Her Enduring Majesty

Val Ross March 14 1983

Her Enduring Majesty

Val Ross March 14 1983

Her Enduring Majesty


Val Ross

As one of the worst storms in living memory battered the California coast last week, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and His Royal High-

ness Prince Philip were forced to forsake the royal yacht—their home during a month-long tour of the Americas—for safer modes of travel. Not even HMY Britannia could rule the six-metre waves. Still, the pomp and circumstance of the royal road show proceeded with majestic disregard for such minor an-

noyances. Rain did not drown the ardor of the sodden crowds who turned out to welcome the royal party’s arrival in San Diego. Nor was Elizabeth’s pleasure visibly dampened in San Francisco by thousands of demonstrators who chanted IRA slogans and waved banners like QUEEN OF TORTURE wherever she went. The presence of both the royal couple and the U.S. First Family, President Ronald Reagan and his wife,

Nancy, meant that the tour was dogged by a security force at times numbering 2,000. But throughout it all the Queen simply showed the ramrod-spined stuff that built the Empire — or, as Michael Deaver,

Reagan’s deputy chief of staff, put it, “She’s a real trouper and a good sport.”

Elizabeth has ridden out many storms in her 30-year reign and she has done so with notable aplomb. Judging by the flag-waving, genuflecting and at times giddy welcome she elicited in Jamaica, Grand Cayman Island, Mexico, California—and the one that awaited her this week in British Columbia—her current tour is no exception. In the care of the 62nd occupant of the throne, the Crown gleams as radiantly as it ever has. When Elizabeth visited her colony of Grand Cayman two weeks ago, a third of the populace turned out to greet her and to cheer as a speaker assured her, “We have no desire to change our

status.” And, as the Royal juggernaut

rolls through British Columbia, Her Majesty will be equally reassured to find her image still firmly imprinted on the local currency and the Crown she personifies inextricably woven into the new Canadian Constitution. Despite a raucous year of palace break-ins, a homosexual scandal within her palace staff and a heterosexual scandal within the bosom of her own family (her second son, Prince Andrew, appears to be continuing his controversial liaison with soft-porn starlet Koo Stark), the Queen herself remains as unassailable as ever. LIZ RULES OK, a beacon of duti-

ful decency in a cruel, uncaring world.

But, despite her unflagging service, there are signs that the Crown is becoming as outdated as a spotted Carnaby Street cap or the “E II R” cipher that until 1970 adorned Canadian mailboxes. Three-quarters of Canadians now think that the importance of the monarchy is decreasing, according to a recent Gallup poll, and that fact is most strongly acknowledged in formerly United Empire Loyalist Ontario. Dominion Day has become Canada Day, and Commonwealth Day (March 14 this year), including the Queen’s Commonwealth Day message, is almost universally ignored. Back in 1959 a young CBC interviewer, Joyce Davidson, required police protection—and was finally forced to leave the country to find

work—after she suggested that, “Like most Canadians, I am indifferent to the Queen’s visit.” Last year the CBC’s Barbara Frum displayed her indifference by refusing to curtsy before Her Majesty—and continued appearing on nightly TV—unscathed and unrepentant.

Canadians are not Elizabeth’s only errant subjects. As throngs of jostling Jamaicans turned out last month to welcome the Queen, editorials in the local press advised the nation that when it finally patriated its constitution from Britain it might well decide against a constitutional monarch as head of state.

In another part of the world, as well, there were more republican rumblings, as last Saturday Australia elected a Labor government with a long-standing commitment to downgrading the role of the governor general in government and, ultimately, to turning Australia into a republic (page 19). Although 60 per cent of Australians currently style themselves as loyal supporters of the monarchy, a recent suggestion to install Prince Charles as the governor general was quashed amid howls of outraged nationalism. “Charles is a nice young bloke,” commented Australia’s new Labor prime minister, Bob Hawke,

