Media The Queen The Royal Family

The Queen was wrong to trivialise 'soul-baring' – it's good for the royal image

By Richard J. Hillgrove VI | Founder

May 10, 2017 | 8 min read

A new, evolved royal brand is emerging like a butterfly from its chrysalis, and soul-baring is an innate part of its being.

Far from the young royals being out of step with their ‘private projects’, it’s the Queen who has faltered on this one. Change is inevitable and there’s nothing worse than denying it. Look what happened to the music industry with the onset of digital.

Reportedly trivialising the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry’s non-ceremonial works and allowing their ‘soul-baring’ to be admonished in public – a royal "source" told the Sunday Times "soul-baring is not what the Palace is looking for" – was about as un-grandmotherly as you can get. And in an announcement about Prince Philip’s retirement when he’s about to turn 96, too. You have to wonder whose idea it really was – the Queen’s or her communications department.

Instead, the announcement should have been a tribute to the Duke of Edinburgh’s hard work – he has made 22,191 solo public engagements and 637 overseas visits – and a shout out to job-share his massive workload. Prince Edward and his wife already seem ready to roll with it.

The Queen’s office should have honoured Prince Philip and discussed what enormous shoes his are to fill, then outline how only a true team effort can maintain the pace and momentum he set in carrying out his duties.

It could have been a real ‘family pulling together’ announcement. A ’stronger together’ rally call. What we got was just divisive.

There’s no bigger brand globally than Her Majesty and her royal family so it’s hardly surprising there should be resistance to change from the stiff old guard.

The brand that exports Britishness around the world is valued at around £58bn. Even so, brand and business valuation agency Brand Finance estimates that the Royal Family's net contribution to the UK economy was only around £1.144bn for 2016, compared to £1.155bn in 2015.

If the royals’ contribution is sliding, maybe there should be a changing of the guard sooner rather than later, or at least a nod to evolution.

As head of the family firm, the Queen has made it abundantly clear she will never abdicate and it looks like she intends to spend her final years – it could be as many as 10 if she takes after her mother – setting the agenda for her successors.

It’s never easy to say goodbye, but rather than rein in the young ones, she should give them their heads.

The Queen’s personal brand is as strong as ever, and will remain a beacon for time immemorial, so she needn’t fear change. She needs to be seen to accept change rather than take a pop at the younger generation.

Up until now, there hasn't been much differentiation between Her Majesty’s personal brand and the royal family brand. Royalty IS the Queen. Pretty much everything for the last 70 years has been about how family members, including Prince Philip, reflect and support her brand, whether their foibles and indiscretions have compromised it.

But if she wasn’t amused by much of the younger generation’s antics, why not pick up the phone and deal with it privately? Instead, royal "realignment" was announced in front of 500 staff at Buckingham Palace by the Queen's private secretary Sir Christopher Geidt, washing the dirty royal linen in pubic, Jeremy Kyle-style. Not the kind of change we’re looking for.

Word was put out that the Queen believes more emphasis needs to be placed on state business instead of the Heads Together mental health campaign launched by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, but why humiliate the young royals in the middle of Mental Health Awareness Week?

Statistics show that teen suicide rates have increased by nearly 4% and most observers have applauded Princes Harry and William for showing huge courage in finally speaking openly about their struggles to come to terms with the death of their mother, Diana, 20 years ago.

Bold Prince Harry has said “the monarchy has to advance in terms of tackling difficult issues”, while Kensington Palace says Princes William and Harry have raised over £10m for charity over the past 10 years.

We’re seeing a new set of brand values emerge, clear divisions in priorities, outlook and strategy. The younger generation wants to expand their own initiatives in mental health, conservation and HIV/Aids. They want to put people at the heart of the royal brand like Princess Diana before them.

It’s taken Prince Harry 20 years to uncover his emotions. His courage endeared him to a widely supportive public. Ticking him off for it shows the Queen as out of step with public opinion yet again.

Her Majesty may disapprove of their antics, but the young ones are no slouches when it comes to filling the coffers. The ‘Kate effect’ alone has been attributed with raking in more than £152m in 2015. If Kate wears it, the world wants it. It’s been a while since the Queen set the fashion world on fire.

Of course, the sideswipe at William, Kate, and Harry could also have been aimed at Her Majesty’s son and heir, Prince Charles, whose own antics must fill her with trepidation.

He raised a considerable number of eyebrows when he announced he wanted to be a defender of the faiths rather than the faith. He’s outspoken on climate change and in 1999 he boycotted a banquet given by the Chinese president in London in protest at China’s treatment of Tibet.

As the spectre of a one-party state grows ever more tangible, Her Majesty could be forgiven for fearing her true opposition lies in a future King Charles. This scenario was explored in To Play The King, the 1993 sequel to the BBC’s House of Cards.

Now we have the new controversial BBC2 drama, King Charles III, adapted from the award-winning play of the same name by Mike Bartlett and starring the late Tim Piggott-Smith in the title role.

The drama imagines Prince Charles as an interfering king who tries to overrule Parliament, supposedly putting the future of the royal family in doubt, but a radical king could be bang on the money for the times.

What if King Charles III were to stand up to fascism? What if he took a stand against climate change deniers like Donald Trump? What if he turned the constitutional monarchy around and refused to just rubber stamp what’s put in front of him?

There’s some right royal brand radicalism for you!

Buckingham Palace may have Prince Charles's children in the firing line right now for their supposed ‘distractions’, but they’re just chips off their old man’s block.

The Queen clearly sees Prince Charles’s ‘distractions’, like The Prince’s Trust, as a sideshow to the royal cavalcade, although she daren’t say it.

A king who tells it as he feels it could breathe fresh air into The Firm’s slightly stale brand. We’re still waiting for Queen to reveal whether she might bow to Donald Trump’s request for a ride in her golden carriage when he comes to Britain for a State visit. It’s hard to believe Charles III would keep his cards so close to his chest.

Prince Philip was no stranger to speaking his mind, of course, usually with his foot firmly in his mouth as the Evening Standard was quick to point out by listing his top 100 gaffes.

Prince Harry’s honesty was a whole new ball game. His bravery in speaking about his mental health and expressing himself about the death of his mother took huge courage. It also took royal family communications to a different level.

He’s brought the potent power of the personal to a global mega brand. It’s an approach all the royals could all copy if they want to stay relevant.

You can contact Richard on email or Twitter @6hillgrove

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