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12 Americans who tried to ruin the British monarchy – POLITICO

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12 Americans who tried to ruin the British monarchy – POLITICO 1


LONDON — For those privileged enough to live under a British monarch, it can be a struggle to grasp quite how grim life must be for the 7.5 billion human beings who are not.

Yes, of course, we Brits are not alone in having Queen Elizabeth II, star of Netflix, as our head of state. Fourteen other countries — including Australia, Canada and Jamaica — still have Her Majesty on their money. But, like drinking a pint of Guinness outside of Ireland, it never really tastes quite the same. The sorrow of the Commonwealth, however, is nothing compared with that of those who have ditched the House of Windsor altogether. And no nation on Earth so obviously regrets its blunder in that department as the United States of America.

Since Amexit-ing in 1776, our transatlantic cousins have tried to make a good fist of independence, but the empty void left where a monarch should be has never been sufficiently filled. Envy is a pernicious thing, and over the years it has seemed more and more as if the U.S. has been waging a stealth war against the mother country to drag us down to their republican level.

Now, with Megxit in the air, that resentment seems once again to have raised its crown-less head. The British must once again be on guard against American arrivistes seeking to upend the status quo.

So, without further ado, here are the 12 Stateside-born individuals who have tried to ruin the British monarchy.

1. Thomas Jefferson

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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Born in Virginia in 1743, Jefferson was to become one of the most influential figures in U.S. history and the country’s third president. But he is mostly remembered by die-hard British monarchists for the scurrilous role he played in driving King George III mad.

In his youth, Thomas filled his head with radical ideas. By the time he was in his 30s, he was already agitating for change in the American colonies.

Jefferson argued that the British parliament had no moral authority over America and that the people of the New World owed no taxes to the British crown. When things turned sour, he blamed the ensuing war of independence on George III.

A man of many contradictions, it was Jefferson who drafted the Declaration of Independence, including the notion that “all men are created equal,” even as he kept slaves on his plantations in Virginia. But in Britain he’s remembered as the indolent radical whose actions drove a monarch insane.

2. Woodrow Wilson

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Topical Press Agency/Getty Images

U.S. President Woodrow Wilson’s arrival in London in December 1918, just a month after the end of World War I, caused a sensation.

This was the first time a U.S. president had visited Britain. As his train pulled into Charing Cross station, thousands crammed the streets and cheered as his carriage progressed down the Mall to Buckingham Palace.

“All the gaiety pent up through the cruel four and a half years seemed to be released in the great noise of cheering!” the Guardian enthused.

Those who caught a glimpse of the president were captivated by his winning smile, radiant manner and American good looks: Woodrowmania had arrived.

As the president disappeared inside Buckingham Palace the crowd chanted: “We want Wilson! We want Wilson!” And when eventually a door creaked open and the president appeared on the famous balcony alongside King George V and Queen Mary, there were roars of approval.

Here is the first known example of a dashing American putting the British Royal family in the shade. Wilson turned presidents into celebrities, leaving the seemingly dull old Windsor family trailing pitifully in their wake.

3. Kiki Preston

Years before Prince Harry was caught smoking weed in the grounds of Highgrove, his great-great uncle was setting the bar for bad behavior with a little help from a glamorous American friend.

Prince George, duke of Kent, fourth son of George V, was the original royal wild child. Bisexual and jazz-obsessed, he detested the stifling conformity of royal life. Despite his marriage to Princess Marina, George had numerous, often reckless relationships, including a lengthy love affair with the playwright Noel Coward and a rumored fling with the Soviet spy Anthony Blunt.

But nobody undid him like Kiki Preston. New York-born Preston was part of the notorious Happy Valley set in colonial-era Kenya, but even by the standards of her hedonistic peer group, her behavior was scandalous. Known as “the girl with the silver syringe,” she was infamous for partying all day and all night. She met Prince George in the 1920s and immediately set about leading him astray.

Through her, he became addicted to cocaine and morphine and embroiled in a ménage à trois with an Argentinian named Jorge Ferrara.

George became so drawn into Preston’s coke-fueled lifestyle that his brother Edward, future king of England, was obliged to force the pair apart. George would later die in a mysterious war-time plane crash, while Preston leaped to her death, aged 48, from her fifth-floor apartment in New York.

Edward, meanwhile, was destined to come face-to-face with bad Stateside influences of his own.

