Breaking news – really?

January 21, 2024

The health issues of the royal family make headlines in UK

Breaking news – really?

Dear All,


he news order on a BBC world bulletin last week was slightly bizarre: third in the headlines (after ‘Iran strike on Pakistan kills two’ and an update on the killing fields of Gaza) was the news that (gasp!) the Princess of Wales had had abdominal surgery and was recovering in hospital. After this earth-shattering bit of information, another truly informative and important headline told us that King Charles was to undergo surgery next week for prostrate issues (gasp!).

That particular running order in a bulletin reflected both how skewed news agendas have become in the UK as well as how BBC News seems to have lost sight of what actually is newsworthy. ‘Newsworthy’ is a relative term, perhaps, but how are the medical ailments of some ornamental public figures important news on a news channel? This might be the top story on celeb-watching outlets, but surely not important enough to figure as third and fourth headlines….

We were informed that the Princess would be in hospital for two weeks, but she wanted to ‘keep her medical information confidential’. Great way to do that – broadcast news of her surgery publicly! As for King Charles’s prostate, well, okay, this has been announced ahead of time and no doubt the BBC will proceed to give us minute-to-minute updates on his progress (when he’s on his way to hospital, when he reaches hospital, what his wife was wearing, how he’s recovering, what he ate and so on…).

The fawning over Britain’s royal family has reached new heights – or perhaps a new low (in terms of common sense and deference). The Daily Mail devoted its front page to what it called ‘Two royal health bombshells’. Huge pictures of both royals were dominated by the ‘news’ headline ‘LET’S PRAY THAT THEY’RE BOTH OK’. Hmm. Let’s instead pray that Britons start thinking a bit more about how much the royal family costs and what its actual role is. After all, even if the King were to suffer complications or die, no real national or political crisis would ensue. The country would not be plunged into a bloody war of succession or torn apart by intrigue and discord. All that would happen would be that the taxpayer would have to pay for yet another excessively ceremonial and quite archaic burial and another excessively ceremonial and quite archaic coronation. So, it would be costly but surely not a national crisis – not the sort of thing that happened centuries ago when monarchs were actually powerful.

On social media, some people pointed out that the royals would get the best of private healthcare and their servants would probably order food in from expensive hotels and the princess would stay in the hospital for a fortnight, whereas most ordinary mortals had to wait months for a surgery date and would be sent home almost immediately. The response to these observations was the usual ‘you’re just jealous’ type of remarks.

It is mind-boggling that so many people in 21st-Century Britain do not find it bizarre that one family should enjoy so much wealth and privilege for merely being ornamental and then attaching this celebrity to a few ‘noble’ causes. There is, of course, the argument that the royals are a tourist attraction and bring in millions of pounds for the UK economy (although I’m not sure of the figures to back this up). They may well be tourist attractions, but then perhaps we should treat them like tourist attractions – like Stonehenge or Madame Tussauds. Why all the fawning?

The thing is that the British royal family is now part of a very profitable industry. Some publications devote their entire content to how clever one royal was to accessorise in a certain way, how another chose a non-designer dress or how one of them got a new hairstyle. They then tell their readers/ viewers how they can replicate this prince/ princess look and recommend certain products for this. News outlets with papers like the Mail increase their sales/ likes with their continuing coverage of the soap opera that is the royal family. The outcast Prince Harry exposed what he described as a pact with the devil: a collusion between the family and the tabloid press, a collaborative enterprise of spin, scandal and glitz from which both benefit.

This industry is thriving, and apparently, lots of Britons just love their royals. I personally had a lot of admiration for the late Queen because of her work ethic, her dignity and her ability to adapt to changing social and political conditions. She was a dignified person who worked hard at her job and even republicans came to respect her for these qualities. Her passing represented a chance for British royals to get more in tune with the times but instead King Charles did the opposite by having a coronation that cost the taxpayer in the region of £200 million. Also, £369 million was spent on refurbishing the palace for him. All this expenditure and all this pomp and ceremony were in somewhat bad taste considering how so many Britons were struggling in this post-Brexit, post-Covid time.

It is estimated that around 700,000 people were driven into poverty by the Covid crisis. A record number of people now cannot afford to buy food and depend upon food banks; and these include people working one job or more. Until around 2019, there were ten food banks in the country, but the numbers started going up after the Tory coalition government of 2010, which began a programme of austerity (code for ‘the rich got richer and the poor got poorer’). It is estimated that there are now over 2,000 food banks in the country. While the government continues to deny funding to the NHS and its staff, it has no problems giving billions to the Ukrainians for the war and millions for funding the pomp and ceremony of a coronation... Why are the British people okay with this? It seems to me very much in the ‘Let them eat cake’ mode…

Perhaps, Britain is fundamentally a very classist society? The ‘doff your hat to the guv’nor’ style of deference certainly seems to persist in the fawning and the love for the royal family that one sees on display at various times. Good on them for choosing the right accessory. Well done for chatting to a pleb.

Applause all round.

Best wishes,

Umber Khairi

Breaking news – really?