Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Q is for Queen
Not many things have remained constant in my life. My parents haved moved from the house where they used to live and recently moved again.
I often find it difficult to answer when people ask me where I'm from.
But as the world speeds by leaving us in its slipstream, as mobile phones become BlackBerries and then iPhones, the Queen of England remains an unchanging relic of yesteryear like an old gramaphone in the corner of the room that remains because it's an institution.
Who would have thought that in 1977 when God Save the Queen by the Sex Pistols was released to coincide with the Silver Jubilee of Elizabeth II, the Queen would still be going strong more than 30 years later while the Sex Pistols were long forgotten with their creator Malcolm McLaren dead?
The most remarkable aspect of Queen Elizabeth is the fact that in all this time on the throne she has changed so little with the times. Her voice could be straight out of a black and white movie from the 1950s and her wardrobe is timeless.
In many ways Elizabeth was an accidental monarch. When her uncle Edward VIII took over the throne in 1936, few considered her an heir. But Edward got himself mixed up with an American (it happens to us all) and the rest is history.
After Edward abdicated, Liz's father George became George VI. Elizabeth fell in love with Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark in 1939. The date is somewhat alarming because she was only 13. They married in 1947. The union was somewhat controversial because Philip was foreign born and had little financial standing. Elizabeth's mother apparently initially referred to him as "the Hun."
Philip even had Nazi links through his sisters and while nobody has pinned Hitler loving sympathies on him as they did the Queen's uncle Edward, Philip managed to spent the next five decades developing a stellar reputation for telling tactless racist jokes and putting his foot firmly in his over sized mouth.
In contrast Elizabeth, who was crowned Queen in 1952, succeeded in being inscruitable and totally controlled for the much of the rest of the century. It's a well know fact that the Queen has blue blood and doesn't partake in low bodily functions like the rest of us.
Elizabeth's coronation in Westminster Abbey is the stuff of folklore; one family in the whole street would have a black and white TV and everybody would be in their home, drinking tea and cheering Her Majesty through the snowscreen that was the early days of television.
This tale is so hackneyed it could be completely wrong. For all I know it may have been a mass riot.
By the Silver Jubilee in 1977 we all had TVs. I can remember the cheap plastic Union Jack hats and all the street parties with jelly and crisps. We had crown making competitions in school and the whole nation seemed to love HRH, aside from the Sex Pistols.
By the time of the Queen's Golden jubilee in 2002, so much seemed to have changed. For an article I walked the streets of Ilford in East London tracking down the people who held street parties in 1977. There were few street parties in 2002. Most of the organizers had moved away. One couple took me conspiratorially into their home and told me how the neighborhood was unrecognizable from 25 years ago.
Most of the homes were now occupied by people from the Indian subcontinent who had no appreciation of the monarchy and no national pride, they told me, not to mention a new influx from Eastern Europe.
Also much had happened in the intervening time to the Queen herself as fissures appeared in the once seamless Victorian facade of the Royal Family. The Queen described 1992 as her "annus horribilis." It says much about the Monarch herself that she could use such an expression, one most people would equate with an anal infection, in a formal oration.
In 1992 the Queen saw the divorce of her daughter Princess Anne and Captain Mark Philips and the separation of Prince Andrew and Sarah Duchess of York. The chances of a reconciliation had been scuppered by pictures in which the Duchess, known as Fergie, by the tabloids, was getting her toes right Royally sucked by her financial advisor.
Worse was to come. The marriage between the Queen's eldest son Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales, was also falling apart as Charles became involved in equine pursuits and Diana got involved in a questionable relationship with a chap with red hair who reminds me a bit of...
It says much about the Queen that the fire at Windsor Castle seemed to upset her more than the relationship failures of her children.
But the one event that seemed to affect the public the most was the death of Diana in a car crash in Paris in 1997. As a huge un-British outpouring of grief swept the nation, the Queen remained holed up at Balmoral in Scotland and wouldn't even fly the Buckingham Palace flag at half mast for a few days.
The Queen's subsequent capitulation was captured in the movie The Queen, which blamed Philip for much of the Diana fiasco.
As an aside the whole Diana business failed to move me. I always saw her as something of a glammed up clothes horse who'd jump on good causes to milk publicity. But strangely enough I recently saw a documentary that made me rethink my past cynicism. She really seemed to care too much and make too many unglamorous visits for this to be a massive publicity stunt, even if much of it may have been to fill a void in herself.
So what are we to make of the Queen in 2011 as she approaches her diamond jubilee next year? She seems like a relic of a Britain of the 1950s, when there was a white face in every house and women swept the floors wearing rollers. She seems firmly rooted in the last century, if not the one before that, while William and Kate espouse a new more multicultural Britain.
But while the Queen doesn't command the loyalty of her subjects that she did decades ago, who have been wondering for some time why they contribute to much money for her to go hunting in Balmoral and to keep somany Corgis, you have to admire her resilience.
She outlasted Sid Vicious and McLaren and she's still going strong while Brit Pop is a fading memory. Margaret Thatcher once spoke about going on and on until her vision was recognized but there's a younger generation out there who have never heard of her any more than they have heard of Duran Duran.
In contrast the Queen has seen 12 Prime Ministers come and go starting with Winston Churchill. And she's still going strong.