4. Wallis Simpson

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Fayer/Getty Images

Depending on whom you believe, Wallis Simpson and Edward VIII’s love affair was either the greatest romance of the 20th century, or an excuse to get rid of a wayward king who had forged a treacherous friendship with Adolf Hitler. Ever wary that another American might pitch up and upset the apple cart, the royal family was already on high alert when, in 1934, staff at Windsor stumbled across Simpson and the prince of Wales in bed together.

The prince insisted to his father, somewhat comically, that it was all a big misunderstanding, but when George V died in 1936, he immediately set about making plans to wed Simpson — despite her still being married to someone else.

As the story of the relationship broke, the British press painted a not-unfamiliar picture of Simpson as an American “gold digger” who was only after the king’s fortune and a title for herself. As soon as she got her hands on either she’d be off, it was said — and Simpson, bewildered by the malicious interest in her affairs, fled Britain, hotly pursued by journalists.

As the constitutional crisis worsened and Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin threatened to resign, Edward chose the woman he loved over his “duty.” The couple moved abroad, remained married and by all accounts were devoted to each other until Edward’s death in 1972.

As to those rumors of Nazi sympathies, under Britain’s 100-year rule we must wait until 2037 to find out.

5. Walt Disney

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General Photographic Agency/Getty Images

Ask a child to give you the name of a princess and chances are they’ll volunteer Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella, or any one of the princesses gifted to us by Walt Disney. Nobody has done more to distill the popular image of what a princess is, what she should wear and how she should behave, in the minds of the masses.

Disney’s first feature-length film, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” set the template in 1937. Snow is a lonely princess waiting for her prince; she likes to sing and brush the floor and smile at bluebirds, but is otherwise defined entirely by her title and her looks.

Until very recently, most of the Disney princesses who followed have been dispiritingly similar. They are graceful, timid, invariably white, curiously sexless victims in elaborate dresses — constantly in need of rescuing by a handsome man in a crown. Early Disney, like the House of Windsor, abhors strong women who wish to live on their own terms, leaving those traits to the far more interesting wicked witches and female villains.

One only has to glance at the contemporary British press to see that those outdated ideals are still deeply entrenched in our culture.

6. Rupert Murdoch

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Keystone/Getty Images

As with so many great Americans, Rupert Murdoch wasn’t actually born American. The son of one of Australia’s most renowned journalists and newspaper owners, young Rupert first rocked up in Britain in the 1950s to attend Oxford University. There, he swiftly took against the British ruling elite, which he felt looked down on him on account of his Antipodean roots. Soon he was putting a bust of Lenin on his desk, joining the university Labour Party and getting called “Red Rupert.”

Murdoch may have gone on to become one of the most powerful men in the world, but that early grudge against the British class system and the royal family seems to have endured.

During his brief stint on Twitter, Murdoch admitted to being a “small ‘r’ republican longer than I can remember.” And it shows.

Since he bought British tabloid the Sun in 1969, the major U.K. Murdoch titles have waged an unrelenting war on the British monarchy and were the first to break the reporting taboos surrounding royal news coverage.

No media tycoon has done more to demystify, mock and denigrate the House of Windsor.

7. Koo Stark

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Evening Standard/Getty Images

Incredibly, perhaps, back in the early 1980s — in the days when he could still sweat and long before he had ever darkened the door of the Pizza Express in Woking — Prince Andrew was considered a royal sex symbol.

In 1981, “Randy Andy,” then a 31-year-old helicopter pilot in the Royal Navy, began a relationship with American actress Koo Stark. As the affair blossomed, the tabloid press dug into Stark’s film credits and in particular her lead role in a 1976 avant-garde movie titled “The Awakening of Emily.” The film tells the story of a teenage girl in 1920s London indulging in a series of erotic encounters with men and women, and when it came to light, it was all too much for the royal family.

Stark was deemed an unsuitable consort for the queen’s favorite and pampered son, and after a holiday together on the island of Mustique the couple parted. The Koo Stark affair revealed that the queen was still running a tight ship, but also signaled that her children were growing up in more open-minded times. How long would she manage to keep the mythos of the «perfect family» afloat?

8. John Travolta

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Evening Standard/Getty Images

Princess Diana loved to dance. So when she and Prince Charles went to the U.S. on an official visit in the fall of 1985, some bright spark in the White House administration invited John Travolta along to the event.

As the clock struck midnight on that November night, Diana felt a tap on her shoulder and turned around to see “Danny Zuko” requesting her hand.

With her jug-eared prince looking on, Diana obliged and the images of her gliding about with Travolta quickly flashed around the world. The contrast between the staid old world, epitomized by Charles, and the glamorous and seductive new one could not have been more starkly exposed, with Diana seemingly happy to bestride the two.

