When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping. The rest go shopping in the stores of history. The stiff upper lip of the British is quivering with the EU-Brexit pre-nup mess doing the UK economy no favours; 1.47 million are jobless—the highest in 40 years. The immigrant problem continues, so do terrorism fears. How do the British cope? They take refuge in royalty. The wedding of Prince Harry and American actor Meghan Markle occupied hearts, minds and mouths across Britain. Respected dailies speculated on Meghan’s royal title, though she cannot officially be a princess. When the cabbages are rotten, kings come to the rescue.
Royalty has been the fulcrum of public life in the Isles since Magna Carta. The great British public worshipped Princess Diana, obsessing over her affairs, divorce and death. BBC broadcasts of King George IV, the present Queen Elizabeth’s father, during World War II’s darkest days kept British morale up. The monarchy is the only constant in changing Britain, which spends £43 million annually to keep the Windsors in style.
Other nations have redeeming monarchies, too. When Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej died in 2016, his grieving subjects wore black for a year. Scandinavian royals remain central to national identity—Norway’s King Harald V ritually appoints the government and The Netherlands’ Willem-Alexander heads the important Council of State. Lesotho’s Letsie III is a “living symbol of national unity”. The Japanese consider their sovereign divine. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is the poster boy of reform in repressive Saudi society. Twenty-six monarchies in the world rule 43 countries, but not all of them benign.
In America, showbiz is royalty. Grace Kelley’s wedding with Prince Rainier of Monaco in 1958 was an American fairy tale, inspiring many Cinderella movies. Hollywood actors and TV presenters are ambassadors of causes. Anti-Trump statements from Lady Gaga, Meryl Streep, George Clooney, Jimmy Henkel and others were viral political statements against a redneck presidency. Celebrity activists raise anti-AIDS funds, fight against violence against children and women in conflict zones and African genocides, support civil rights in China and fund cancer research. A group of Hollywood actors brought down powerful movie moguls and #MeToo trended worldwide as a women’s movement against sexual exploitation and many corporate czars, who used their positions to blackmail women at work for sex bit the dust. These men and women use their celebrity voltage to change the world.
And Indian royalty? Our kings have been relegated to glorified hotel keepers, while our film stars grovel to politicians for Rajya Sabha seats, government sinecures and membership of film festival juries. Politicians are India’s royalty today, the elected crowns on their heads lying easy while deciding national destiny. Political dynasties rule India, engage in massive corruption, are involved in questionable land deals, take power at any cost or go to jail or fall to palace intrigue. So, quo vadis, dispirited Indians? The past seems to be our best bet, where our best kings and queen still live, going by the political battles raging over Tipu Sultan and Padmavati. Highness is at its lowest ebb, and there is no sign of the tide turning.