Easter picture proves big royal problem

If there is one thing the royal family is in desperately short supply of right now, it’s smiles.
Last week the Queen delivered only the fourth TV address of her reign, striking an appropriately sombre yet grandmotherly bearing which earned her universal plaudits.
Prince Charles has delivered a series of endearingly amateurish video messages from his remote Scottish retreat after himself recovering from the disease (using a stack of books to keep an iPad vertical – royals, they are just like us).
Meanwhile, William and Kate the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have shared photos of themselves Very Seriously Working From Home during this global catastrophe. Well done chaps!
However, this royal smile deficit was an issue even before the current COVID-19 crisis. Just think about the myriad shots from the March 9 Commonwealth Day service at Westminster Abbey which looked like an exquisite exercise in familial misery. The Brady Bunch in four-figure hats, they were very much not.
While we might have gotten used to these sour faces and glum countenances of late, you only have to rewind a year to the Easter Sunday last year to see how dramatically and swiftly things have changed.
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It was a gloriously sunny day in Windsor and the Queen’s grandchildren were out in charming force to mark both the occasion (and the fact it was Her Majesty’s actual birthday).
William and Kate rolled up, laughing and chatting and – prepare yourself – nearly holding hands.
Autumn Phillips turned up actually hand-in-hand with her husband Peter, Princess Anne’s son.
Prince Andrew made his way to the Chapel among a cheerful, grinning group that included his daughter Princess Beatrice, the Cambridges and Edward and Sophie Wessex and their children.
Then, there’s Prince Harry who was flying solo for the 2019 service with wife Meghan Duchess of Sussex was only weeks away from giving birth.
While Harry’s glum countenance did not go unnoticed at the time, overall the Sussex brand was going gangbusters. Their glamour, propensity to doll out hugs and heartsleeve-earnestness had won them a global fan base. More importantly, Harry and Meghan were still seen as very much integral figures in regards to the royal brand’s future success.
Overall, this was a royal family on the ascendancy, a (mostly) cohesive unit who presented to the world the image of a monarchy being, if not exactly relevant, then at least charming and a valuable addition to society.
And today?
In January, the Phillips’ announced they are set to divorce, the first of Her Majesty’s grandchildren to pass this sad milestone.
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Andrew’s friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein and his disastrous attempts to explain the situation triggered a mortifying global scandal that threatened to undermine decades of good PR (and yet still might). It is impossible to imagine William and Kate would acquiesce to being seen in public with him now or any time in the near future.
Princess Beatrice, having gotten engaged to property developer Edwardo Mapelli Mozzi, has faced having her wedding preparations eclipsed by the long shadow cast by her father’s ignominious downfall. Even if she had wanted a big glorious wedding at St George’s Chapel such as the ones that the Sussexes’ and her sister Princess Eugenie got to enjoy, that would never, ever have been a possibility for Bea.
And the Sussexes? They have bolted from the royal fold to start a new life thousands of kilometres away. Currently, they are in LA, ensconced, according to reports, in a Hollywood mansion as they try to carve out a niche in the already crowded philanthropic field while looking to pick up paying gigs.
The Queen spent this Easter inside her apartments at Windsor Castle, where she is being looked after by only eight staff, rather than the usual 300-odd.
On Saturday, she released what the BBC reports is her first Easter message, offering a message of hope and saying that: “This year Easter will be different for many of us.”
While Her Majesty was clearly referring to the virulent, devastating spread of COVID-19, that statement also sadly holds true when it comes to the 93-year-old’s own family.
Imagine if COVID-19 had never blighted the world and the Queen and Co. had as usual attended a service at St George’s Chapel in 2020. Imagine just how dismal, in comparison to last year, the photos of the family would have been.
There would have rightly been no Andrew, his very presence having become so toxic that it is impossible to imagine any senior HRH wanting to be so publicly associated with him.
Harry and Meghan might have been there, though there is every chance they might not have, given they skipped joining the Queen at Balmoral over the summer last year and chose to spend Christmas in North America.
If the Sussexes had turned up and appeared alongside the Cambridges, the two couples would have, given how studiously they ignored one another in March at the Abbey, done their darnedest to purposefully avoid one another. Hardly the stirring picture of royal unity now is it?
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No matter how expensive the hats in this 2020 image or just how hard everyone worked to plaster on smiles, this hypothetical Easter service photo would have ultimately been a painful, stark reminder of just how badly fractured the family has become and how much damage has been done to the royal brand.
The easy smiles would be gone. So too would be the natural delight in one another’s company.
No one knows what the world will look like in 2021 and no one knows who will be standing alongside Her Majesty outside St George’s Chapel come Easter 2021. Let’s hope, nay pray, that the world will have something to smile about, and so too will the Windsors.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.