(Note offensive content in paragraph 22, strong language in penultimate paragraph)
LONDON (Reuters) – In London’s East End, there was both adoration for the monarchy and sharp criticism of some members of Britain’s royal family on the eve of the funeral of Prince Philip, who died a week ago after seven decades of service to his wife Queen Elizabeth.
The queen, heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles and other senior royals will pay their last respects to Philip on Saturday at a ceremonial funeral at Windsor Castle that will be broadcast live by television stations across the world.
Millions will watch the funeral. But in the East End there was a generational divide between elderly residents who generally expressed devotion to the royals and younger locals who said they felt little connection to most of the family.
“My TV’s always off – I watch YouTube and just internet and social media stuff,” said Johnathan Roach, a 33-year-old window cleaner in Whitechapel, east London.
“My generation and younger – we weren’t raised with … values of caring about the royal family. We weren’t born in a time when it was like ‘fight for queen and country’. We were just born, we live, we party. We don’t really have that kind of connection.”
Roach said he felt closest to Princess Diana, who died in a car crash in 1997, and to her second son Prince Harry, husband of Meghan. The couple’s interview last month with Oprah Winfrey plunged the royal family into crisis.
Meghan said her pleas for help while she felt suicidal were ignored and that one unnamed member of the family had asked how dark their unborn child’s skin might be.
Harry also bemoaned his family’s reaction to the couple’s decision to step back from official duties and move to Los Angeles, and said his father, Charles, and brother, Prince William, were trapped in the system.
“I love Harry – he just seems like a normal person. He makes mistakes and he’s like a regular guy,” said Roach.
‘SYMBOL OF BRITAIN’
For centuries, waves of immigrants have made London’s East End their home.
Huguenots, French Protestants, settled there after escaping persecution from Louis XIV in the 17th Century, Jews from the Russian empire settled there in the 19th Century and Bangladeshis came in the 20th Century.
Elderly residents were clear about their respect for the monarchy.
“I’ll be watching it definitely,” Om Parkash Shabi, 85, who was born in India, said of the funeral.
“The royal family is a symbol of Great Britain – without the royal family there is no Britain. My family definitely, everybody likes the royal family, maybe some socialists don’t like the family, but most people like them.”
Polls generally show around three quarters of the population back the royals, but also support the notion of a divide in opinion between young and old.
Philip, who died aged 99, was part of the monarchy’s “old guard”, and did not enjoy the celebrity status of the likes of Meghan and Harry.
A survey last month found that among the youngest age group, support for an elected head of state was higher than that for the monarchy by 42% to 37%.
Philip’s dedication to his duty earned him widespread popularity in Britain, but he was also criticised by some for a number of off-the-cuff racist or abrupt comments which shocked princes, priests and presidents.
“He didn’t mean these words in a racist way – they were to create a kind of humour,” said Shabi.
Philip once asked within the hearing of both Pope Benedict XVI and the queen if a female Scottish politician was wearing Tartan knickers.
On a trip to Australia in 1998, he asked a student who had just returned from a walking tour in Papua New Guinea: “You managed not to get eaten then?”
The British Broadcasting Corporation has received over 100,000 complaints about the amount of coverage it dedicated to the death of Prince Philip on the day, after some viewers were upset that normal programming was cancelled.
In the East End, there was particular criticism from opponents of the royal family for Prince Andrew, 61, the Duke of York.
Andrew stepped down from public duties in 2019, saying the controversy surrounding his “ill-judged” association with late U.S. financier Jeffrey Epstein had caused major disruption to the royal family’s work.
Andrew, Queen Elizabeth’s second son, denies an allegation that he had sex with a 17-year-old girl procured for him by his friend Epstein, who killed himself in a U.S. prison while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.
“I don’t support them and I won’t be watching them,” said Thomas Wilson, 35. He said the royals were perceived as racist and raised the specific allegations about Andrew’s behaviour.
Newspapers reported that Andrew wished to attend the funeral in the uniform of admiral. The queen addressed that issue after ruling that royals would not wear military uniform.
Wilson said he was more interested in the death of American rapper and actor Earl Simmons, known by the stage name DMX or Dark Man X, who died on the same day as Philip.
“Fuck the royal family,” said Wilson. “We need to definitely get rid of them.”
Replace them with what? “Something better.”
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Mike Collett-White)