ROBERT HARDMAN: Prince Charles’ visit to BAME church-goers was a beacon of diversity – and a lesson in what service and duty really mean
Sandwiched between the North Circular Road and the Browning, Jones & Morris plumbing depot, Brent Terrace is, in every sense, a world apart from the gated celebrity estates of sunny Montecito, California.
It was here that we found the Prince of Wales back in public yesterday, adopting the time-honoured strategy of royalty in times of trouble: show, not tell.
He had come to show support for a North London church — serving 50 nationalities — which is operating as a makeshift vaccine centre for ethnic minorities. And he had nothing to tell . . . except warm words of support for his hosts.
‘We are all immensely proud of the role black-majority churches play,’ he told them, ‘and it is of course a profound sorrow to me to know that black communities have been hit particularly hard by this pernicious virus.’
The fact that his was one of the only white faces at an overwhelmingly black and Asian engagement had nothing to do with the racial debate triggered by this week’s broadside from the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
Prince Charles, Prince of Wales visits Jesus House church to see an NHS vaccine pop-up clinic in action on March 9, 2021 in London. He had come to show support for a North London church — serving 50 nationalities — which is operating as a makeshift vaccine centre for ethnic minorities. And he had nothing to tell . . . except warm words of support for his hosts
The Prince had been due here long before anyone knew anything about the couple’s two-hour blaba-thon with Oprah Winfrey.
When a TV reporter tried to lob in a ‘whaddyathink?’ question, the Prince emitted an indecipherable noise from behind his surgical mask and kept moving.
As a slow but steady trickle of 150 people came and went, though, they were not the only ones who could feel a shot in the arm. So could the Prince. For it was clear that the Sussexes’ most incendiary accusation this week — alleging racism by an unnamed member of the Royal Family — had made no discernible impact whatsoever on this almost entirely non-white crowd.
Not a single one of those to whom I spoke had altered their views on the monarchy since Monday night. Yes, some had sympathy for Harry and Meghan. But more voiced concern for the Queen. As for republicans? Well, I simply couldn’t find one.
This was not some slick PR stunt hastily arranged at the last minute (or ‘curated’ as the Sussexes might say). Rather, this was the heir to the throne simply sticking to the diary. This was the nuts-and-bolts daily work of monarchy: recognising public service, thanking, bringing people together.
The last of these has been a bit tricky of late thanks to the pandemic but there was still a decent crowd here at Jesus House. It is a modern glass-fronted church on the edge of an industrial estate and would normally boast up to 3,000 worshippers.
Though worship is currently online, the place is still busy both with jabs and a food bank (the Prince had brought some supplies from Highgrove).
He was here to support the national campaign to boost jab rates among ‘vaccine-hesitant’ communities. The vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi, was delighted to be here, watching the Prince administering pats on backs.
Chatting to healthcare worker Caroline Olodimeji, 67, he talked of her family back in Nigeria, which the Prince last visited in 2018. ‘Do give them my kind regards,’ he told her.
There was plenty of medical banter with staff. ‘I try to do a first aid refresher each year,’ the Prince revealed, adding: ‘The important thing to remember is the recovery position.’
Pictured: Britain’s Prince Charles, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, and Chief Executive of the National Health Service in England Sir Simon Steven are pictured during a visit at the Skipton House to meet NHS and MOD staff involved in the vaccine rollout
No one mentioned the Sussexes’ long list of complaints, while the nearest the Prince got to self-indulgent introspection was reminding his hosts that he had actually spent his 59th birthday at this very same church.
He was here to meet black community leaders in 2007. He also had a speech to a socially distanced audience of both jabbers and jabbed. Recalling his previous visit, he said: ‘I learnt that wonderful acronym PUSH, “Pray Until Something Happens”.
‘We need your witness and your work as we seek to bring this pandemic to an end and please be assured I will certainly be PUSHING with you!’ In fact, this was more of a princely display of the old Churchillian mantra of KBO (keep b*******g on).
Afterwards, I conducted a straw poll among those going in and out. I asked them, specifically, about the Sussexes’ allegation of racist remarks by an unnamed member of the Royal Family.
‘Our community has been talking about it and a lot of us have respect for institutions like the monarchy,’ said Yemi Odu, 58, a GP. ‘I don’t think you make accusations like that on television. Get them off your chest but do it in private as a family. Prince Charles and the monarchy do a good job — if they didn’t, this country would kick them out.’
‘We’ll never know what was really said and they should have dealt with this privately,’ said Aaqil Hashim, 22, a teaching assistant from Neasden. ‘The Queen has spent 70 years building up the Commonwealth and we’re trying to get the country vaccinated. This just takes the spotlight away from all that.’
PhD student, Mariam Marzook, 24, agreed, adding that while there were plenty of Meghan fans among her peer group at University College London, ‘they are Kate fans, too’. She added: ‘We don’t need to take sides in this. This should have been done in private.’
Pictured: The Oprah Winfrey interview with Meghan and Harry, that aired on Monday night in the UK. The Oprah interview has given the world very little idea of the underlying point of a royal existence, beyond being photographed a lot and having a miserable time
‘I feel very sorry for Meghan and Harry and it’s sad they had to leave the country,’ said Tumini Iyeuwa, 55, an administrator from Bushey. ‘I agree with them that there are undertones of racism in the UK. But that shouldn’t bring down the monarchy. It’s like big red buses — it’s part of what the UK is all about.’
As we try to digest this week’s heaving buffet of umbrage served up from the Montecito sofa, it is easy to overlook what was not in the two-hour show. Though the Sussexes had previously talked a lot about service and duty, they didn’t seem to dwell on that.
As a result, the Oprah interview has given the world very little idea of the underlying point of a royal existence, beyond being photographed a lot and having a miserable time.
Yesterday, on the other hand, was simply what the Royal Family does all year round.
Most of it goes unnoticed. There would certainly not have been a pack of Press waiting for Prince Charles outside Jesus House yesterday had it not been his first public outing since Oprah.
But the point is that the Prince would have been there regardless. And then, from here, he went on to do the same thing in South London. He’ll be at it again today and tomorrow.
Perhaps the most deluded remark in Monday night’s interview was when Prince Harry sneered that his father and the rest of the family were ‘trapped’, adding: ‘I’ve tried to educate them.’
Watching the longest-serving heir to the throne in British history in action yesterday, it was not hard to identify which one is the master — and which the apprentice in need of education.
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