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Future of the Monarchy: Can King Charles change Gen-Z's minds about the Royal Family?

One of the major challenges facing the Royal Family under King Charles’s stewardship is the increasing apathy of young people towards the institution.

Omid Scobie asks Yahoo’s ‘Future of the Monarchy’ expert panelists how the new King can get young people back on side, with one expert explaining that the loss of Harry and Meghan as working royals and the well publicised conflict with the Sussexes will only make this harder.

The 'Future of the Monarchy' was hosted by Yahoo in April 2023 shortly before the coronation of King Charles III.

Joining Omid were author and co-founder of the Women’s Equality Party, Catherine Mayer; King Charles’ biographer and royal editor at The Evening Standard Robert Jobson; and journalist and broadcaster Afua Hagan.

Watch the full clip above

Video transcript

OMID SCOBIE: Charles is beginning his reign in the 70-year shadow of his mother, who many would argue was the country's greatest-ever monarch. Queen Elizabeth II was a unifying force who, in many ways, was even more popular than the institution. Itself people from every demographic had great respect for her, but judging by recent polls, Charles is going to face an uphill battle if he wants even a fraction of that same support.

According to an independent survey conducted for Yahoo, just 37% of Britain's 18 to 24-year-olds plan to watch the coronation, compared to 60% of over 65's. And another poll recently from the BBC showed that 38% of young people think the monarchy should be abolished altogether and replaced with an elected head of state.

It begs the question, what can the Windsors do to reinvigorate interest among young people? How can they modernize? We asked some of King Charles's loyal and some less-than-loyal subjects to share their views on the royal family.

- So what do you both think of the royal family?

OMID SCOBIE: I quite like them because I think as a country, they just mean a lot to us.

- I don't think much of them are very good people.

- Yeah, I feel like they just do what's best for them.

- I don't really find them relevant. There's just so much controversy for literally no reason.

- As far as the royal family is concerned, I think it's important that they stay.

- In some sense, it's really symbolic for the country.

- Do you think they're worth the money that we pay for them?

- No, and especially with the coronation, seeing how much they're spending on that, when there's a cost-of-living crisis, and there's people living in poverty all over the place, absolutely not.

- Their wealth is overpowering.

- Like, we don't really see much results of what they do.

- Why are we giving so much money? And yet, I just don't have an idea of where my money is going to and what it's really helping.

- I think when you look about how much they bring into the country in terms of like, tourism, people coming to Buckingham Palace, Tower of London, I think they probably are worth it.

- Who is your favorite member of the royal family?

- I quite like Kate. I think, yeah.

- Yeah, I'd say Kate.

- I think she's a really elegant woman.

- She seems the most real out of everyone.

- Most favorite? Just because he's cute, Harry.

- He's so funny.

- He's got that kingdom for Meghan. I think that's really cute.

- Yeah, that was so cute.

- Yeah.

- At least they seem to be doing something to move away from the traditions.

- If you had to pick someone who is your least favorite from the royal family, who would it be and why?

- Andrew.

- Andrew.

- I don't think anyone's a big fan of him these days.

- Least favorite is Charles.

- He's definitely out for power, let's be honest.

- I don't think he's necessarily any worse than any of the others. He's certainly not as bad as some of them, but, again, what's the difference between him and the queen, really? It's just the next in line.

OMID SCOBIE: Real mix of opinions there. Now, Afua, when you speak with young millennials and Gen Zers out there rather, than having any kind of anti-monarchy sentiment, there's a real sense of apathy and not caring at all.

AFUA HAGAN: Absolutely. And in that YouGov poll, 78% of the 18 to 24-year-old bracket said they just didn't really care about the royal family. And actually, that's going to be the real death knell for the royal family, people just not caring, not caring if they do anything at all, you know? The royal family exists for the people, and they have to have the support of the people to be able to continue.

I mean, I'm surprised in your poll that even 37%, 38% said they would watch the coronation. I'm surprised it was even that high because you're absolutely right. Younger people just don't care about the monarchy, don't care about the royal family. And it really was a missed opportunity, with Harry and Meghan, to bring younger people-- to get them more interested in the royal family.

You know, you had this kind of, you know, a combination of a glamorous, A-list, Hollywood kind couple. And that, you know, really gained interest from a lot of people who, beforehand, didn't care about the royal family and like you said, Catherine, could see themselves.

I mean, let's not pretend that Meghan Markle is the bastion that we hold up for all Black women in the UK. She's not, right? And we shouldn't put that amount of pressure on her, but there was a lot of people, myself included, who saw her and thought, OK, this is a family that's modernizing. This is a family that has a person of color in it. This is a family, you know, this dynasty, I can buy into this a little bit.