“but I don’t think we will be talking about kings for ever more.” Even among Britons, for whom life without the Royals is as unimaginable as a bridge game without jacks, queens and kings, recent events have revealed a sharp decay in the quality of the public’s allegiance. Nowhere is that clearer than in the press. The worst irreverence inflicted upon the Queen herself has probably been in the pages of the satirical fortnightly Private Eye, where she is referred to as Brenda—“a demure upper-class housewife living mainly in London.” But for Fleet Street her children and their spouses are another matter. The coming generation of the House of Windsor is mere cannon fodder for the fierce circulation battles of the vul-

gar press, Last winter shameless paparazzi


scrambled on their bellies at dawn through a Bahamian jungle to cop shots of a pregnant Diana, Princess of Wales, in her bikini. Last December one enterprising photographer pulled on waterskis to disguise his predatory circlings of the Caribbean retreat of Andrew and the luscious Koo. By January palace spokesman Michael Shea was begging about 40 insatiable British newshounds, who had trailed Prince Charles and Princess Diana to Switzerland on their winter ski vacation, to leave the couple in peace. Harry Arnold, a seasoned Royals hunter with the daily tabloid The Sun, only grumbled that “Shy Di” was derelict in her duties as “the world’s number 1 cover girl.”

But what pushed royal patience beyond endurance last month was the publication of “memoirs” by a former palace employee, Kieran Kenny. The Queen herself had hired Kenny as a grocery stockkeeper in 1981 after he wrote to her complaining that his 130 other applications for work had left him unemployed. Like all palace staff, Kenny signed an oath to uphold the Royal Family’s privacy—an oath he cheerfully trampled when he sold The Sun a steamy story of “Queen Koo’s romps at the Palace.” The first instalment, telling of DO NOT DISTURB signs on Prince Andrew’s bedroom door and of the starlet’s confident raids on Her Majesty’s private chocolate supply, ended with promises of more to come. But, when heavy-breathing Britons picked up the next day’s paper expecting to read about “The Day I Asked Di About Her Strapless Dress” and “When Barefoot Di Buttered My Toast,” they were greeted with an even greater sur-

prise: THE QUEEN GAGS THE SUN, said the headline. With the touring Queen and Prince Philip’s full approval, the Palace slapped a court order on the paper and Kenny.

The next day, for the first time in history, the Palace also applied for damages. In an out-of-court settlement, The Sun agreed to pay £4,000 (about $7,400) to charity, and Kenny was forced to return the £100 said to be his reward for betraying his monarch. But, despite the setback, it may not be long before The Sun tries again to shine into the palace’s darker corners. Its Australianborn publisher, Rupert Murdoch, known to his detractors as “The Dirty Digger,” is convinced that the Queen’s family sells newspapers, and the circulation

figures bear him out: The

Sun, now selling four million copies a day with a format heavy on naughty royals and nude pin-ups, is 800,000 ahead of its closest rival. But, commenting on the “Palace Dallas,” Simon Hoggart of the staid Observer warned: “People may soon get weary of the artificial excitement.

What will happen to the monarchy when the ratings fall?”

News of the legal drama at home was as upsetting to the Queen last week as the turbulent California weather, which forced the royal party to change its travel plans and spend an unaccustomed night in a commercial hotel. As the

Britannia made its way through the^ choppy Pacific to calmer waters offu Northern California, the Queen flew| from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Af-g ter a flurry of repainting and chande-^ lier polishing, Her Majesty’s party was welcomed into the 46-room presidential* suite in the city’s most luxurious hotel, the St. Francis. The president and his wife were bumped into a smaller, fiveroom suite, ironically named The London. The choice of lodging seemed suitable for the tradition-conscious Windsors; among other things, the 76-yearold hotel is noted for the long-standing practice of “laundering” (burnishing)

its guests’ money to prevent dirty coins from soiling the white gloves of female guests. Then, in an uncharacteristically spontaneous move, the royal party called a local restaurant, the Nob Hill Trader Vic’s, and ordered an impromptu dinner for 60 (peach blossom duck, Sichuan cheese wontons and fortune cookies, which the Royals delicately left uneaten, though they did slip out their fortunes to take home). The chef, Klaus Selb, inspected the tables after the guests left and was pleased to note that the Queen’s plate was clean.

Her appetite apparently was not disturbed by 50 Irish Republican


Army sympathizers demonstrating outside the restaurant. Another 2,500 gathered the next day outside San Francisco’s de Young Museum while a state dinner was under way inside. (AVENGE BOBBY SANDS-CHOKE ON YOUR CHAMPAGNE, read one bitter placard.) But, as Michael Shea commented imperturbably, “Her Majesty is accustomed to demonstrations in Britain.” More unnerving for the Queen, who is a notorious stickler for protocol, were the inevitable gaffes perpetrated by bumpkins untutored in the mysteries of regal behavior. In San Diego, Deputy Mayor Bill Cleator earned a royal glare when he actually touched Her Majesty’s back as he guided her around a local museum. (Commoners, as any monarchy watcher knows, do not touch royalty.) Later, as he greeted the royal guests at his rain-drenched, mountaintop ranch, Reagan stood chatting with reporters until Elizabeth turned abruptly and headed indoors (gentlemen do not keep the Queen waiting in the rain).

