A man, born a prince in one land, who became a duke and was then made a prince of a currently far richer land, has died a little before reaching his 100th birthday and our nation is at a standstill. Listening to a tune on my radio being silenced mid stream yesterday, my own heart went soft for a while as a presenter told of this moment and for the next half an hour, no national station did anything else but broadcast this single insert. The world had stopped. And today, all the papers have this man’s photo on their front pages and most of their interiors contain images of him at various stages of his life.
From beyond these borders, it might be seen as mass hysteria. My initial reaction was sadness, for him, hoping his death was easy, for his wife, hoping she is able to adapt without it breaking her heart too much, after all, they have been married for longer than the extent of most people’s lives. But as the voices on the radio rolled on and on, my thoughts shifted. Yes, this man was important, yes, he’s been there all the time in the background, but so many have died this year. Then I thought, that’s another reason his death is being marked. It is as if we, who have mostly lost so many but have not been able to attend their funerals, have a collective need to now let our emotions be expressed.
I respected this man, not because of his position, but for who he was. I could have met him several times, for I admired what he did for the young who came to me to be coached towards an award he had set up, and whose prize was a certificate given at the Palace in London. I did not attend each time because I was a republican but because I gave my position at that sumptuous ceremony to a more deserving relative of the proud teenager I had taught, amongst other things, mountain skills high in the Alps. I once took a group of teenagers to a knitting factory the week after the Prince had toured it. The women manning the machines told the kids, “Prince Philip entered and called out, ‘Good morning ladies, who is the Chief Knit in here?’ We burst out laughing.”
Despite my disinterest in Royalty, it does have its part to play. Everyone wants to work with these people and that gives any organisation they get involved in clout. Prince Phillip also helped set up The World Wildlife Fund in 1962. He passed his respect for nature on to his son Prince Charles, who I briefly met, but who, I was glad to see, turned his keen attention to the rough inner city youth whose work I had presented in a display for the Prince’s Trust’. I watched Prince Charles ask them questions which meant something, no platitudes, genuine interest, and the troubled lads, sensing his gravitas, responded with enthusiasm. They didn’t stop talking about Him for weeks.
And Prince Harry, despite his current weird position, is a genuine, decent man, as is Prince William. I know because I’ve heard it from those close to my heart who have close relationships with these individuals. And that’s the rub, these people may have grown up in palaces with servants galore, which has undoubtably given them the odd strange habit, but despite the unsavoury press about them, they are good, upright folk. They are also intelligent, principled and have vision. This combination singles them out, engenders respect. And that is what their 'magic' is.
We humans are programmed to need role models. It began as we evolved in the savanna where certain members of our Homo Erectus clans learnt to light fires, develop hunting techniques and find better ways to survive. Every human group since, from ancient hunter gathers to current tribes, has members whose wisdom, skills, outlook or compassion engender respect. In the Pyrenean valley, La Valley d’Aspe, for centuries such individuals could have been of either gender, young or ancient and they were/are chosen to represent each family in their specific village and then in their Collective Council of the Valley.
Today in England we have our princesses and princes; despite their Disney life styles, and although I am not for a monarchy, it seems they do give this society some sort of constancy. Perhaps this is because our politicians are disappointingly selfish and untrustworthy. The lesson they impart is that, we should find a way to improve our supposed democracy so that we are represented by people who care for the greater good, and not merely for their own gain. We need more Gretas, more kosher leaders with an environmental awareness to inspire us the work our way out out of this materialistic mess we seem addicted to.