But an absolute dashed opportunity, wasted. And that will be felt throughout the realms and countries in the Commonwealth. And I actually think that the royal family are underestimating the strength of feeling that people have about the way that Meghan Markle has been treated.

So it's not just that you're losing a younger audience. You're also losing swathes of people from the Global South who will look at it as black and white, as-- excuse the pun-- there was a person of color in the royal family, and you didn't make welcome.

OMID SCOBIE: Mmm.

AFUA HAGAN: So why should we support having this particular family as our head of state? Or why should we support our country being part of this kind of post-colonial hangover that is the Commonwealth? And so there's so many people that King Charles III has to bring back into the fold, younger people, people from the Global South. Massive job on his hands.

OMID SCOBIE: Robert, we spoke earlier about how Harry and Meghan are pretty much in the same age category as William and Kate, but clearly, the Sussexes did something to connect with that younger generation in a way that the Waleses aren't. Do you think--

ROBERT JOBSON: Possibly. I think that's been overstated, personally.

OMID SCOBIE: I think I speak personally, not just from polls, but also from the feedback I have from--

ROBERT JOBSON: The younger folks.

OMID SCOBIE: Exactly. And I know the same age--

ROBERT JOBSON: You know, you're not young at all.

OMID SCOBIE: No, not at all.

ROBERT JOBSON: You look good, but you're not. But the fact is, that's the feeling.

OMID SCOBIE: But that's the point, is I think there's different levels of youth within an age. And Harry and Meghan really were able to connect with a demographic that we see less.

ROBERT JOBSON: Yeah, I think it's quite challenging, but I don't agree with a lot of what was just said there. I personally think that Harry and Meghan had their own agenda. I don't think that she wasn't welcomed. I think she was. I think that there were certain members of the royal family that didn't have open arms, but others did. The king, I think, did his very best to welcome her, and I think he did. And I dispute what people say about that.

But that said, it didn't work. And that was a mistake. And that is big error by the royal family in that respect because whatever they needed to do, like they didn't do with Diana, they needed to make her feel really part of it. And I think he did try, but there were certain members of the royal family, extended, that didn't do enough.

Now, I was on the trip to-- I think you were, too, where we went to Australia. And she was trying very hard on that trip, did a really good job.

OMID SCOBIE: Yeah. It was probably the peak moment for her.

ROBERT JOBSON: But she was definitely nervous. And she was feeling pressure, and I could see it because I'd covered Princess Diana before. And I remember watching her and thinking, this is all going to blow up because she was under so much pressure, and she was doing her best, her damnedest to be perfect.

OMID SCOBIE: That's quite a big conclusion to come to. I mean, I think we think of the circumstances. She was pregnant.

ROBERT JOBSON: It was a lot of pressure.

OMID SCOBIE: And it was her first major royal tour.

ROBERT JOBSON: Oh, no, I'm not criticizing anyone.

OMID SCOBIE: No, I understand, but I think, of course, any person, I think, would be nervous stepping into such an--

ROBERT JOBSON: No, but nervous isn't the--

OMID SCOBIE: --overwhelming arena.

ROBERT JOBSON: But you have to be very careful because you get trolled, like I've done before, by moronic people, you know, people that just don't even listen or don't even read properly. But the fact is, what I'm trying to say to you is that she was under a lot of pressure on that trip. And maybe, just maybe, they shouldn't have put her under that pressure. Maybe, just maybe she shouldn't have even been traveling.

CATHERINE MAYER: But they have a history. I mean, you mentioned Diana.

ROBERT JOBSON: But not when she was pregnant. She wasn't traveling and doing tours like that when she was pregnant. That was a very different thing.

CATHERINE MAYER: No, but they have a history of not being good to people who come into their midst and not understanding. It's, you know, you mentioned my book. I mean, one of the phrases that I coined after spending a lot of time with Charles and the other Royals was "Planet Windsor" because I realized it operates to entirely different rules

ROBERT JOBSON: To a degree, but Harry-- that trip, the people around should have done more to support Megan. And I think Harry in particular should have done more to support Meghan.

OMID SCOBIE: But I think if we--

CATHERINE MAYER: But I think that he's member of Planet Windsor. Can I also pick? Because I think we're kind of going astray into the recollections-may-vary territory. And the thing is, I know that none of us-- you know, there will be some areas of agreement and disagreement on that.

ROBERT JOBSON: Of course, yeah.

CATHERINE MAYER: But where we are agreed is that it's done extraordinary damage.

ROBERT JOBSON: She's damaged, yeah.

CATHERINE MAYER: And the failure of that project, whatever the reasons for it, and that the Royals themselves are really underestimating it for a number--

ROBERT JOBSON: [INAUDIBLE] said that.