It was a further step in her rise to global celebrity and, by all accounts, Prince Charles hated every moment.

9. John Bryan

If Princess Diana was seen as the glamorous but solid star of the royals in the 1980s, then Sarah Ferguson, who married Prince Andrew in 1986, was the yin to her yang. Flame-haired Fergie was seen as a “breath of fresh air” when she first appeared on the scene and, despite her unwanted additions to the canon of children’s literature, was quickly taken to the hearts of the British people — for a period of about 10 weeks.

By 1992, her marriage to Andrew was on the rocks, and the duchess of York sought solace in the arms of her American “financial adviser” John Bryan.

While holidaying at a villa in the South of France, Bryan was snapped taking considerably more interest in the Duchess’ toes than her balance sheets.

Matters weren’t helped when the unfortunate photos dropped in the Daily Mirror on a morning when the royal family were spending time together at Balmoral. The queen had been keen for the couple to patch up their marriage, but after seeing the scandalous pictures of her topless daughter-in-law sunbathing while a bald Texan sucked her foot, she summoned Ferguson to a meeting and sent her packing. Once again, and in brutal fashion, the House of Windsor had despatched a troublesome presence in the ranks. But this was to be but the opening salvo in a decade of royal divorces, misery and scandal.

10. Jeffrey Steinberg

On the night of August 31, 1997, news began to filter through of a crash in a Paris underpass involving the princess of Wales and her boyfriend Dodi Al-Fayed. The following morning it was announced that they had both subsequently died.

Diana, aged just 36, was the epitome of all that people wanted a princess to be. It seemed inconceivable to many that her life could end — just like any mortal — in such a mundane and brutal fashion.

Soon her many devotees were looking for other explanations and coming in to fill that void was Jeffrey Steinberg, director of counterintelligence for the Executive Intelligence Review — a publication owned by convicted fraudster and conspiracy theorist Lyndon La Rouche. Steinberg and La Rouche hypothesized that Diana could have been murdered, possibly on the orders of the royal family. In the following years, these theories entered the mainstream thanks to their propagation in TV debates, online forums and in some quarters of the British tabloid press.

Despite numerous investigations and inquiries ruling that Diana died as a result of a car crash, the ongoing rumors and conspiracy theories persist more than 20 years after the event — and arguably did more to harm the reputation of the royal family than anything else until, well, Jeffrey Epstein.

11. Jeffrey Epstein

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Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

Prince Andrew’s friendship with sex offender Jeffrey Epstein began in the 1990s, and by 2000 the two men were well acquainted enough to be partying at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence in Palm Beach, Florida.

The following year, the men went on holiday together to Thailand where they were snapped surrounded by topless young women on a yacht off the resort of Phuket. Over the next 12 years, they met on at least 10 further occasions.

Following Epstein’s arrest, conviction and death in prison, mounting accusations against Prince Andrew convinced him to give a spectacularly ill-judged interview to the BBC’s Newsnight, in which he claimed that he had only visited Epstein’s apartment after his arrest because it was a “convenient place to stay” and the “honorable” thing to do. He added: “I kick myself for (it) on a daily basis because it was not something that was becoming of a member of the royal family, and we try and uphold the highest standards and practices and I let the side down, simple as that.”

The prince’s arrogance, entitlement and complete lack of awareness — coupled with accusations about his own behavior — were the final straw, and Andrew “stepped down” from official engagements soon after.

12. Meghan Markle

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Pool photo by Daniel Leal-Olivas/Getty Images

When Prince Harry and American actress Meghan Markle announced their engagement in November 2017, the news was broadly met with joy. Britain was in the doldrums in the wake of Brexit, and here was an event that would cheer the country up. Markle was just what the royal family needed — a smart, mixed-race woman with modern values and concerns, a strong identity and her own independent career.

As such and in retrospect, matters were probably doomed from the start. As the press focused on her dysfunctional and attention-seeking father, and as the usual suspects in the British media began to snipe at her for having the audacity to do things her own way, pressure began to build on the couple.

Following the very private birth of baby Archie, the mood in the British press turned increasingly sour. How dare Markle not offer up pictures of her child to raise the circulation of the nation’s tabloids?

You see, the awful truth is this: The royal family, the fourth estate and the British public at large like to keep royalty beige and dull. Not for them the risks attendant in being upstaged by arriviste Yanks.

As the queen has been holding crisis talks with her family on Harry and Meghan’s future public role, one thing is certain. Any blame will be laid, as it has been since 1776 — squarely at the feet of the American.

Otto English is the pen name used by Andrew Scott, a writer and playwright based in London.



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