Whenever she mingled with California’s tinsel-town aristocracy, Elizabeth proved the sterling worth of her unapologetically stuffy brand of majesty. After she first arrived on U.S. soil, she sported a blue-and-white-patterned suit with matching barrow-boy cap— “The sort of rig-out,” complained the Daily Mirror's Anne Robinson, “that you always dreaded your mother would turn up wearing for the school open day.” But, as Prof. Henry Steele Commager, the United States’ most distinguished scholar of British history, told Maclean's, “In America’s eyes, the Queen of England is the world’s only super superstar.”

The gala evening that Nancy Reagan threw for Elizabeth in Los Angeles offered further proof that mere pizzazz was easily outclassed by authentic blueblooded dowdiness. The Queen’s upholstery-chiffon strewn with embroidered California poppies—contrasted sharply with the setting: a 20th Century Fox studio, fitted with 300 live trees and a seven-metre fountain left over from the musical Hello Dolly. Hollywood was not above being star struck. After fierce competition for tickets, some of the 500 showbiz stars showed up two hours early. As seasoned actor Glenn Ford burbled: “Nobody should be so naïve as to think this is just another party. It’s not. It’s very exciting.”

This week, when Her Majesty opens

the B.C. Place stadium in _

Vancouver in front of 30,000 spectators and massed choirs of 7,000 schoolchildren, it will be the turn of the Canadians to ponder just why this small, 56-year-old matron retains the fascination she does. Answers come from surprising quarters. Allan Blakeney, former New Democratic premier of Saskatchewan and longtime member of the Monarchist League of Canada, suggests that she “provides us with a head of state everyone can support, unqualified by political allegiance.” (Once, when pressed by a reporter to admit that the Queen secretly felt more comfortable with con-

servatives than socialists, a Palace spokesman pooh-poohed any suggestion of partisanship, sniffing, "All politi cians fall roughly in the same socia1~ class in her view.") Admits NDP MP; Svend Robinson: "I'm not strongly at tached to the institution of the thronebut I think the present occupant fills it with panache."

The present occupant also fills it only by a quirk of fate—her uncle Edward Vlll’s abdication in 1936 to marry the American divorcée Mrs. Wallis Simpson, the woman he loved. At the time, few realized that the throne would be strengthened by the departure of the

popular, partying Edward and the accession of his plodding, religious brother, Elizabeth’s father, Prince Albert. “Bertie” stuttered so badly that Elizabeth remembers he even had trouble wishing her good-night. The ex-king went on in private life to display disturbing Nazi sympathies (he even ventured a wobbly raisedarm salute when he met Hitler in 1937). But his brother, crowned as King George VI, and his family endeared themselves forever to the English and Allied forces by remaining in Britain at the height of the Blitz. “I am glad we have been bombed,” remarked his wife, the

“Queen Mother” Elizabeth, after two bombs exploded in the Buckingham Palace courtyard in September, 1940. “Now we can look the East End of London in the face.”

As for Princess Elizabeth, she gave her first radio broadcast in 1940, at the age of 14, to urge evacuated children to take courage. By war’s end she was a subaltern in the reserves, learning vehicle maintenance. “For my generation,” states Canada’s Solicitor General Bob Kaplan, “her part in the war is a very strong dimension of the monarchy’s tie to Canada. But now its relevance has to be based on something different—her visits, the sense of continuity she brings, her professionalism.”

In 1982 that professionalism demanded that she host 115 official state visits, grant 48 audiences and make small talk at 73 receptions, including nine engagements and three state meals in Canada. At such events her remarkable memory is aided by a carefully researched tip sheet, which she carries in her handbag. Leading the list of safe subjects on her current trip was the dreadful weather. Among the topics ruled out, at least as far as she was concerned, was whether she had ever wished she were a commoner. “No, I have not,” she snapped briskly to one American reporter who dared to ask the question.

