James Jackson

Jeremy Paxman’s droll look at the royal offspring was the most entertaining thing on Channel 5 in years

Paxman on the Queen’s Children
Channel 5
★★★★☆

Documentaries about our incumbent royal family tend to fall into one of three camps: the Buck House puff-docs that show us the charitable work our good Windsors do; the scurrilous Channel 4 ones implying how the horrible old firm used to treat inconvenients (“Kanga” Tryon, say, or Diana); and the clip-heavy, mildly gossipy canters through a royal’s love life (most recently, Princess Margaret’s).

The ones in the last group are the most watchable because, let’s be honest, what the great British public — tabloid readers and The Crown viewers alike — get off on when it comes to royalty is the sheer soap opera of it all. Yet, as Paxman on the Queen’s Children is showing, they need a certain presenter — someone who can combine mild disdain and amused incredulity to the point of out-and-out comedy — to make them really fly. Such as, indeed, Jeremy Paxman.

“Charles, Anne, Andrew and Edward were conceived and born in the same way as most of us, but let’s be frank . . . they’re different,” began the old inquisitor, wearily and correctly. Later, he listened to a Nolan sister’s 1970s pop ode to Prince Andrew, Andy (By Coleen), declaring with a look of disbelief: “It is absolutely appalling!” With politics off his back, Paxman seems to be having a lot more fun — and at one point even lay back on the sofa with his interviewee to gawp at old photos of Charles with his top off.

Paxo is no longer a sneery republican, though, and his overall point was a sympathetic one: Charles and siblings were paraded for the cameras from birth as a kind of PR experiment, so it wasn’t their fault that their inevitable romantic mistakes became “a blood sport on the front pages”. Of course, analysis of said blood sport provided all the levity here too.

The young royals were stuck in an impossible situation, between toeing the Palace line and having a libido. “Princess Anne too?” Paxman asked, eyebrows shooting up, of the suggestion that Anne “had a lot of fun” as a hot horsey babe. There was also the royally minted anecdote from Charles’s uni pal that the prince — ever the joker — was so unimpressed by his potential brides that he quipped: “Shall I go gay?”

Amid this feast of epigrams and insights, or “randy Andy” and Koo — this really was the most entertaining thing on Channel 5 in some time — was it wrong to start feeling an odd nostalgia for the good old days of naughty love lives and the ridiculous It’s a Royal Knockout (“Fergie’s team just cheated from minute one,” we heard)? Days before the Palace PR machine got that much slicker and the royals that much more vanilla. Philip aside, that is.

Either way, you were left wondering what the “royal foursome” would make of Paxo’s opening assertion that: “Years of interviewing people making their way up the greasy pole of politics has led me to the conclusion that the job of representing the country should be kept out of the hands of those who want the job.”