By Graham Duggan  

The Royal Family have been stewards of noble tradition. Headed by the longest reigning Monarch in British history, Queen Elizabeth II, they’ve also been criticized for being out of touch with modern times. 

But in recent years, the monarchy has undergone a big transformation. As seen in The Passionate Eye documentary, Modern Royals, the family has remade itself to become a better fit for the 21st century and is now more popular among the public than it has been for decades.

The touchy-feely princess

It all started with Princess Di. When she married into the world’s most famous family at just 20 years old, Diana Spencer was a shot in the arm for the nation. “I think in many ways that Diana was the pillar if you want, that marks when the Royal Family changed,” says Katie Nicholls, author of Harry: Life, Loss and Love. “Diana broke the mould.”

Diana was the first “touchy-feely” royal, sitting on hospital beds and hugging patients suffering from HIV/AIDS, something that had not been done by royals before.

She was also a very hands-on mother with her sons, the young princes. Extremely affectionate, she ensured that they grew up in a loving environment. 

Harry marries a divorcee

When Prince Harry began dating actress Meghan Markle, the British press went wild. An American of mixed heritage, Meghan was unconventional — and divorced.

In 1936, Harry’s great-great-uncle Edward abdicated the throne after refusing to end his relationship with an American divorcee, Wallis Simpson. This time, Meghan was embraced by both the family and the British public and the couple’s romance was seen by some as a breath of fresh air for the monarchy.

“The Queen herself has openly and publicly welcomed Meghan into the royal family, and rightly so, because this is exactly what the royal family can do by example,” says Ken Wharfe, former head of security to Princess Diana, Princes William and Harry.

Will & Kate in love

In 2001, William met Kate Middleton at St. Andrew’s University in Scotland. They weren't a typical royal match either; Kate was a middle-class “commoner,” with no “royal blood.”

They dated for ten years before their engagement, and actually lived together before they were married.

In 2017, the couple announced that they were pregnant with their third child, defying royal tradition. “They’re the first royal couple for 50-odd years to have three children,” says royal historian Anna Whitelock. “Historically...future monarchs have had to marry for every other reason than love, so the fact that these two actually love each other and want to have children because they love each other is perhaps rather an anomaly.”

Diana’s sons and their wives have carried on her legacy, both couples are approachable in public, always stopping for a chat or a hug.

Meghan celebrates Christmas with the Queen

On Christmas Day in 2017, the Queen broke with a long-standing tradition by allowing newly-engaged Meghan Markle to attend lunch with the family at Sandringham House. Historically, only married members of the family were allowed to attend. 

“The Queen really did bend the rules for Meghan, which I guess shows just how happy the Queen is for the relationship and how she loves Harry and clearly likes Meghan,” says Nicholls. “Never before has a royal fiancée been allowed at Sandringham, they have to have both bands on that wedding finger, the engagement ring and the wedding ring.”

The Queen makes an Olympic entrance with James Bond

When London hosted the 2012 Summer Olympics, Queen Elizabeth II marked her arrival at the opening ceremonies in spectacular fashion by appearing to jump out of a helicopter with James Bond. “She proved herself to be a real gamely Queen,” says Nicholls. While wasn’t the real Queen parachuting above the Olympic stadium (of course it wasn’t!), she did film the opening sequence with Bond actor Daniel Craig. The publicity stunt earned her a lot of points and showed that she can go off-script and be up for a laugh.

William and Harry take on royal duties

After 65 years on the throne, the Queen now relies on the younger generation to carry out royal duties. William is taking a larger role in the family’s ceremonial affairs, and Harry is stepping in to attend state dinners and represent the family on trips abroad.

Nicholls says, “I don’t think there’s any doubt that these young royals are making the royal family more popular, more modern, more in touch than ever before.”

After experiencing tragedy and low approval, the monarchy has revolutionized itself and has truly embraced the 21st century, becoming Modern Royals.

Watch Modern Royals on The Passionate Eye.