Speaking Ill of the Dead

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The general public was seriously underwhelmed by the death of Princess Margaret.

It was a striking symbol of the decline in popularity of the royal family. The crash barriers had been erected to hold back the crowds who would turn up to sign a condolence book for Princess Margaret, yet there were no crowds. The crash barriers were as surplus to requirements as Jo Moore at the Ministry of Transport. If you add to this indifference the apparent panic about the lack of interest in the queen's Golden Jubilee, you can see how far things have travelled in the last 25 years.

I still remember the Silver Jubilee clearly--the flags and bunting, the street decorations and street parties. I remember how I, along with a group of friends, was thrown out of a pub on the day of the great event because we refused to stand and toast the queen. In fact we were lucky to get out of there alive, as some of Portsmouth's more enthusiastic supporters of the monarchy clearly believed we had committed high treason, and the death penalty, or at the very least a good kicking, was an appropriate punishment for our lack of patriotism.

We wore our 'Stuff the Jubilee' badges with pride, and occasionally with trepidation. We gave deepest thanks to the Sex Pistols, who had the affront to shout out loud their contempt for the monarchy, and in the process gave us an anthem of defiance. We knew, though, that we were a minority swimming against a powerful tide of patriotic pomposity.

Of course it is true that Princess Margaret was probably the least popular and most discredited of the royals. Nevertheless, had she died back then I have no doubt the country would have come to a standstill, with much wailing and gnashing of teeth being done for the dear sister of the dear queen. Nor is there much doubt that when her time comes the queen mother will get a rather grander send-off. Nevertheless, those empty crash barriers last month tell us much. For the truth is that the monarchy as an institution, and the Windsors as a family, have been largely discredited in the ensuing 25 years.

The spate of fairytale royal weddings has ended in nightmarish divorces. The royals and their spouses were frequently caught behaving badly. The future king has become a laughing stock. Even the huge outpouring of 'national grief' for his former wife is now looked back on with much embarrassment and largely dismissed as a media-inspired creation.

Nor are most people happy with the vast squandering of taxpayers' money on these parasites. Indeed, such was the distaste for this waste that the monarchy was forced to start paying tax, and the civil lists were cut to exclude second cousins three times removed and other inbreds from the list. Not that this has left the family itself in any hardship. Forgetting for a moment the palaces, castles, royal trains and yachts, it surely tells us an awful lot about the whole motley crew that Princess Margaret was able to leave behind an estate of £20 million on which no inheritance tax will be paid.

It is said that you should not speak ill of the dead, but let me make an exception in this case. This woman never did a day's work in her life yet ended up with £20 million. How utterly obscene. One of the rather more pathetic apologies for the monarchy is the 'they have a very hard life you know' argument. Well, Margaret's life was one long indulgence. She was a playgirl, drinking her way from party to party. She was indulged and fawned upon by the rich and famous, had a string of affairs, and was, even by royal standards, notoriously lazy. Indeed, she even seemed to find the easy tasks of royal life too much. One of the franker interviews after her death was with some retired colonel who described how she was once meant to inspect his troops. She was the titular head of the regiment apparently, a sort of royal mascot, but with rather less qualification for the job than the goat who formally held the title.

The troops had spent much time practising for the great day, and were on the parade ground awaiting her arrival. She eventually turned up very late, got out of the car, took a few steps and then announced, 'Oh, I can't do this.' She then got back in the car and was taken to the officers' mess, where she quaffed three large ones before heading off for the next junket. This was 'very bad form' as far as the army chaps were concerned.

Two attempts have been made to try and paint her in a better light. One is to say that as a playgirl princess she was allowed to be irresponsible, have a bit of fun and be more relaxed than her uptight sister. In reality, however, she wanted the best of both worlds. While loving the life of a playgirl on Mustique, she also demanded that protocol be strictly observed. She may not have wanted to 'behave like a royal', but she always wanted to be treated like one.

Nor are the attempts to show her choosing duty over love in her youth very convincing. They may make her seem more romantic, but in truth when push came to shove she clung like a limpet to position and privilege. Along with all the royal pride came lashings of prejudice. She was anti-Semitic, racist and deeply reactionary. The first time I can remember her impinging on my conscience in any meaningful way was when she announced to the mayor of Chicago that 'the Irish are pigs, all pigs'. This coming from a woman who had spent her whole life with her snout in the trough.

There is something deeply satisfying about the fact that it should be the death of this particular parasitic bigot that shows us all that the Windsor roadshow has now lost almost all of its lustre.