The Australians have it right when they call the Brits ‘whingeing poms’. It’s one of the things that as a nation they do brilliantly, and something of which they are fiercely proud. Every once in a while, they let go of their cynicism and go full steam ahead for the spirit of the blitz. The Jubilee is a case in point. Hoards of people braved the terrible weather to celebrate 60 years of the Queen on the throne.
No whingeing in sight.
Whatever else might be said about the royal family, and there has been quite a lot over the years, the Queen has always remained off limits in terms of criticism, except during Princess Diana’s death. In 1997 royal ratings hit a low point, almost a point of no return. Yet return they did.
At the time of the Jubilee, polls showed the Queen enjoyed a popularity rating of 80 percent. Few other high-profile Western heads of state could equal that. The Jubilee surpassed even the wedding of William and Kate. Like football, the royals bind the country together.
They are intrinsic to the fabric of England, possibly less so to the other three countries – Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland - that make up Great Britain, and the jubilation over the Jubilee in England proved that. The country considers the Queen a good egg, a woman who has always put duty first, and almost never put a foot wrong in a minefield of disasters.
The idea that the UK is going to become a republic anytime soon seems more and more like the media construction it is. No question the great British public wanted their monarch to pay taxes, and they wanted less mystique. That was a sign of the times when the situation began to change almost 30 years ago and the untouchable façade of royalty began to crumble. We don’t want our royal family riding around on bicycles like the Dutch royal family perhaps, but we accept the fact they aren’t appointed by god either.
We like the fact that an ordinary middle class girl can become queen.
Unlike the young and innocent Princess Diana, Kate Middleton knows how to play the game, and despite our sophistication we still want to believe in fairytales, even if we know they can’t come true.
What I can’t believe is my transformation from a pretty whole-hearted republican to someone who accepts the royal family, if I have not actually become a monarchist. A friend of mine, an extremely erudite man in Toronto, said, ‘the queen is evil’. Well, I don’t think Prince Philip called up MI5 to kill Diana, and I don’t think the Queen is evil. In fact she has played a cohesive role in the nation. The royals are as much a part of the UK as Hollywood is to the USA, She has provided continuity over these six decades of enormous change.
Growing up in Canada, the royal family had very little relevance. When I moved to the UK I thought the Windsors were anachronistic, odd, and vaguely humorous. I thought turning Buckingham Palace into a condo development, as it is prime London property, was an inspirational idea. The Firm means something else here, in such close proximity, than they do perhaps in the rest of the Commonwealth where they are not part of everyday life. That’s not to say that you bump into them regularly, but there are constant reminders – pubs that William goes to, people who know people who know Kate. They are more tangible, less ridiculous, more understandable.
When I met Princess Anne and interviewed her, the closest I’ve come to any prolonged exchange with someone from the family, I didn’t get that warm and fuzzy feeling. She intensely dislikes journalists. But the people she had come to see from the charity she represents, loved her, and she seemed to have an excellent report with them too.
In such countries as Canada and Australia, understanding the royals is as mysterious as understanding the class system, something we remain outside of. It does still exist, but in a different way. Barriers can be broken down, people can shift between the classes, it is not like in Dickens’ time, but it is noted, consciously and unconsciously.