I used to think the royal family were a total waste of space. Toffy, vapid, lofty leeches, suckling from the taxpayer’s teat for no discernible benefit beyond a handful of tourism dollars. I proudly voted to eject them as our heads of state in the referendum in 1999.
I wouldn’t do that now.
The catalyst for my backflip was when the two princes, William and Harry, with the support of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, launched their mental health campaign, Heads Together, illustrated this month with a captivating feature in British GQ magazine.
I never bought the idea that the younger royals were hip and relevant just because they wore normal clothes and had commoner girlfriends. Whatever. But this campaign is something different. It shows they’re legitimately in touch. They're committed to embracing real issues that affect real people, even if they’re not the most glamorous or sexy. And elected world leaders would do well to take their lead.
In the GQ piece, Prince William opens up to writer Alistair Campbell, a self-described "old leftie Republican" – which is how I might describe myself (maybe without the ‘old’ bit, on a good day). And it’s clear he makes an indelible impression. “I've been really shocked how many people live in fear and in silence because of their mental illness,” William admits.
“I cannot understand how families, even behind closed doors, still find it so hard to talk about it. I am shocked we are so worried about saying anything about the true feelings we have.”
Perhaps the second in line to the throne shouldn’t be so shocked – after all, one of the greatest barriers for people seeking help is the fear that the help simply isn’t there, because of inadequate facilities and funding – but he’s demonstrating a real desire to get to the heart of the issue. And with understanding comes de-stigmatisation. And from there, action.
Prince Harry was perhaps even more candid in March when he confessed that his life went off the rails in his 20s because of the way he suppressed the pain of his mother Diana’s death. He openly admitted he saw a counsellor, shut down his emotions and went through two years of “total chaos”.
That’s no small thing for anyone to own, let alone someone who’s supposed to be a beatific example of morality and order, as members of the royal family are held up to be.
At the time, writer Georgina Dent opened up about how meaningful it was for her to hear someone of Harry's stature speaking out about an issue that she'd personally experienced. You can read her moving account here.
It’s difficult to underestimate how powerful these admissions are, and the potential impact of the brothers’ commitment to this ‘unglamorous’ cause. It would be easy for them to stick to benign children’s charities and restoring historic ruins. Instead they’ve chosen to emulate their mother’s commitment to fight for the forgotten. Her campaigns to raise awareness about Aids and HIV in the 1990s were considered shocking and even unbecoming at the time but they worked. It speaks volumes about the strength of each of their characters.
Around the world elected officials, chosen by popular vote, are proving themselves to be far less concerned than these young royals with the real issues that plague ordinary people. US President Donald Trump wants to slash healthcare for his poorest citizens. Our own Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, is continuing the failed war on drugs by punishing addicts and making it next to impossible for them to seek treatment, both for addiction and for associated mental illnesses.
The British royals are stepping in where others won’t.
When politicians are creating more mess than they’re cleaning up, we’ve never been more in need of leadership unencumbered by special interests or the constraints of populism and endless electioneering.
Hold off the guillotines. I’m even happy to keep the Windsors on the books as the Australian heads of state. God save the Queen and all her progeny. They’re doing true good.