But by most accounts she is well practised at putting people at their ease, at least in more intimate settings, and she has even been known to ask her nervous portrait painters, “Will this be with teeth or without?” Californians attending last week’s gala who were nevertheless unsure of their mastery of protocol had only to consult expatriate British rock star Rod Stewart. Sitting confidently in garish leathers at the head table, he expounded on the art of conversation with Her Majestry—if spoken to first. “You shouldn’t put on any acts when speaking to her, because she’s heard them all,” he declared.

Still, despite Elizabeth’s dogged and repetitive social life, the question of whether or not the Royal Family is “good value” has been posed with unseemly frequency in the latter years of her reign. And, though a few Labour MPs, led by antiroyalist Willie Hamilton, remain unconvinced (Hamilton has referred to Princess Margaret as “that expensive kept woman”), the answer, at least in the case of Elizabeth, seems to be yes. In 1981 the British Parliament voted the Royal Family expenses of $3.3 million, an amount comparable to Proc-

ter & Gamble’s annual expenditure on promoting two of its soap products in the United Kingdom. In return, the British retained a major tourist attraction. Tourist revenues shot up $200 million in the year of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. Elizabeth has also been an undeniable asset in the promotion of British trade. And during her current tour U.S. businessmen discovered what a useful promoter she could be, as a Los Angeles retail chain sported signs reading: THE BRITISH ARE COMING. IN CELEBRATION OF HER MAJESTY, QUEEN ELIZABETH’S VISIT TO CALIFORNIA, THE LIQUOR BARN IS HAVING A JOLLY GOOD SALE.

There was only a modest touch of commercialism in the days before the royal tour’s arrival in British Columbia.

Local stores were offering Union Jacks, teabags with royal crests and “Lady Dilook” ballgowns. But for most Canadians who value the monarchy the benefits it produces have little to do with cash. Canada contributes nothing to Her Majesty’s expenses, although the budget for her representative in Canada, the governor general, currently runs at $4.8 million a year. Nor do Canadians gain in terms of trade or tourism. To loyalists, such as the 12,000 members of the Monarchist League, its value lies chiefly in tradition, symbol and image.

The monarchy’s defenders are headquartered in a modest North Toronto office, behind signs announcing a dentist, a family planning clinic and ROYAL

SOUVENIRS FOR SALE, BROWSERS WELCOME. The league’s finest hour came 3V2 years ago when its outraged response to the original constitution patriation bill, C-60, was at least partially responsible for restoring the Crown’s place in the new Canadian Constitution. “Now it would take a revolution,” smiles league Chairman Arthur Bousfield, “or at least the unanimous consent of the provinces to change that.” The erosion of the institution, as the league keeps angrily chronicling in its journal, Monarchy Canada (circulation 12,000, with 200 U.S. readers), continues relentlessly; royal birthdays go uncelebrated, protocol regarding the governor general’s correct role is flubbed or abandoned. In the opinion of Richard

Gwyn, The Toronto Star’s Ottawa columnist: “Canadians

have been extraordinarily lucky to claim a little of the ceremony for ourselves. But I can’t see it lasting; c ’est magnifique mais ce n 'est pas le Canada.”

It has been the peculiar and difficult fate of Elizabeth to preside, with private regret (according to her biographers) but with public grace, over the devolution of the Crown in its worldwide dominions. Observes her biographer, Richard Lacey, in his study, Majesty: “If her subjects ever became unhappy with her or with the system she represents, then she could have no doubt as to where her duty lay. ‘We’ll go quietly’ is one of her favorite jokes. ... Her response would be nothing but the logical continuation of her entire life.”

In the midst of last week’s California storms, it took the royal party four different vehicles to reach the Reagan’s mountaintop ranch for a Mexicanstyle lunch—a battered navy bus which careened along roads lined with abandoned cars, a DC 9 plane, a limo and finally a

four-wheel-drive van which negotiated a 11 km mountain road washed out by no fewer than six streams. Local police who had declared the route impassable predicted that the little party would never reach the top. But two hours later the Queen and Prince Philip were sharing enchiladas and refried beans with the denim-clad president and his wife. According to a tour spokesman, it was simply a matter of doing one’s royal duty: “Her Majesty didn’t want to disappoint anyone.”

Malcolm Gray

Carol Kennedy

Benjamin Ariel

William Lowther

Philip Grenard

John Faustman