Andrew Neil tells This Morning about his new ‘hobbies’
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The monarchy has been firmly pushed into the limelight in recent weeks, particularly in the fallout of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s bombshell interview with Oprah Winfrey. The Royal Family addressed claims made in the chat, which aired on ITV in the UK and CBS in the US, leading some republican movements to gather momentum. Mr Neil’s claims came during a heated discussion years before the interview, in which a variety of experts, politicians and media figures gave their view on the monarchy. Carlton Television staged the live programme titled ‘Monarchy: The Nation Decides’.
The debate grew increasingly tense, with criticism from Tory MP Steven Norris, who was due to take part but left early.
He said: “I realised within a few minutes that this was simply not the kind of programme that I wanted to be part of… I think it was utterly trivial and patronising.”
Then Downing Street press secretary Sir Bernard Ingham said the show had been “a disgrace”.
Author Frederick Forsyth accused journalists of “muck-raking” with regard to the Royal Family.
Many comments sparked controversy, including when when the agony aunt Claire Rayner insisted people wanted to be citizens and not subjects to a hereditary monarchy.
However, Steve Clark, Carlton’s head of factual programmes, defended the heated debate, asking: “Is the standard of debate in the House of Commons at Question Time any better than that?”
One of the prominent figures who offered a critical view of the Royal Family was former BBC journalist, Mr Neil.
He said during the debate: “But perhaps the biggest price we pay for the monarchy is not to be found in any balance sheet; it’s the depressing signal that wealth, power and position are still inherited, rather than earned.”
A record 2.6 million viewers at the time called in to vote on the future of the monarchy, with 34 percent of callers saying that they no longer wanted a hereditary head of state.
Meanwhile, 66 percent said they wanted the institution to continue.
Regional difference of opinion was evident, with 56 percent in Scotland voting against the monarchy, Northern Ireland split equally and Welsh viewers marginally in favour.
The audience in England was largely pro-monarchy.
Mr Neil was asked about his appearance in this debate and whether he still holds republican views in an interview with The BBC’s Media Show last month.
Mr Neil replied: “Not really. I am not a cheerleading monarchist, I can see the strength of a republic.
“My main objection to the Royal Family at that time was basically Marxist.
“It behaved like it was the pinnacle of a class system, and they were the top ones.
“My Sunday Times was devoted to breaking up Britain’s class system, and I thought it would be possible to have a Royal Family separate from the class system.”
Mr Neil also discussed the current Royal Family crisis involving Harry and Meghan, who made accusations that could be “extremely damaging” to the monarchy.
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The Duchess of Sussex told Oprah Winfrey during the interview that at one stage she “didn’t want to be alive anymore” and claimed the “institution” prevented her from receiving support.
Mr Neil said the interview was much more worrying for the monarchy than Princess Diana’s famous interview in 1995.
But he also criticised Oprah’s interviewing, arguing that she could have asked tougher questions.
He said: “It is dynamite as an interview, it’s a global news story. I think it is more damaging to the Royal Family than the Diana interview because it is a much bigger issue.
“Diana’s interview was basically about this rather dysfunctional Germanic family that she had married into, incapable of showing emotion, that had driven her to divorce and all the rest of it. It was a personal story.
“Of course, Oprah Winfrey never pushed them to determine whether it was true or not, to push them on the issues and do a proper job as an interviewer as opposed to saying ‘here’s a softball, down the leg side, whack it for six.'”
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