I was always a bit ‘meh’ about the royal family. I never loved them, never hated them, have always been puzzled why they are so popular given their very odd lives and lifestyles. For all the expense of having them, I rarely thought a republican state would be an improvement. Princess Diana changed all that for me. Whilst she still came from aristocratic stock, there was something different about her.
Diana seemed to care about things that traditionally royals didn’t care about, or if they did, they hid it pretty well. She involved herself in ‘difficult’ subjects, like landmines and AIDS. The latter saw her get closely involved in the LGBT community, not somewhere you would normally expect to see a royal. But she did. Thanks at least in part to her work, attitudes changed. Her sons have, quite wonderfully, continued with what has been a remarkable transformation in how we see the royals.
The most striking aspect, at least to me, has been their involvement with mental health. To this day, mental illness remains a taboo subject where people still find it difficult to talk about. Then Princes William and Harry campaigned in public about it. In what represented a near revolution on the subject, Harry talked of his demons following the death of his mother and now William has opened up about, and here I quote from the BBC website, ‘ “very traumatic” callouts involving children took him “over the edge” while he was working for the air ambulance.’ In urging employers to look after the mental health of workers, read his own words:
“There should be a much more open, supportive and compassionate working environment. There’s still a stigma about mental health. We are chipping away at it but that wall needs to be smashed down.” A member of the royal family literally said that.
If, like me, you believe we should be encouraging governments to treat physical and mental health with equal levels of importance, the words of the young royals should be listened to and, indeed, acted upon. What comes across to me, unquestionably, is that both William and Harry, who in any event I love to bits (this is ME talking about a royal for goodness sake!), mean what they say. These are not populist soundbites because there is no popularity to be gained from campaigning on mental health. Here, the boys have taken on a ‘difficult’ subject where “that wall needs to be smashed down”. This suggests to me a quite unique level of understanding and empathy, born of experience.
All my cynicism about the life of Princess Diana evaporated years ago. Even when her reputation was being eviscerated and trashed by the gutter press in the summer of 1997 before her tragic death, after which they adopted a very different fawning, gushing attitude that they didn’t have when she was still alive, there was still something very different about her. The lives, beliefs and attitudes of her two sons keep her vision of compassion more alive than ever.
More power to their respective elbows because even in their luxurious lives, where they will never want for anything, except a normal life, of course, and privacy, they are able to understand the lives of others.
Even in these so-called enlightened times, people still make ‘jokes’ about paranoia and OCD, two very serious and highly distressing illnesses, so we know there is a long way to go. But if the royal family can lead the national debate on mental health, there is hope for us all. Cheers, boys.