was for the monarchy,” he said. “If the public didn’t want her to be Queen consort and there was some sort of backlash, then she couldn’t do it. Because everything that they do, all of the privileges that they have and the roles that they have does come from the consent of the people.

“Because that’s how they have managed to keep the institution running. If they are wise they won’t go against public opinion. Fortunately for Charles public opinion has moved.”

Bond said week of Diana’s death was the “most difficult of her life”

Bond was working as the BBC’s royal correspondent in 1997 when Diana died. “It was extremely difficult, the most difficult week of my life probably,” she explained. “The death of Diana was one of the rock-bottom moments for the Queen.”

Bond added that the monarchy “got an awful lot wrong that week”.

“Every decision that was made seemed to be wrong,” she continued. “People in London were clamouring for the Queen to come down. That was the moment that people wanted her to be the figurehead, the spokesperson, to emote and say what we were all feeling.

“The Queen doesn’t like to emote in public and she was bewildered by these demands to put her feelings on show when she felt she should be with her grandsons at Balmoral. So it was a stupendous week and extremely difficult for all those concerns. One which the monarchy only just survived, I think.”

The Queen has always been a “shy woman”

“I’ve always thought that she’s essentially quite a shy woman,” Bond explained. “When she was a child she told her governess at one time that she would have loved to be a farmer’s wife when she grows up, and she is at heart a real country woman who loves her horses and her dogs as we all know because, let’s face it, they don’t gossip.”

The Queen was “right” to stay silent during Andrew’s court case

The Queen and Prince Andrew arrive at Prince Philip’s memorial in March (Getty Images)
The Queen and Prince Andrew arrive at Prince Philip’s memorial in March (Getty Images)

During a court case earlier this year Virginia Giuffre claimed she had been sexually assaulted by Andrew as a teenager. The case was settled out of court for a multi-million pound sum. Andrew has consistently denied these allegations.

Andrew’s first public appearance since the case came at his father, Prince Philip’s, memorial in March to which he arrived arm-in-arm with the Queen.

“When [the Queen] attended Prince Philip’s memorial, she had him [Andrew] with her. I don’t know how much of that was conscious signalling and so forth, but she’s legendarily fond of him,” O’Grady said.

“In the end, when it came time to put the institution before even her son’s personal interests, that’s what she did, because the institution comes first.

“She could have left him entirely at home. She knew how far she could push it.”

Who is the Queen’s favourite child?

“There was talk years ago that Edward was her favourite child because he was the youngest,” Bond explained. “But lately it’s been Andrew, with everyone saying he is the favourite, and certainly she has shown motherly support to him through his controversial court case. But then Anne, your only daughter, mother and daughter? I think quite frankly, she loves them all equally. Any mother would love them all equally.”

There’s “no chance” that Charles will step down for William

While there have been calls from the public for some time for Prince Charles to step down and allow William to succeed the Queen, Bond said there will be “no chance of that whatsover”.

“Suggestions that the crown should skip a generation are well, well out,” she explained. “I don’t think William should be made to take on that level of responsibility at his relatively young age.

“Charles is certainly the best-trained monarch we’ve ever, ever had. And he wants the top job, whatever Diana said, and she told me that as well, that he would be happier painting in Tuscany than being King. But I think he does want the job he’s been trained for, and the fact of the matter is, that the instant the Queen dies, it’s long live the King.”

The Queen on the balcony will be a highlight of the platinum jubilee

The Trooping balcony appearance in 2018 (PA Archive)
The Trooping balcony appearance in 2018 (PA Archive)

“I think those moments of the Queen on the balcony after the Trooping the Colour, if she manages to make it onto the balcony, will be very special. That’s when people will really pay their tribute to her,” Bond explained.

A referendum today would choose to retain the monarchy

“We’ll think she is a grand old lady who was handed an enormous amount of responsibility, and a big job at a young age, and she did it very well,” Bond said.

“One of her greatest achievements is, and I honestly believe, that if we had a referendum today, on should the monarchy be abolished or should it stay, the vast majority would be in favour of the status quo.”

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