The culture war previously known as Brexit has flared up in the responses to the departure of Harry and Meghan from their roles as senior royals. Sympathies and speculation ran along demographic faultlines. To many young people, this was an issue of race and mental health. Also, the young reckon that loyalty to an organisation has to be earned rather than assumed. To many older people, it was about a shocking lack of consideration towards the Queen. "We cope" was supposedly the response of Prince Philip when royalty came under strain. Meghan uses a different language of personal development and global citizenship.
The first cultural splinters appeared during the fairytale wedding, when the US bishop Michael Curry ran wildly over time and a camera alighted on the face of Zara Tindall, desperately trying not to giggle, a natural English response to anything unfamiliar or serious.
Those of us who have an historical memory of Princess Diana see events unfold as part of a two-generation story. Who knows how the next generation will play out? Archie will be brought up very differently to Prince Harry, but genes and history may prevail. My elder son had a dual upbringing, with a father based in Hollywood. He turned into a dyed-in-the-wool Norfolk country bumpkin. You can never tell.
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Could we have predicted this end? Shortly before Harry guest-edited the Today programme a couple of years ago, a colleague and I went to talk to him at Kensington Palace. It coincided with the anniversary of Diana's death, and the gates were strewn with flowers.
I did not know whether to say anything to Harry, and he chose not to mention the gathering mourners outside and instead brimmed with infectious ideas: how could technology be harnessed for good? Conservation and the environment. An interview with President Obama. A cheeky test on whether the president watched Suits. Harry requested one divergence from the traditional running order: he did not want a newspaper review. Oh, and he turned down my idea of getting the Queen to pick the racing tips.
I was reminded of the prince's view of the press when the royal editor of the Daily Mirror came on the programme to discuss Meghan and Harry's dismissal of the royal rota. He said afterwards that his newspaper had tried hard to be helpful to the couple, offering to cover their latest charity. But when the journalist looked up the charity, all he could find was a series of memes on positive thinking. He wondered how that would go down with readers in Barnsley.
The relationship between the royals and the press has been chequered and sometimes ugly. I was at the Daily Telegraph during the Diana years and, like most of the other papers, depended on her for sales. She was beautiful, mercurial and dramatically expressive. She could look pensive, athletic, luminously loving.
Commentators have drawn lines between royalty and celebrity. Diana was a celebrity, who liked London and New York. The royal family is by its nature provincial.
I remember, too, the fear and guilt in newsrooms when she died. What had the press done? I accompanied Charles Moore, the then Daily Telegraph editor, to an emergency meeting of newspaper editors, reading out to them a denunciation from Earl Spencer. I later realised the relationship between the royals and the press was more complicated and conniving. All of us who have watched the HBO series Succession know about the instinct for survival in family firms.
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The general rhythm of the press is bad behaviour followed by contrition followed by rough behaviour and then further remorse. It is what we call self-regulation. This time, however, the accused journalists are indignant.
A Washington Post columnist writes: "Make no mistake: The racist, sexist and classist abuse that was thrown at Meghan from established corners of the media is what pushed the couple into this decision." Britain's tabloid journalists counter that this is emotional blackmail from a couple who can bear to hear only the language of West Coast award ceremonies.
Crucially, the balance of power has changed since Diana. The tabloids are broke and social media is unstoppable. On one side of the new culture war you have global power, money and wokeness. On the other a defence of Queen and country and a resentment at being lectured and patronised. It is Brexit all over again. The balance of public opinion on the Harry-Meghan affair is the latest test of identity.
One of the Today programme's Christmas guest editors was Greta Thunberg, and we got a kicking for flying to Stockholm to see her. My self-important defence that we were pushed for time only aggravated the offence.
Why not Skype in that case? I argue that there is nothing like a face-to-face interview: you pick up signals and the conversation can take unexpected turns. Greta's moral universe is black and white, and she is not very interested in introspection. It is the detail of her responses that is telling. Her intense concentration and then absentness. Her pleasure in her cosy Christmas socks. Her father's solicitous and careful manner with her. You build up a picture. But media organisations will, I am sure, do more Skypeing for cost as well as carbon. Journalists may travel less, relying more on local reporting. Citizen journalism is on the rise.
January gets a bad press but I love the melancholy skies and East Anglian sunsets and the first appearance of snowdrops. It is a good time for Armando Iannucci to release his film of David Copperfield, both sad and hopeful.
It is a parade of comic innocents and a theme that more unites humanity than divides it. My first blub came, naturally, over the child wife Dora. She stands behind David Copperfield as he writes at his desk and brightly offers to hold his pens. She then asks him with heartbreaking modesty to write her out of the story, she doesn't quite fit. I email Armando to say what a brilliant twist to have her holding her husband's pens. He replies that this was in the original Dickens. The magic of great writers is their timelessness.
Written by: Sarah Sands
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