It was a rare occasion for a Thai audience to see her on a talk show. Headlined in local newspapers several days ahead, the famous talk show “Woody Kerd Ma Kui” on Channel 9 recently aired an exclusive royal interview with HRH Princess Chulabhorn Walailak, the youngest daughter of HM King Bhumibol Adulyadej. She reflected that royalty was not to be viewed as a fairy tale but as hard work.
Hosted by Mr. Vuthithorn “Woody” Milintachinda, the show has become one of the most highly rated and influential talk shows in the country. It is known for its exclusive interviews of controversial public figures and topics that penetrate into Thai pop-cultural consciousness, and for Woody’s bold style of direct questioning. These features of the show had heightened the anticipation for this particular interview.
Humbly conducting his interview on the floor by her feet and occasionally crawling on his knees and hands, Woody had understandably proved that his show was after all not so controversial when it came to a talk with one of the members of the most revered royal family in the world. The Princess was asked to talk about her religious practice taught by Laung Maha Bua, the late influential monk of whom she had become a close follower, before proceeding to her personal experiences as a royal. Beginning her royal duties at the age of fourteen, the 54-year-old Princess spoke of her inherited belief that the royals were born to serve their people. Although her father had tirelessly done so, she explained that young Thais were poorly aware of his great dedication, and urged the local media to keep them reminded. This, as she asserted, was not to bolster his image but to provide the people with correct information to enable them to form the correct judgment he deserves.
Woody was then brought to tears upon the Princess’s recall of the King’s declining health condition as a result of the Bangkok riots last year. His displayed emotion only reiterated the common appreciation of the Thai public for the monarch.
As a Thai citizen living in Thailand, I beg to differ with the Princess about the inadequacy of royal publicity. What she should regularly be reminded is the very fact that Thai people, especially the young, have a mind of their own. While the bombardment of royal publicity has been successful in maintaining the royal strength, it could eventually prove futile if this institution is unwilling to strive to stay relevant within modern Thai society.
But it is also interesting to argue based on her decision to appear on the show that the Princess is well aware of the independent minds who are currently working to undermine the monarchy. Her appearance can be viewed as a royal protest. Particularly, her refusal during the interview to be spoken to with the royal language was perhaps portrayed as a way to suggest that the institution was not merely kind but also accessible.
I was not too naive as to look forward to hearing a question or two about the lese majeste law, which it has been suggested serves to undermine the monarchy. And I was also prepared for the fact that once again this was just another public event to put the monarchy in a favorable light. So I was not too disappointed.
Next week when the interview continues, the Princess will reveal her father’s health condition. Having been hospitalized in Siriraj Hospital since September 2009, the 84-year-old King’s health has become the center of national attention. While it is to be expected, considering the country’s overwhelming respect for as well as reliance on him, that no one wants to be reminded by his natural old age of what may come, this feature of the interview may or may not keep us stuck in a state of denial.