There are two myths floating out there in the void, in all the recent fuss over the 40th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth on the throne of a foreign country. The one is that Dr. Foth, who thinks that the Brits should stick with their royalty and that Canada should grow up, knows nothing about the royals. This is not true.
The second is the misconception that Good Queen Bess is stubbornly sticking to her crown and selfishly won’t give it up to the resolutely underemployed Prince Charles. Both beliefs are mistaken. We are here to disabuse you of them. In 1981, your agent, for his sins, was ordered to cover the Cinderella wedding of the Virgin Di and the chap with the large ears. I sat some 50 feet from the fairy-tale ceremonies in St. Paul’s Cathedral and was struck most of all by one overriding image. It was the glum and sorrowful look on the face of the mother of the bridegroom.
One would have thought—all London aflame with a party passion understandable in a people who lead such dreary lives—that the Queen would have been beaming with pride. She wasn’t. She looked unhappy. We have shared a glass or two at off-the-record press receptions on the royal yacht and, at the time, your blushing republican was struck by (a) her daintiness; (b) the fact she is more attractive in person than in pictures; (c) her understated wit that borders on withering.
Implicit in that was a good humor. The good humor had disappeared by the time of St. Paul’s Cathedral. She has never smiled since. The reason she has never smiled since is because, as she gazed at the altar and the fairy-tale wedding, she knew within herself that her son probably would be an old and tired and discouraged man before he ever acceded to the throne she would like to give up.
She would like to, but she’s decided she can’t. Because of the past, and because of the present conduct of her offspring, she’s been advised by her Buckingham Palace advisers that she has to stay, for the survival of the monarchy.
The past of course was her selfish uncle, the
Prince of Wales, who abandoned the throne for the conniving and much-married Wallis Simpson—and spent the rest of his life wandering in exile, a pitiful figure. Good Queen Bess can never forgive her uncle Edward for that: the abdication forced her shy father, who didn’t want the job, to become king, a task that killed him—and therefore ruined the youth of a 25year-old young bride who had to accept a heavy crown.
If King Edward can junk the job for love, can Elizabeth now do it because she’s old? And wants her long-impatient son to have it? Nope. The dangerous precedent cannot be repeated. It’s too fragile a myth as it is. The crown is not something you can abandon, willy-nilly, as the coinage would be debased. It’s not a job, it’s a calling—a lifetime calling.
Little wonder the moody Prince Charles is reduced to talking to flowers and wandering the Scottish woods in his kilt while the wife who
has upstaged him flits off to the disco with Fergie. He’s 43 and could hit retirement age before his coronation. His mother is 65 and certainly not infirm. The genes are in the family. The Queen Mum is 114 or something and still going strong, with the pearls, the corgis and the gin.
The Brits are used to longevity. George III stuck it out for 59 years on the throne. Queen Victoria did better, lasting almost 64. The incumbent may beat that. No wonder she looks so glum. No wonder Prince Charles is reduced to complaining about architecture.
There is the additional problem of the progeny. The royals were once a tight little family unit. Now there are so many of them that some, inevitably one supposes, fall off the back of the truck. Divorce has entered the fairy tale, through Princess Margaret, and is impending through Princess Anne, with her husband, Mark Phillips, in a paternity suit in New Zealand with some horsey lady.
Fleet Street warns that some of the juvenile antics threaten to bring the Windsors down to the level of the partying Eurotrash aristocrats. There was Randy Andy with his porn star, Koo Stark. Fergie, with her aggressive bad taste in clothes, seems a grenade about to explode in the tabloids any week. The young brother Edward, who enraged his father by abandoning the military, seems fey and uncertain about life. There is always some stray cousin up for speeding or drugs or both.
Lady Di, who vies with Madonna for most magazine covers of the year, has become a fashion industry on her own, is bored with Scottish woods and kilts. Do the Brits want a queen in a bikini? Not yet they don’t.
Does anyone deserve to be stuck with one job beyond 40 years? Nope. But them’s the breaks. It’s not a job, it’s an inheritance. Duty calls. In order to fulfil the duty—and keep the myth alive—she must watch her one reliable son grow old from misuse and broody from inactivity.
She knows the secret to his morose nature and how to lift it: hand him the crown. But she can’t, won’t, because it would destroy the myth. It’s all high-class soap opera, and the British public loves to watch (while Canada is trying to grow up without it).
Prince Charles has fallen off a polo pony once too often and has been advised to give up the sport. What to do? Perhaps he could try reading the encyclopedia from front to back, as a bored Ed Schreyer once tried in Rideau Hall. Or write down what flowers say when they talk back. We’re only offering advice. It’s going to be a long wait.
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