The more dysfunctional the royals are, the more their fans love them

Marina Hyde

News that Prince Harry and Meghan will cease their royal duties at the end of next month is now in, yet offers no letup in the backbreaking schedule of Windsors-related toss-giving demanded of all UK humans.

On the one hand, we are told that all this may turn out to be a mortal blow for the royal family, though my feeling is the mere fact of “Charles III” has the potential to be rather more seismic. On the other hand, we have never seemed to care more about these people. Whatever happened to Prince Charles’s much vaunted plan for a slimmed-down royal family?

Over the past fortnight, there has been extensive coverage of the divorce of Peter Phillips, an event that perhaps mildly explains the trashy milk adverts Princess Anne’s son filmed for the Chinese market. One of these showed him as a shill for a state-owned dairy in the grounds of a palace-like stately home, gulping down milk as if his dignity depended on it, adorned by the slogan “British Royal Family Member Peter Phillips”. This generated a content frenzy, including such hilarities as the headline “PRINCESS DIANA’S CHEF SPOTS MAJOR ERROR IN PETER PHILLIPS’ MILK ADVERT.”

Then, barely a week after the Phillips divorce news, we were “rocked” on behalf of the Queen by news of “yet more family heartache”, with the divorce of her nephew Viscount Linley and his wife Serena, a pair with the sort of general name recognition you might enjoy in one of the better witness protection programmes.

At first glance, it might seem that these hugely arcane tours through the court and social outliers are just an easy way to get more Meghan into the SEO terms. But the sheer churn of it all suggests that interest in the royals is the highest it’s been in years. Whether or not people care to admit it, they are most drawn to the Windsors when they are having unhappy dramas. The relationship of royal watchers to the watched is hugely dysfunctional.

Take Prince Andrew’s 60th birthday, which was yesterday. A year ago, this event would have got no coverage to speak of, though the party he’d have thrown to celebrate might have provided some bog standard Range Rover arrival shots of people you didn’t care about even in the 90s. But given The Unpleasantness, there have been acres of stuff written about the very absence of celebration, all sufficiently lapped up for further acres of it to be produced to meet demand. There was the week of drama over whether or not councils should have to fly their town hall flags to mark it; the alleged “furore” over Westminster Abbey’s bells ringing for it; further slavering over how very little there was to slaver over. A personal favourite was Buckingham Palace’s unnecessary decision to press release the duke’s own decision NOT to become a full admiral, which you sense would have been a wrench for Andy. It’s a much better 60th birthday present than whisky stones, an apron saying “Old Fart”, or a brain-training game.

Over to the formal Buckingham Palace communiqué on the matter, which milked the upset for all it was worth: “By convention, the Duke of York would be in line for military promotion on his 60th birthday,” it began ominously. “Following the decision by His Royal Highness to step back from public duties for the foreseeable future, the Duke of York has asked the Ministry of Defence if this promotion might be deferred until such time that His Royal Highness returns to public duty.”

Could be the 12th of never; could be in his 90s, just in time to take advantage of the rising sea levels. Either way, you get the strong impression that the Windsors are still serving up exactly what people want. I’m struggling to imagine how they could have leaned in to it all any further, bar throwing Andrew’s 60th dinner at Pizza Express in Woking.

Instead, Andrew’s bijou 60th gathering was held at Royal Lodge, home of the duke and his destranged wife, Duchess Fergie. According to reports, the number of invitees who found they were unavailable on the date grew so large that a second batch of invitations was sent out by Fergie’s assistant.

The standout report into the matter was one in the Mail offering what its two authors called “a haunting insight” into the upcoming dinner. This opened with a throwback to the Queen’s 60th bash. “Click, click,” wrote the reporters of that event, really putting you inside the action. “Taking the pictures was her son, Andrew … He was 26. Friends recall him marvelling at his mother and wondering ‘what I’ll be like at 60’.” Well how very convenient for your article that they do. Or as the authors put it grimly: “Now we know.”

Then again, the many “friends” of the Duke have been on hand since the Epstein story broke, and for the past few weeks have been chiefly concerned with furnishing non-details of the non-event of his holing up at home. “We call it being in the bunker”, confided one of these friends to the Mail this week, as though that were a terrifically abstruse term of art.

So, yes, do expect much more news on all these developing stories in the months and years to come. For now, it is to be assumed that you are across the fact that Prince Andrew is hunkered down at home – what they call “being in the bunker” – with the weather “so wet that he has hardly been able to expel his frustrations on the golf course”. Perhaps that’s for the best. Were HRH to play a round, I can only picture him tailed by a helpful friend, who would mark any unfortunate foray into a sanded course hazard by solemnly informing other golfers: “We call it being in the bunker.”

Al Pacino failed to say it with flowers

Now to news – perhaps not entirely unexpected – of the romantic status of movie legend Al Pacino. When the 79-year-old star took a tumble on the Baftas red carpet a few weeks ago, I did think his girlfriend, 40, looked slightly more disdainfully appalled than solicitous. But maybe the camera angles were deceptive.

And yet, were they? It seems Meital Dohan broke up her two-year relationship with Pacino in the days immediately thereafter, leading to the actor’s solo appearance on the red carpet at the Oscars a week later. And that, ordinarily, would be that – except that madam has now granted a screamingly gracious interview to a magazine in her native Israel to mark the occasion.

“It’s hard to be with a man so old, even Al Pacino,” Meital informs the publication. “The age gap is difficult, yes. I tried to deny it, but now he is already an elderly man, to be honest. So even with all my love, it didn’t last.”

Even with all her love, there was only so much that could be done for the poor dotard and so on. As for what she got, materially, out of the two years they spent together, Meital also tends toward the candid. “He only bought me flowers. How can I say politely that he didn’t like to spend money?”

I … don’t know how you can. Some other way than this way, arguably?