Looking At 'Race And The Royals' Ahead Of Royal Wedding
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Just a little under two weeks until the latest royal wedding. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are planning to marry at Windsor Castle May 19. And the guest list is light on world leaders and heavy, relatively speaking, with members of the public. And that's got Aatish Taseer thinking about how much the royal family has and hasn't changed. He's a novelist who had a view into their world in his 20s when he dated the daughter of the prince and princess of Kent. Taseer writes about that in this month's Vanity Fair. His piece is called "Race And The Royals: An Outsider's View Inside Kensington Palace." And he joins us now from our bureau in New York. Welcome to the program.
AATISH TASEER: Thank you.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So you say you were one of the first, as you put it, natives of that former empire to date a member of the royal family. Just briefly tell us what that was like. You have some eyebrow-raising anecdotes in your piece.
TASEER: (Laughter). Well, I think I'm looking back and aware of the fact that there was this empire and that, you know, Ella's great-grandfather was George the V, emperor of India. And we were - as Indians, we were sort of subject peoples. And so there was a kind of political dimension. But when you're very young, you're hardly aware of those things.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: But there were some things that sort of made you note that perhaps you were being treated differently.
TASEER: I've always felt like with Britain that there was always a kind of low-grade racism that one experienced almost on a daily basis. Like, in America, you feel it's a much bigger convulsion. And the society is kind of reckoning with it in a more sincere but more troubled way. In England, it was always very light, you know? So it was - you'd come in and the guys on the walkie-talkie would be like, ah, you're the Indian fellow who's going with Gabriella. And it was like - so like...
GARCIA-NAVARRO: A limerick.
TASEER: Yeah. The first line of a limerick. But obviously, there was an implication because at that point, there was no one of my shape and size and color around, you know? So it was definitely there.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You focus in this piece on Princess Michael of Kent, who recently, of course, caused controversy when she wore a blackamoor brooch when she met Meghan Markle, who is biracial. And you say that that isn't surprising that she would have done something like that.
TASEER: Yeah. I always - I was - firstly, I want to say that she was always super generous and warm and very, very affectionate with me. So there was no problem of that kind. But there was - you know, there were certain attitudes. And I think with her, like, there was a kind of desire to shock.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you think that's because at least the elder royals are very insular? They're very protected from the rest of society and its headwinds and changes.
TASEER: Yeah. I think that is true. I think that it wasn't just - I mean, it was colored people, homosexuals, Jews. People would have these very polite manners. And then they would say these rather awful things. You know, it's like, I'm terribly sorry. I don't like Jews very much. You know, you just can't talk like that. So there was certainly a kind of - it was very, very archaic.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Your piece has gotten quite a bit of reaction in the British tabloids. And some of it has not been positive. What's your reaction to the reaction?
TASEER: My reaction to the reaction is that it was spearheaded by the Daily Mail, which is really an out-and-out - almost a racist enterprise. It's - Daily Mail has been one of the most strenuous advocates for Brexit. But they were also avoiding some of the serious themes of the piece.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, let's talk about some of those things. Diana was famously involved with Dodi Fayed 20 years ago. And there was a lot of talk then. Now Harry is marrying Meghan Markle, as we mentioned, who is biracial. So have things changed? What does that say about the United Kingdom now?
TASEER: I think that Britain is in a very strange place because the royals are kind of - as somebody said to me from the families, they're sort of one bright spot. Like, they're young. They're dynamic. They represent something that's very sort of inspiring when everything else is actually very gray because there's been this sort of political convulsion that was Brexit.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you think the royal family can really survive in a time when we have other kinds of celebrities that cost the taxpayer nothing? I mean, clearly, a lot of hopes are being placed on not only Meghan Markle and Prince Harry but the other younger royals like Prince William.
TASEER: I very, very sincerely believe that Britain couldn't do without them. There's such a deep attachment. They're sort of the very, like, emblem of history, of continuity. Unlike America, there's been almost a kind of - a certain kind of disregard for history. Britain has always fallen back on the past. It's always needed the past. So they're - I think that they will find a way for the royal family to continue to carry on that symbolism, at least.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I must ask you - are you attending the wedding?
TASEER: I'm not.
TASEER: Especially not after this piece.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: I was about to say. That is Aatish Taseer. His latest novel is called "The Way Things Were." Thank you so much for being on WEEKEND EDITION.
TASEER: Thank you.
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