I used to wonder whether or not we should have a monarchy. Not because I particularly cared either way; I see the merits in both sides of the argument. Yes, they draw tourists in, and massive weddings which result in public holidays are nice. But yes, equally they are an uncomfortable reminder that Britain is a nation built on an archaic class system which exploited the vast majority of people to serve the interests of a privileged minority.
I suppose I only ever seriously wondered about their existence at all because it was a question that seemed to come up over and over again in dodgy mock debates in my lacklustre GCSE General Studies class.
In some ways, particularly after watching people mourn the death of Princess Diana in their droves as a child, I felt quite sorry for the royals. To live in a gilded cage and be picked apart all the time by everyone outside it, to be damned no matter what you do, to know that your days are inevitably numbered anyway.
They said the monarchy couldn’t recover from Princess Diana's death but here we are. Twenty years later, watching her former brother-in-law undo much of the good work her sons have done to restore their family's image.
But to me, as I’m sure they do to so many of us, the royal family always felt hypothetical. They were so far removed from my life, to the point of complete irrelevance.
My nan liked the queen but maybe that was because she looked a bit like her? Anyway, once you get over the hackneyed idea of marrying a prince by the age of around 8 years old, you’ve got bigger fish to fry. Kate Middleton was never going to do it for me because as admirable as her particular combination of bouncy blow dries and stoicism is, I’d rather stay at home than wear nude tights. And Meghan Markle? Despite her obvious cultural significance it was hard to get excited about an individual with such limited power and influence as she became the target for much of the nation’s sexism and misogyny.
This year, that indifference subsided.
I’d enjoyed The Crown until now. But this time around, as fiction and reality collided, it made for particularly uncomfortable viewing.
The timing of the latest season of The Crown was either impeccable or terrible, depending on how you look at it. It came back to Netflix just as our screens were filled with images of the real-life Prince Andrew being grilled by Emily Maitlis on Newsnight over his relationship with convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein.
"Do I regret the fact that he has quite obviously conducted himself in a manner unbecoming? Yes."
"Unbecoming?" Maitlis replied with incredulity. "He was a sex offender."
Once again, we were all forced to look on as a privileged man rode roughshod over women’s experiences. The worst thing about it was that it didn't feel like Prince Andrew avoided making reference to Epstein’s victims because he feared saying the wrong thing. He gave the impression that the women involved simply didn’t cross his mind.
It was a perfect case study in how the wealthy live in a different world from the rest of us. One where there are no consequences for any of their actions.
Watching an obsequious Prince Andrew defend the indefensible on Newsnight before seeing a young Barbara Castle condemn the hubris and entitlement of the royals in Harold Wilson’s cabinet in The Crown was jarring.
Castle condemns the national cost of keeping the royal family running at a time when people are struggling. Watching that today, as child poverty and homelessness rise while social mobility goes into reverse, it was hard to come down on the side of the royals as she called for them to be abolished, and almost impossible to understand their continuing existence.
It seems other people had similar thoughts. One poll showed that just 6% of people believed Prince Andrew’s account of his friendship with Epstein; another found that two thirds of people thought he had damaged the monarchy.
We know that the over 65s were twice as likely to vote for Brexit, we know that young people were far more likely to vote Labour and we know that support for the monarchy is far lower among younger generations too.
They said the monarchy couldn’t recover from Princess Diana’s death but here we are. Twenty years later, watching her former brother-in-law undo much of the good work her sons have done to restore their family's image. It begs the question: What does the fact that we continue to sustain this institution – to fund it in real life as well as produce film after film, series after series and documentary after documentary about it – really say about our country?
In a Britain increasingly divided along generational lines, perhaps this year marked a turning point for the monarchy. We know that the over 65s were twice as likely to vote for Brexit, we know that young people were far more likely to vote Labour in this election and we know that support for the monarchy is far lower among younger generations too. Change is often painfully slow and hard won but perhaps the future born out of the mess that is Britain’s political present will look altogether very different.
The questions we face right now are about power, privilege and who has it. With the exception, perhaps, of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, nobody has embodied that more this year than Prince Andrew. Although he has been put out to pasture by his own mother to prevent him from doing further damage, that won’t be quickly forgotten.