CATHERINE MAYER: No, exactly. I completely agree with you on that. And there are many reasons for that. One of them is around looking at polls. They look at polls, and they go, oh, Harry and Meghan aren't very popular. That means there's no damage. Absolute nonsense. It is playing out globally. It is playing out exactly as you said.

And also, you know, I saw somebody recently who's a sort of real, proper insider, who I've been having quite vigorous discussions with for years about where the royal family is. And this person said to me, in surprise, that he had come round to my viewpoint that they were in real crisis now.

When, back in, sort of around the mid, you know, 2013, 2014, somebody identified to me-- again, an insider-- the main challenges they saw for the Royals. And that one of the Caribbean realms might choose the time of Charles's accession to depart. Well, that was already happening before then.

OMID SCOBIE: It continues to.

CATHERINE MAYER: But he might not be chosen as the head of the Commonwealth. Well, he has been, but that isn't really as big a deal as they're making out and that Camilla's title might not be sorted out by the time the queen died. But these were the great existential challenges.

And instead, you know, what I had said and what this other insider is agreeing with me is, we are witnessing the beginning of the end. It's not the beginning of the end of the monarchy, but it's the beginning of the end of a monarchy that can rely on being popular.

AFUA HAGAN: Yeah.

CATHERINE MAYER: And that is a huge thing that's just a complete game-- it's not a phrase I use often, but a game-changer.

ROBERT JOBSON: But you don't think the king is seeing that? By the way, he's trying to reduce the dependency upon the sovereign grant and things like that, he sees he has to.

CATHERINE MAYER: He sees it, but it's like crisis management. And one of the things is, if there was better advice, A, they wouldn't be in the pickle they're in, but B, the advisors would not-- I keep mentioning the way it's swerving into culture war territory you see, again and again, the sort of reflex of the advisors is to take them into this area of polarization. You know, you mentioned Sussex Squad. Well, there's another equivalent. I don't know what they're called anymore because it's not the Cambridge--

[INTERPOSING VOICES]

OMID SCOBIE: Kate's Rangers.

CATHERINE MAYER: Yeah, Kate's Rangers, whatever. But my point is that they're--

ROBERT JOBSON: They're just like, vigilantes would be extreme.

CATHERINE MAYER: But what it is it's polarization. We live in a polarized world.

ROBERT JOBSON: Yeah, that's true, yeah.

CATHERINE MAYER: The royal family itself, on their website, they define the role of the monarch as being to unify. So the last thing that those advisors should be doing is advising behaviors that push it all into Kate's Rangers territory and anti-- they should not be joining in that fight.

AFUA HAGAN: But this is the thing, is--

ROBERT JOBSON: But why are they joining that fight?

AFUA HAGAN: Well, because it generates headlines. I mean, let's be honest is that there's so much briefing. And I absolutely agree with you, is that the royal family have fallen victim to the culture wars.

You know, it's presumed if you like Meghan, then you're a lefty. If you like Kate, then you're right. You vote this way. You vote that way. It's so polarized, so polarized. And you're absolutely right in saying, that is not the role of the monarch at all. It's to unify people. And they've absolutely done the opposite. And I think, you know, also--

ROBERT JOBSON: Well, they they haven't done enough. I don't think they've necessarily done the opposite.

AFUA HAGAN: I think they have done the opposite--

ROBERT JOBSON: I don't think they have.

AFUA HAGAN: --in the treatment of Meghan.

ROBERT JOBSON: I think they're just too complacent.

AFUA HAGAN: And I think we should also remember that you talked about people that come in to Planet Windsor. Let's not forget the way that Kate Middleton was treated when she joined the family as well. But let's also not forget how the royal family shut that down. It took a while, but they did shut it down.

ROBERT JOBSON: Well, no, they did attack Carol as a working-class [INAUDIBLE] who chewed gum.

AFUA HAGAN: Absolutely. That's exactly what--

ROBERT JOBSON: They didn't shut it down at all. It went on for years.

AFUA HAGAN: But that's what I'm saying.

OMID SCOBIE: But that meant when that they got married at Westminster Abbey, it was the moment that it ended for--

ROBERT JOBSON: Yeah, before, they split up--

OMID SCOBIE: --every single family member and for Kate herself.

ROBERT JOBSON: Let me finish because I do think it's important because it's easy to misunderstand if you can't finish it, but the fact is, she had 10 years of this.

AFUA HAGAN: But that's exactly what I said, Robert.

ROBERT JOBSON: Right. Let me finish.

AFUA HAGAN: But actually, if you'd let me finish, that's exactly what I said. But that's exactly what I said, is that she had it for a long time, but like you so rightly said, when they got married, they shut it down. But when Meghan and Harry got married, the royal family didn't shut it down. And that was a massive mistake.

