In the middle of a global pandemic that has seen the loss of lives and livelihoods and brought so much despair and fear in its wake, it is most amusing that so many people were glued to their TV sets the other day to watch the interview of Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan of England by global TV mogul Oprah Winfrey.
In the United States of America (USA), the interview on CBS drew 17.1 million viewers, while in the United Kingdom (UK) it drew 11 million. Global viewership figures are hovering around the 50 million mark.
Well, as our elders say, even when we are weeping, we do find time to blow our nose. I have seen that happen at several funerals, where wailing women will find time to pause, blow their noses, have a brief chat with someone (and even throw in a wan smile) before returning to wailing duties.
In any event, we all need a bit of escapism in hard times.
All over Facebook, many Ghanaians expressed their opinion on one issue or the other that the couple raised in their interview — the allegation of racist comments, denial of security and a title for their son and mental health issues Meghan suffered.
These were bombshell issues that seemed to have rocked the centuries-old British monarchy, resulting in many people asking questions.
I was amused that some Ghanaians took such a keen interest in British royal affairs and even took sides in the seeming dispute between Harry and Meghan on one side, and the royal family on the other, but I was not surprised.
After all, many tuned in to watch the wedding of Harry’s older brother Prince William to Catherine Middleton in April 2011, as well as Harry’s wedding to Meghan in May 2018.
In both instances, the commentary was extensive on Ghanaian Facebook walls.
Prince Charles’ wedding to Lady Diana Spencer in July 1981 was televised live and I watched it as a little boy, as did many Ghanaians.
When Princess Diana died in a car crash in Paris in 1997, a Ghanaian woman was seen on TV dressed in a black ‘kaba and slit’ weeping outside London’s Kensington Palace where the late Princess lived and where crowds had gathered with flowers, as if she had lost a relative or close friend. I am sure she had never met her.
Of course, there are quite a number of Ghanaians, including my great aunt back in my native Ankaase, who are disconnected from the antics of a foreign family, as well as those who feel nothing but venom at what they believe the royal family is and represents.
To them, the royal family is a racist institution that sits atop a nation that colonised huge swathes of space on earth and plundered, looted resources and valuables through colonialism and benefitted immensely from same, including the precious stones in their tiaras and crowns.
British pillagers hauled these items to British museums in the name of God, King (or Queen) and country.
Nothing could be a more appropriate representation of British imperialism than its monarchy.
So what is the fascination, especially in Africa? Is it a neocolonial carryover from the Empire days, when the natives sang ‘God Save the Queen’ with some affection, if not pride, given that from the days of Queen Victoria in the 19th Century, the British crown was a part of our continent until the 1960s?
Is it an extension of our own fascination and soft spot for the special place that our royal families enjoy, complete with the pomp and pageantry of our special occasions?
Truth be told, the global fascination with the British royal family, especially since Princess Diana burst onto the scene in the 1980s and assumed iconic status for a variety of reasons, goes way beyond western societies and their former colonies. British royalty has massive following in Asia and South America too, and I think it all comes down to one word, ‘branding’.
Somehow, the institution has found a way to position itself in the public mind in a way that even a largely republican American society is fascinated in a manner almost akin to the adulation usually reserved for iconic pop stars and musicians. According to Brand Finance’s British Luxury 2018 survey, when Prince William’s wife, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, wears an item of clothing or an accessory, it increases its desirability among 38 per cent of US shoppers.
All that could not have been by accident. It has been purposive and deliberate. Consistently, British royal tours across the world have generated news and remains a solid brand, even if in the past few decades the family has been hit by a series of scandals and negativity, the latest being the bombshell Oprah interview.
Somehow, though, I have a feeling that with a few tweaks here and there, this ancient institution will find a way to glide along in the context of 21st Century realities.
In all the Ghanaian social media space comments that were made over the revelations in the interviews, what I found most interesting was the reaction to allegations of racism towards Meghan, who is biracial and her then unborn son.
In the 21st Century, right here in this country, there are many who object to a relative marrying another person from a different ethnic group, religion or so-called social standing.
Even within Christianity, some would oppose marriage with a person of another denomination.
Yet on social media, they ignore their own bigotry and shout from the rooftops over what allegedly happened thousands of miles away.
There are those who question whether a mixed-race person would ever be selected to become chief or queen mother in any ethnic group in this country, even if he or she fully qualified as a candidate on all counts. I think it is a valid question.
We must be honest with ourselves, take a deep introspection and work harder to remove the log of bigotry from our eyes.