Life goes on: what the Diamond Jubilee tells us about family

Family|June 13th 2012

I have a guilty secret: I love to sit down with a cup of coffee and read Hello! magazine. I know, I know: there are lots of reasons why I shouldn’t, but I still do. Like most readers, I am curious to get a glimpse into the lives of the rich and famous, even though the glossy spreads of their lavish holidays and houses can seem a world away from the more down-to-earth existence most of us actually live. For a short while at least, it takes me off the treadmill of everyday life. On occasion it also reveals some interesting and often inadvertent insights into the relationships between great and good.

Understandably, there has been a lot about the Royal Family lately, particularly the Queen, the Prince of Wales and their immediate family. Their photos on the front cover guarantee sales, all the more so since their ranks swelled with the addition of Kate Middleton. She is a camera natural: stylish and effortlessly beautiful.

The latest edition is packed with photos from the Diamond Jubilee. Being in Israel over the weekend itself, I missed most of the proceedings, only catching snippets when I could on television. Thankfully, the magazine has helped me to catch up. There are photos galore of the Queen and Prince Philip on the royal barge, of the Prince of Wales with the Duchess of Cornwall, and Princes William and Harry along with Kate. They all look stunning and, despite being on public view for hours on end, they all look genuinely happy. It struck me as quite a contrast from years gone by.

I was an admirer of Princess Diana during her lifetime, and was very much in her camp when the news broke of her split from Charles. I loved her style and even bought some of the same dresses she used to wear. In fact I still own them, being reluctant to part with them because of the association with her era. In August 1997, I joined millions in shock and distress when she died so tragically in Paris.

I admit it: I wasn’t keen at that time on the Prince of Wales or the future Duchess of Cornwall. My sympathies were firmly in the Diana camp and, to a great extent, they still are. Diana and Charles should never have married, being manifestly ill suited. It was a mistake from the start, but the country and, no doubt the entire Royal Family, had been dazzled by the beauty and lack of baggage carried by a young aristocrat called Spencer. At that time, things were different. The Royal Family was like the Mafia: once in, you could never leave. Unhappily married spouses may have quietly lived completely separate lives from their husbands or wives, but that was all. They certainly didn’t divorce. There was no escape route. Things became very messy and we saw it all fall apart.

Fast forward to today and we see a very different family.

After 30 years of observing people in stressful situations, I have fallen into the habit of assessing body language. What I see can help me to decide the best approach to take and even how to conduct a negotiation. People give away quite a lot, often without realising that they are doing so – and often, you don’t have to be a “body language expert” to gauge a person’s emotions, or their situation. Certain photographs of Charles and Diana, from the early 1990s, spring to mind: a trip to Korea, when the press labelled them “The Glums”;  at the polo when Diana turned her cheek, and of course the iconic photograph of the Princess of Wales sitting alone at the Taj Mahal. The language could not be clearer.

Likewise, the photos of the Royal Family on the balcony of Buckingham Palace last week struck me as very interesting. All the couples looked completely at ease. Charles and Camilla stood close to one another. William and Kate communicated through natural glances and knowing smiles as the Prince assisted his grandmother. Prince Harry is clearly very comfortable in the company of his sister-in-law, proving that his commitment to welcome her into the family as the “sister he never had” was genuine.

It strikes me that perhaps what both couples been striving for is a marriage that mirrors the relationship between the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh. No-one can be in any doubt about the strength of the Queen’s feelings for her husband. “He is my strength and stay,” she once said. No matter what has been thrown their way, they have always survived it. They have to be careful about who can be trusted, and who cannot. It is and always has been the two of them against the rest of the world.

I have no doubt that Prince Charles was searching for exactly the same relationship within his marriage. He knew beforehand the person with whom he would have that relationship. Finally, he has achieved what he sought all along. He has no qualms about emulating the same closeness with his marital partner that his parents enjoy – and no matter how strong a Diana supporter I may be, I hope it lasts a long time.

It’s the same with Prince William. We know too much about the dramas of his childhood. In Kate, perhaps he too was looking for someone who, above all, he could confide in and trust. He was, as we know, in no hurry and who can blame him? Perhaps because of his first-hand experience of the painful fallout from mistakes made in the past, the coldness, the blatant body language, he learned a valuable lesson: there is no rush. What is most important is finding someone you really love.

The founder of Stowe Family Law, Marilyn Stowe is one of Britain’s best known divorce lawyers. She retired from Stowe Family Law in 2017.

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