Serendipity

Long live our national soap opera

I sometimes envy people who have a matching set of ideological views, like a tidy pile of Louis Vuitton luggage. By contrast, I marched with the Barbour brigade in September 2002 to support the Countryside Alliance, and five months later marched in protest against the Iraq War. I’m a dog person, but I’m also a cat person, who resolved the issue by buying a dog-sized Maine Coon feline. I am a fan of Perspective’s columnist Simon Heffer, but also an admirer of life-long leftie and Karl Marx biographer, Francis Wheen. I’m allergic to most forms of authority, but I’m a flag-waving royalist who rarely misses a Jubilee pageant.

This last trait drives republican friends round the bend, but what institution other than Buck Palace can provide such a gripping, long-running soap opera? If someone’s going to be a posh brood horse, marry a congenital dullard, have their life scripted by tight-arsed courtiers, curtsey to a close relative, function as a 24-hour tourist attraction and then go a bit loony-tunes in public, it might as well be the current specimens. I am immensely grateful for the distraction from the gloom-of-living crisis. The Crown, both in life and on the TV series, has given me hours of pleasure and I have a sizeable, only-slightly-ironic collection of Coronation china. I even once wrote a small book for Debrett’s on Kate ‘n’ Wills.

I must admit part of my monarchist ardour was baked-in at birth. My mum and granny were dedicated Windsor-watchers and there was almost no royal event I wasn’t carted off to with my siblings, all dressed in red, white and blue. One of my earliest memories is standing in the shadow of Westminster Abbey in 1973 for Princess Anne’s Wedding to Mark Phillips. After that, I was on The Mall for the Silver Jubilee procession, for Charles and Di’s “fairy-tale” nuptials, and even, heaven help me, Andrew and Fergie’s gurning Sloane-fest. And here’s the thing, it was always a total and utter blast. If you’re nosy and like to find out why four housewives from Ottawa have flown four thousand miles to see ill-matched blue-bloods tie the knot, there’s nothing not to enjoy.

My beloved Uncle John – known to friends as “the wicked uncle” – was also a royal enthusiast, like many gay men of his generation (see Philip Hensher’s brilliant essay For Queens and Country). He regularly dreamt of the Queen and would relay his conversations with “Ma’am” in vivid detail; sometimes a couple of grooms were part of the scenario. Back here in real life, he’d once lunched with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor in Paris, finding Wallis disappointingly “mumsy”, and had been moved to tears years later by Princess Diana’s warmth when she hugged his dying partner, Ross, at an AIDS benefit. When he notched up six decades in 1999, I presented him with an original copy of Sir Herbert Maxwell’s 1897 tribute to Queen Victoria: Sixty Years a Queen. He was delighted and it sat on his coffee table for years.

For most people, it’s not about deference to the crown so much as a teasing acknowledgement of our fondness for pomp and ritual

But few in my circle share my fervour for tiaras and state carriages. I managed to bribe my then eight-year-old older son into accompanying me to watch the Diamond Jubilee Flotilla on the Thames, where he was bored to tears. Tragically, I had zero companions when I stood on Whitehall for the marriage of Prince William to Kate Middleton, but that didn’t deter me. Within minutes, I located some fellow hacks who also love a spot of royal panto and we played “who knows the second verse of the National Anthem?” Answer: no one. Later in Green Park I chatted up four young men sporting wedding dresses, six girls who’d bought themselves cheap replicas of Kate’s engagement ring, the sprawled members of an exhausted steel band, and two blokes in a pantomime horse outfit. Then I was offered prosecco by a tipsy bunch of pensioners from a Yorkshire Women’s Institute group, who were all sporting Queen-style floral hats.

That’s when I realised this surreal collective energy reminded me of two other great British celebrations: the Notting Hill Carnival and the Pride festivities up and down the country. Those sudden bursts of exhibitionism when mild-mannered citizens dress like drag queens, chat up strangers, dance in the street and tumble into fountains. Not to mention the competitive art of climbing lamp posts, shop awnings and the statues of public dignitaries to gain the best vantage point. For most people, it’s not about deference to the crown so much as a teasing acknowledgement of our fondness for pomp and ritual. After all, it’s one of the few things we’re still genuinely “world-beating” at.

But it’s hard to imagine future generations bobbing to a royal. In the early 1990s I attended a lunch where Princess Michael of Kent was a guest and told my host I’d rather be beheaded than curtsey to a third-rate writer (reader, I shook her hand and that was it). Since then I’ve hardened my stance. I love the cut of Camilla’s jib, but it would feel absurd to execute a balletic swoop downwards just because a chain-smoking, gin-swigging sensualist had taken on the title of Queen. As for William and Kate, you’d no more bow and scrape to this duo than to your average Norfolk toff. God save our national soap opera and long live our pageantry – but let’s scrap the bended knee.

Rowan Pelling is a British journalist and former editor of The Erotic Review

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