"The tabloids, seizing on these statistics every January, pit the royals against one another like prized greyhounds." ~ New York Times

Anyone else in the public eye gets judged on what they do and achieve, not how many times they turn up and meet some people. But this is royalty, and royalty isn't normal. And let’s face it, there’s not much else we can judge them on. It's been suggested that the royals would rather we look at their ‘real work’ rather than count engagements, but it's not clear what work they’re talking about.

Like the charity work they claim to do, these claims of working hard are another way to justify their existence and wealth, and keep the critics at bay. Sadly we've all come to expect so little from the royals that any claim to be working hard is usually met with applause. It’s not all positive of course, the annual lists of royal activity also prompt headlines of ‘work-shy royals’ for those at the bottom of the table. But the reality is that they’re all work shy, demanding millions for very little in return.

They don't work hard

They don’t work hard. You know that, we know that – everyone knows it. And let’s be honest the royals don’t really work at all.

When they talk about working hard they are usually referring to the number of official engagements they do in a year. A typical engagement - turning up at an event, cutting a ribbon or meeting business leaders for example - will last about an hour, something Charles’s office confirmed when we wrote to them a few years back. Quite often these engagements last no more than 20 minutes.

In 2019 Charles was judged the hardest working royal. That year he did 521 engagements, so hours of ‘work’. 

If we assume a typical working day in this country is seven hours this is the equivalent of Charles working seventy four and a half days last year. An average full time worker would do two hundred and forty days. Seventy four and a half days is equivalent to approximately four months of full time work for the whole year.

For that we allowed Charles a personal income of more than £20m a year or about £38,000 an hour. Charles received the equivalent of £38,000 an hour for spending a third of his time meeting people and shaking hands. That’s 3140 times the average hourly wage of the UK’s key workers.

A huge number of these engagements were held at home – Clarence House in London, Highgrove in Gloucestershire or Balmoral in Scotland. A lot of those not done at home were still held within a fairly short distance of those three locations. And don’t forget, he doesn’t do full days or weeks of work. These 521 hours at home or nearby are spread across the year, leaving him with weeks and months of leisure time and time to pursue his own interests.

Typical engagements by Charles

Royal engagements are listed on the royal website. A lot of them involve just turning up and looking at something, or watching a film or game of rugby. Then there are the occasional military, religious or royal ceremonies and honours ceremonies.

  • The Prince of Wales this afternoon visited CCm Technologies Limited, I. O. Centre, Hobley Drive, Swindon, and was received by Her Majesty's Lord-Lieutenant of Wiltshire (Mrs. Peter Troughton).
  • His Royal Highness this evening received Mrs. Rebecca Speight (Chief Executive, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds).
  • The Prince of Wales this morning received Major General Sir Benjamin Bathurst (General Officer Commanding London District and Major General Commanding Household Division).
  • His Royal Highness, President, the Royal Ballet, received Mr. Christopher Rodrigues (Chairman, Royal Ballet School).

It's unclear what happened at these engagements. The royal website explains that where a royal 'receives' someone it is just for 20 minutes, not the full hour. 

And it's usually the same kinds of people they receive, military officers, religious figures and heads of charity. Charles also includes some of his own personal interests in his list of engagements, for example:

  • The Prince of Wales, Royal Founding Patron, Turquoise Mountain Foundation, this afternoon held a Meeting.
  • His Royal Highness later held a Meeting for Waitrose Duchy Organic
  • The Prince of Wales, Duke of Cornwall this morning held a Meeting for the Duchy of Cornwall.

The Turquoise Mountain Foundation is a charity Charles set up, so this isn't a meeting that’s held as an official duty, so it really shouldn't be on the list. Waitrose Duchy Organic is a private venture between Waitrose and Charles’s own charity, so again not an official engagement.

As for the meeting of the Duchy of Cornwall, he claims that’s a private estate. So why is that listed as an official engagement? That's his own private business, not something that should be added to a list of official meetings paid for by the taxpayer.

You get the idea. This isn’t work. It’s meeting the great and good, charity leaders and pursuing their own interests. None of this requires any physical or intellectual effort on the part of any royal. Everything is planned and provided for them. All they need to do is turn up. No accountability, no expectations of performance standards, no worries about getting a bad annual review. No worries about redundancy, unemployment or whether you can afford to put food on the table.

Does any of this matter?

Pointing out that the royals don't work hard seems a bit obvious, and it's not really part of the argument for a republic. But it does raise questions about what we let the the royals get away with and how dishonest their PR is.

And why aren’t we holding the royals to the same standards as everyone else? Why do we tolerate the dishonesty and graft of this work-shy family? They don’t work hard. You know that, we all know that.

Instinctively you know we're right. Because you know what hard work looks like: going into work, answerable to a boss, often having to do boring tasks we’d rather not do, then getting home to a world of worries about money, mortgages, rent, childcare, health care and so on… then up the next morning to do it all again.

When we think about nurses, teachers, call centre staff, farmers or anyone else, we know that’s what hard work is like. For the royals it’s a life of leisure, punctuated by trips to museums, cinemas and ceremonies. No serious work, no pressure, no consequences or concerns about whether food will be on the table when they get home.

The hard work royal is just another part of the emperor’s new clothes mythology that helps sustain support for the monarchy. And it’s dishonest, offensive and ridiculous.