When Kate Middleton and Prince William arrived in Belize for a Commonwealth tour to honor Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee, a protest was the first sign that they might not get the reception they hoped for on their trip to the Caribbean. But it wasn’t until the couple met with Jamaica’s prime minister, Andrew Holness, and he announced that the country planned to remove the queen as the country’s head of state, that it became clear just how poorly the tour really went. It also made some commentators wonder: If it were Meghan Markle and Prince Harry in their shoes, would they have been received in the same way?
Kate and William’s tour was just one of multiple royal visits to Commonwealth member countries in 2022, and on this episode of DYNASTY: The Windsors, we turn back the clock to the beginning of the organization to understand why the tour was more than just a few days of bad optics. The Commonwealth, founded in 1949, is a voluntary organization of 54 countries that share values such as democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. It traces its roots back to the British Empire, but not all of the current members are former colonies. Reactions to the royals across the nations can be mixed, and on this episode, journalist and presenter Afua Hagan explains the lingering affection for the queen in Ghana, even decades after the country declared independence.
This episode also explores the history of royal philanthropy and exactly why charity across the Commonwealth is so important to the Windsors. Patrick Jephson, Princess Diana’s former private secretary, explains why Diana chose difficult and demanding charity jobs and how she influenced the rest of the royal family. Fundraising and charity appearances are the bread and butter of a royal’s job duties, but it was clear from Meghan’s entrance to the family that she had the ability to energize the family’s work and increase their appeal across the Commonwealth. But her first appearance with the Royal Foundation, alongside Harry, William, and Kate, revealed that she might not be able to fit in. When Harry and Meghan made their final high-profile trip to a Commonwealth country, a September 2019 tour of South Africa, their unhappiness behind the scenes finally became obvious for the first time.
The highest-profile move to decenter the Windsors took place last fall when Barbados removed the queen and installed an elected head of state. According to political journalist Peter Wickham, the country’s citizens had become increasingly frustrated that someone born in the country wouldn’t be able to ascend to its highest position. Along with newly crowned national hero Rihanna, Prince Charles was present when the change took place; in a speech, he sensitively discussed the moral horror of slavery and praised the people of Barbados for their persistence. But as Kate and William’s trip later proved, the move might have been too little, too late.
Listen to the episode in the player above, and don’t forget to tune in next Tuesday, May 31, when DYNASTY: The Windsors returns with an episode about the symbiotic relationship between the royals and their biggest rival, the tabloid press. Subscribe at listen.vanityfair.com/dynasty or wherever you get your podcasts.