OMID SCOBIE: Robert, do you think that's what young people see on the outside? Because, obviously, there's a reason why young people are either disinterested or angry at the monarchy at the moment.

ROBERT JOBSON: Oh, I think they think they were very badly treated, the young people. I mean, I speak to my son. He's 21. And he says the way they were treated was appalling. They he thinks that there was racism from the royal family. And he believes that there wasn't enough done to accommodate them. So I can only judge it from younger people I speak to. But absolutely, they think that.

OMID SCOBIE: Sure. So with that in mind, how do those around the monarch and other members of the family tackle that problem?

ROBERT JOBSON: They've got to speak to people that are 21, 22, 23, who don't want to become a knight.

CATHERINE MAYER: And also stop being this secretive and, you know--

ROBERT JOBSON: That's the other thing that's very important, yeah.

CATHERINE MAYER: --this lack of accountability, this lack of transparency, and this idiotic secrecy and all the briefings that they do. You know, the number of times I read something along the lines of, William and Kate are maintaining a dignified silence about "Spare." Friends of the couple said--

ROBERT JOBSON: Well, let's be honest. Some of that was just utter piffle and some of it was well-briefed.

CATHERINE MAYER: No, no, no.

[INTERPOSING VOICES]

CATHERINE MAYER: But Robert, you know the way the briefing system works.

ROBERT JOBSON: Well, yeah, but it's not quite-- like I said, I think there's guilt to be had. There's certain things that are not right about that, but having been someone who broke the story that Charles was to marry Camilla in 2005 on an anonymous source, I'm not going to criticize anonymous sources. However, I had a source.

CATHERINE MAYER: But the sources have to be--

ROBERT JOBSON: I had a source. I'm saying that some people don't.

CATHERINE MAYER: Robert, that is one thing, but the sources have to be anonymous because--

ROBERT JOBSON: Of course they do. I'm not criticizing that.

CATHERINE MAYER: No, no, no, no. I am. What I'm saying is that they're all NDA'd up the wazoo, and they--

ROBERT JOBSON: No, no, they have to be. Of course they do.

CATHERINE MAYER: --and it's a very secretive institution that benefits--

ROBERT JOBSON: But so is our government. So is government.

CATHERINE MAYER: No, no, no, no. Our government, you can still do freedom of information requests.

ROBERT JOBSON: Yeah, but you're not going to find out my source on an exclusive story about the prime minister.

OMID SCOBIE: We're going to jump into the press in our next segment, but before we move into that, I just want to say, we're obviously moments away from the coronation. We've heard about plans for a huge anti-monarchy protest from the Republic group. Do you think that's something that unnerves the royal family, Catherine?

CATHERINE MAYER: My suspicion is that it doesn't unnerve them in the right way. That's sort of the point I've been trying to make is, I think that they are caught in their own tides of polarization. And so they have a kind of a layer-- they're always sclerotic, but they have a kind of reflex that turns away criticism more than it listens to it and doesn't learn from it in the right way.

So I mean, one thing, I was horrified by the response of an unnamed palace aide to the "Guardian" series about the cost of the crown. The "Guardian" series on the cost of the crown is asking all sorts of absolutely legitimate questions--

OMID SCOBIE: At the right time.

CATHERINE MAYER: --at the right time, of a big institution. And they gave the snarky bloody reply. It was something like, oh, well this is very creative, you know? And it was sort of like, they were saying to these journalists that it was impertinent to ask questions. This institution needs to stop doing that.

AFUA HAGAN: Yep.

CATHERINE MAYER: If I were an advisor, which, of course, is never going to happen because they-- I mean, we should all be advisors, but they never ask us, and we'd never say yes. But if we were, one of the things we would do is put in the kinds of advisors you're talking about, who understand this stuff, who stop them from actually putting their lances up.

I mean, another thing that happened that was so funny. When my book was first published in 2015, my biography of Charles, and I quoted an unnamed source describing the palaces as being like Wolf Hall. And all the aides immediately bore that out by fighting with me and each other, you know, sort of trying to stab each other behind the areas.

ROBERT JOBSON: The best way to think of them is like Wolf Hall, though, I think. I've covered for 33 years this beat. And I always think, well, it always gets a bit messy. Dress them up in the madness of King George outfits, and then you'll see exactly who's trying to sort of do what because they're all gunning for their own position to get the ear of the king, and the king's bonkers anyway. So it's quite interesting the way it goes, you know?

So I think that what you're saying, though, is absolutely true. I think the transparency issue is something that the king can address, should address, and needs to address immediately.

OMID SCOBIE: You worked closely with his aides and people around him as you wrote your latest biography on him. Do you get a sense that is what's happening right now or is that just a wishful thinking?

ROBERT JOBSON: No. Wishful thinking.

OMID SCOBIE: All right.