Every year since it began in 1989, the Queen has appeared on the Sunday Times Rich List. Most recently, in the 2020 edition, she was placed a comparatively measly 372nd, wedged between two hotel magnates, and far, far below reality TV impresario Mark Burnett ($A715 million) and Rihanna ($A837 million).
The Times’ estimate pegs Her Majesty’s worth at $A626 million however that is not much more than a big fat guess given the full extent of the Queen’s personal wealth has long remained one of the palace’s most closely held secrets.
(And by ‘personal wealth’, what we are talking about is the money she privately as an individual has in her own bank accounts and the value of her investments, as opposed to the wealth of the Crown Estate which each King or Queen is in charge of as long as they reign and which includes such treasures as Buckingham Palace and its nearly $18 billion art collection.)
Now a truly bombshell report from The Guardian has put her personal, private finances uncomfortably under the microscope after the paper revealed she had pushed for a proposed British law to be amended to prevent the full extent of her fortune being made public.
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According to the report, in 1973 then-Prime Minister Edward Heath’s government was getting set to introduce legislation in regards to financial disclosures, one consequence of which was that “the law would reveal (Her Majesty’s) private investments in listed companies, as well as their value”.
At this point, the Queen’s lawyer Matthew Farrer got involved, lobbying ministers on her behalf and making the argument that should her net worth be disclosed that it would be “embarrassing”.
Ultimately the Heath government came up with a nifty workaround and “following the Queen’s intervention, the government inserted a clause into the law granting itself the power to exempt companies used by ‘heads of state’ from new transparency measures”.
Today, the exemption no longer exists after changes came into effect in 2011. Still, the now great-grandmother’s exact worth still remains shrouded in secrecy.
It cannot be overstated how embarrassing this revelation is for the Queen, especially coming at a time she remains stuck sequestered away inside Windsor Castle and unable to get out in public and do any Queening for the cameras.
Added to which, this is just the latest global headline-grabbing royal upheaval to hit the headlines in just over a year, with first Prince Andrew ignominiously exiting public life over his ties to a convicted sex offender.
Followed barely two months later by Harry and Meghan, Duke and Duchess of Sussex, announcing they wanted out of royal life, repercussions of which are still buffeting the palace.
The Queen and the remaining roster of HRHs have done their best to try and right the tilting palace ship, with her rare appearances last year earning her universal plaudits thanks to her stiff-upper-lip maternalism. Faced with (and still facing) a national crisis, the soothing balm of monarchy went down a treat.
But this money bombshell could threaten the 94-year-old’s hard won success last year, given that the Windsors’ secretive finances is one of the family’s Achilles heels.
What is so damaging about this new reporting is that it is proof that the Queen, who is meant to be scrupulously apolitical, stuck her oar in to have a law tweaked to suit her, which only makes her look self-serving.
This whole thing reeks of privilege run, if not amok, then at least askew, the sovereign using her power to bend the law of the land to her fancy.
While the Queen may have never cast a vote in her life, which is quite extraordinary when you think about it, here is unequivocal proof of her flouting one of the key tenets of royal life.
The last thing the palace wants at this precarious time is such an unfortunate reminder that while the Queen is a woman who was born into extraordinary wealth and who occupies a role of supreme power, not through talent, but solely thanks to the genetic lottery. (Well, and Wallis Simpson’s wiles too.)
What makes this situation even more devastating image-wise for Buckingham Palace is that in a curious twist of fate, it was also revealed over the weekend that Harry and Megan had held a secret meeting with California governor Gavin Newsom in October last year.
The hour-long confab, per The Sun, was held barely a month after the Sussexes had come in for criticism for releasing a video which was widely read as urging voters to reject Donald Trump at the ballot box and only two weeks before the US presidential election.
The Newsom meeting, which was held via video call, came at the same time that the governor and Democratic powerhouse was reportedly facing pressure to appoint another woman of colour to fill now-Vice President Kamala Harris’ Californian Senate seat.
When the Newsom news broke, the clicking tongues and finger wagging started almost immediately on social media, the argument being that this was further proof of the Sussexes’ naughty meddling in US politics. As members of the Queen’s family they were expected to firmly stay on the sidelines. How. Dare. THEY!
Way back in September when the Sussexes’ voting video hit, the palace distanced themselves from the couple while a royal aide told the Sunday Times, “The (royal) family are all wringing their hands, thinking: where is this going and does this abide by the deal to uphold the values of the Queen? The feeling is it’s a violation of the agreement.”
The irony could not be more glaring: While the Sussexes were being castigated for supposedly straying dangerously into political waters it turns out his Gan Gan had long been up to the same jig.
How can Harry and Meghan have ‘violated’ the supposed palace rule book when turns out The Boss herself done something similar, only she did it behind closed doors?
How do you say hypocrite in the house of Windsor’s (nee Saxe-Coburg and Gotha’s) native German?
(Maybe the lesson here is that you can’t teach an old monarch new questionable tricks?)
It is impossible to contemplate a more perfect example of the double standard which the self-exiled Duke and Duchess have faced since skipping out on palace life to make podcasts and stake out a claim in the vegan latte business.
That supposed Bad Thing which the Sussexes have been allegedly up to? Why, the Queen has been doing just that since the time colour TV was a novelty.
However, maybe there is something else going on here too.
When the Newsom story broke, one of the first and biggest questions was, why would Harry and Meghan have agreed to take part in this call so soon after the voting hullabaloo last year? Why risk irritating the palace and drawing more fire, especially from the UK press?
I’m starting to wonder if maybe that is their point. Maybe the Sussexes (and this is only speculation) know that whatever they do or say there will always be those intent on hurling brickbats at them, so why give a jot at all?
Think about it: If you are destined to eternally face a Greek chorus of critics, if you are doomed to perpetually fail in certain people’s eyes, then why not just do whatever you want? Call who you want, make what you want, invest where you want and say what you want because either way, someone is going to get stuck into you?
So, what comes next?
At the time of writing, Buckingham Palace has yet to respond to the Guardian. It will be fascinating to see how they try and spin today’s news, which represents not so much a ding to her image as an Abraham tank shell to her grandmotherly persona.
They might be separated by 55 years in age, a continent, an ocean, and nationality but perhaps for the first time ever, the Queen and Meghan find themselves united and sharing the same unenviable position.
Welcome to the line of public fire Your Majesty – if you’ve got any questions, just ask Meghan, she’s been stuck here for years.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.
— to www.news.com.au