There are some people in life you end up knowing far too much about against your will, whether it's overhearing your neighbour’s affair through the wall or someone you haven’t spoken to since Year 9 who insists on documenting every single one of her relationship woes on Facebook. For the royal family, 2021 has been their year to do just that.
In the same 12 months that we lived through the story of Nicki Minaj’s cousin’s friend's huge balls, narrowly missing out on a Euros win, and what feels like one million Tory fuck-ups, the British monarchy decided that this would also be their messiest year on record.
This level of public scandal is usually reserved for families used to the spotlight, like the Kardashian-Jenners. But you don’t have to look far back in the royal family’s history to see that although they’re used to scandals, they’re usually even better at skating over them. Whether it’s Prince Charles wishing he was Camilla’s tampon or Harry dressing up as a Nazi, there’s always a royal birth, a wedding or a ribbon-cutting ceremony to paste over it. With nothing left to hide behind but a miserable pandemic, 2021 tore off the Windsor mask for good, and they’ve been trying to put it back on ever since.
In March, just a year after officially cutting ties with the rest of the family, Meghan and Harry sat down for a two-hour tell-all with Oprah. The revelations included, among other things, Meghan’s suicidal thoughts, her harassment at the hands of the press and Harry having to get a job for the first time – but the stickiest and not all too surprising one involved their son Archie. Although they refused to reveal exactly who said it, Megan claimed that a member of the royal family had “concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he’s born”.
Naturally, the interview aggravated the more right-wing end of the British press who, like clockwork, tried to force Black pundits to go on Good Morning Britain and debate racism with Piers Morgan. But the most pressing question that came out of it was: Which member of the royal family said the offensive line?
In the days and weeks after the interview aired, the Royal Family concocted a series of heavy-handed PR stunts to save face. While on a visit to an east London school, Prince William told the press “No, we are very much not a racist family” while the Queen announced a “diversity drive” to “modernise the monarchy”.
Nothing they tried to pull off went smoothly. Even the death of Prince Philip, the queen’s husband of 73 years, only served to resurrect his old one-liners in the press, including that old racist classic: “Do you still throw spears at each other?” Even his death itself was overshadowed on Radio 1’s Dance Anthems, where the announcement of his passing was reduced to an interruption of a bass drop.
The other dark cloud that continues to loom is Prince Andrew’s involvement in the Jeffrey Epstein case, something that has trickled down from last year. According to reports in The Mirror Andrew has had to “cancel Christmas” for his lawyers – paid for by his mum – to prepare for his court hearing in early January next year. (He has steadfastly denied all allegations of sexual abuse.)
Three in five Brits still support the Royal Family, but a growing number of young people believe that the UK should give them the boot. And the traditional deference to Your Maj may be fading fast, with announcements about the Queen’s ill health transformed into memes and jokes about our putative ruler having a Hot Girl Winter, shagging Pete Davidson and getting a BBL. And that’s before you even get into the overseas perception of the monarchy, with Barbados removing the Queen as its head of state, and Jamaica soon to follow suit.
Still, the inevitability of having Prince Charles as king in the near future might be what actually pushes the family over the edge. Can you imagine singing “God Save the King” to a man who once said he wanted to be reincarnated as a tampon? Right now, the only thing holding the monarchy’s image together is a 96-year-old woman who can apparently be forgiven for all sins, as she’s effectively Britain’s nan. It’s clear that the Windsors will have to work overtime to claw back any popularity when she dies, but whether the Queen will call up Kris Jenner to come on board as the royal drama consultant remains to be seen.