COMMENT

The world watched in horror as Prince Andrew gave his trainwreck interview this week – but its biggest impact has been inside the palace, writes Daniela Elser of news.com.au

This weekend, like every weekend of her adult life, the Queen was driven to church. Sitting in the back of a Range Rover, Her Majesty's face was its usual impassive, stoic mask.

Only hours earlier her favourite child, Prince Andrew had given what might go down as the most spectacularly disastrous interview in royal history. Somewhat ironically, that same Sunday, the hotly anticipated season three of The Crown was released, a series which has gone to incredible lengths to humanise the Queen.

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Sadly, we have years – decades – to wait until the Netflix show covers the current period in royal history making it nearly impossible to even hazard a guess as to what was going through her mind on Sunday.

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What we do know is that for more than six decades she has steered the monarchy through myriad crises, affairs, scandals and imbroglios, not to mention the occasional constitutional crisis.

Prince Andrew appears on BBC Newsnight in a disastrous interview. Photo/BBC
Prince Andrew appears on BBC Newsnight in a disastrous interview. Photo/BBC

Through it all she has been the steady hand, an immovable, implacable force making her power and sway keenly felt.

Now, the events of the last couple of months have started to point to a sad truth – that her iron grip on her family is slipping.

Most notably, Prince Andrew's absolute debacle of an interview. Reports vary about quite when his 93-year-old mother found out that he planned to sit down with the BBC's Newsnight programme to address the ongoing controversy surrounding his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

No matter, Her Majesty was clearly at the very least "aware" of what her son was planning, before it was actually filmed. That is, she could have put her foot down and exercised her authority (and good judgment) to stop her wayward son from pursuing this high risk strategy.

She clearly did not, meaning we are left with the uncomfortable conclusion that either the Queen is so misguided that she thought this extraordinary interview might actually work and draw a line under this tawdry affair or she exercises so little sway over her own children that they can do what they want.

The Queen must have been at the very least
The Queen must have been at the very least "aware" of what her son Prince Andrew was planning, before it was actually filmed. Photo / AP

The Telegraph this week quoted palace insiders who accused the Duke's private office of "operating in a silo". Which well may be, but how the royal family as a whole functions and how the various bureaucratic pieces fit together is surely dictated by one person and one person only – and her face is on all of our money.

This is not the only recent example of senior members of the family going rogue and doing what they wanted without input from "the boss".

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In October, Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, went dramatically off-piste and announced they were suing the Daily Mail in the UK for alleged misuse of private information and The Sun and the Daily Mirror for alleged phone hacking.

According to The Sun, the Sussexes embarked on this combative strategy without consulting a senior member of the Windsor clan such as Prince Charles or Prince William. Similarly, Harry's excoriating, bombshell statement was reportedly written without conferring with the Queen or with Buckingham Palace advisers.

Then, Harry and Meghan very publicly eschewed the traditional royal Christmas celebration at Sandringham to spend the holidays in the United States.

In October, Meghan and Harry announced they were suing the Daily Mail for alleged misuse of private information. Photo / AP
In October, Meghan and Harry announced they were suing the Daily Mail for alleged misuse of private information. Photo / AP

All of which stands in disappointing contrast to the last two decades of royal life during which the Windsor family has presented a powerfully united front.

At weddings, church services and every time one of them picked up a polo mallet, a gaggle of other HRHs would merrily swarm along, putting on a splendid show of togetherness. And therein lies the secret: As an institution, its survival (and brand and image) depends on the constant projection of a united front.

Having different courts pushing competing interests and agendas is nothing short of dangerous.

The monarchy rests on acquiescence to one principle: Total, unequivocal support to whoever wears the Crown. Putting petty quibbles, personal strife and individual concerns ahead of the wellbeing of the Queen (or King down the track) is inherently perilous. There is a strict hierarchy for a reason.

The Queen has always known this, which is why she (and Prince Philip who is known to be the family's iron fist) have made numerous difficult decisions over the years to guarantee the endurance of the monarchy at the expense of personal happiness.

Proof: Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales might have been separated for a number of years but neither was pushing for a divorce in the 90s.

As an institution The Firm's survival (and brand and image) depends on the constant projection of a united front. Photo / AP
As an institution The Firm's survival (and brand and image) depends on the constant projection of a united front. Photo / AP

By 1996, the Queen had realised that an end needed to be put to the rancorous, gangrenous relationship between the Waleses for the good of the monarchy. Ditto imposing harsh conditions on her beloved sister Princess Margaret when she wanted to marry Group Captain Peter Townsend.

Time and again she has made, or forced her family, to bend to her will, but now that fortitude and command seems to be slipping.

The consequence of this scenario not being checked is the royal family descending into being nothing more than a bickering, fractious, self-involved clan more interested in advancing their own brand or causes than maintaining the (outward at least) dignity of the monarchy. Basically, they would be little more than Kardashians with the keys to the Crown Jewels.

The Andrew situation only continues to escalate. It is unusual for royal scandals to garner more than one or two days of front page newspaper coverage. As of the time of writing, the UK was going into its fourth day with stories about the Duke splashed across numerous front pages.

Over the decades, the Queen has been the steady hand, an immovable, implacable force making her power and sway keenly felt. Photo / AP
Over the decades, the Queen has been the steady hand, an immovable, implacable force making her power and sway keenly felt. Photo / AP

On a personal level, all of this must be deeply distressing for the Queen, who has enjoyed nearly two decades of relative stability and family happiness (not to mention the attendant good PR that comes with all of that). By pitting themselves against Her Majesty, consciously or not, these Windsors are putting their Queen's relationships under huge pressure.

In 2015, the Queen became the longest serving monarch in British history, a truly remarkable milestone. To this day, she nearly universally tops polls of the most popular member of the royal family. (Occasionally Prince Harry beats her to the top spot.)

She has steered the monarchy through the better part of a century of unprecedented social and technological upheaval, all the while ensuring that the antediluvian trappings of the Crown remained intact. It would be tragic if, having come so far, her command slipped at such a crucial moment.

Right now, the kids (and grandkids) are not all right.