For eight months, Queen Elizabeth II has been ordered to take care of herself. And for good reason: the national celebrations planned for his platinum jubilee, celebrating the 70th anniversary of his reign, are too important on a symbolic level to consider the slightest risk. The Queen must be in as regal shape as possible for a 96-year-old lady. On the program of festivities – which are worth four public holidays to the British, from June 1 to 5 -: cannon salutes, garden parties and tea parties galore, giant street picnics, not to mention rock and pop concerts whose Brits have the secret. The American Diana Ross, 78, will even come out of retirement to close the concert broadcast live on the BBC. And for four days, Her gracious Majesty’s subjects will be in unison, for they love her like a mother, grandmother or great-grandmother. Yes, but after her?
Precisely, this forced rest since the fall, first of all due to a urinary tract infection which earned him a stay in hospital, then “mobility problems”, began to prepare people’s minds for his withdrawal from public life and to a regency which does not yet say its name, that of Prince Charles, 73, heir to the throne. On May 10, the Queen’s eldest son delivered the Sovereign’s annual address for the first time – penned by Downing Street – to Britain’s Parliament, with his mother’s Imperial Crown placed to his right. Strapped into his red admiral’s uniform and clad in his military medals, he passed this great oral sitting in an armchair, not as a sovereign but as a consort, his wife Camilla and his son William by his side. Perfect staging of continuity. However, if all the institutions of the country, from Parliament to the BBC via Buckingham Palace and Downing Street, have already rehearsed in the smallest details the scenario which will engage the second of the official announcement of his death, no one knows how the British will react to the disappearance of Elizabeth II.
A vast survey carried out by the British Future think tank highlights very different attitudes, depending on the nations that make up the kingdom. Thus, the Scots are only 45% to want to keep the monarchy after the death of the queen, against 58% in the rest of the country. Similarly, throughout the kingdom, only 40% of 18-24 year olds and 37% of ethnic minorities say they want to perpetuate this political system, more than a third of young people preferring an elected head of state. For Sunder Katwala, director of British Future, if the Crown wants to survive, it must embrace contemporary cultural and social developments and above all not barricade itself in tradition. Why, he slips, not to use, for example, the royal residences to welcome refugees from Ukraine, Hong Kong or Afghanistan?
Easier said than done. Is the monarchy flexible enough to make this big difference? It is to this equation with several unknowns that Prince Charles wants to find an answer. For several years now, with the help of his son William, he has been thinking about and preparing for the “post-queen”. We know that the Prince of Wales wants to reduce the royal family to the only members who work for the institution and the country. The strings of the public purse are not elastic and the taxpayers – who finance the “royal endowment” – want their money’s worth, he is convinced. Harry felt it when he and his wife Meghan set sail for California. Both hoped to continue working for the monarchy on a part-time basis. “Impossible”, decided Elizabeth, Charles and William after a summit meeting. Harry therefore had to enter into contracts with Netflix and Spotify to compensate for his loss of income.
In the new royal configuration wanted by Charles, there are also the first cousins of William and Harry, condemned to earn a living, as well as Prince Andrew, the dubious uncle incriminated in the sordid Epstein affair, definitively excluded from any public representation. Charles, his wife Camilla, William and his wife Kate, helped by Charles’ sister and younger brother, Princess Anne and Prince Edward (as well as his wife Sophie), should make up the new reduced team. For Camilla Cavendish, former adviser to David Cameron at Downing Street, it was time. “If the English monarchy had followed the Spanish, Swedish, Danish and Dutch monarchies down the path of modesty, Harry and Meghan’s unpacking of dirty laundry would not have happened.” Instead, she continues, “the royal family has continued to play the luxury brand and its even distant members are treated as objects of fascination and celebrities.” A real trap. If Prince Charles succeeds in this downsizing at the top of the institution, he will earn points for the future.
In the meantime, an institutional question will soon arise with acuity: that of the relevance of triggering the Regency Act of 1937, in order to officially make Charles the “prince regent”. For royalty scholar Clive Irving, author of The Last Queen, “it will probably be after the Jubilee.” The regency would have an undeniable interest for the one who devoted her life to her subjects: it would save her from abdicating. Elizabeth II would remain sovereign while delegating duties to the regent. This transition would also make it possible to continue to prepare people’s minds for its disappearance. Last but not least, it would give Prince Charles the opportunity to take on – finally – a more active role in winning the hearts of his subjects. Like his mother before him.