My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Having grown up in Australia I find the notion of bowing/curtseying to another human being unnatural. I would struggle to bow to even the most exceptional human being, even my hero Stephen Sondheim would have received a fawning slaver of compliments but no curtsey. And the British Royal Family are far from exceptional. They are, to all intents and purposes, a very ordinary group of people privileged with outrageous wealth and entitlement so why the worship and where do we look for answers?
I am currently researching the Elizabethan era and the reign of Elizabeth 1st and am frankly, horrified by the chasm between the rich and the poor however, the monarch provided an army of sorts, men between the ages of 16 and 60 had to practice archery every Sunday to maintain their skills and be in a state of permanent war readiness and apart from the land army there was an extraordinarily capable Navy that trounced the Spanish Armada in 1588. So, a monarch overseeing the realm and hardcore negotiating with foreign diplomats and royals in their own language was vital to the safety and international standing of the kingdom. Remember this was a time when less than 30% of the population could read or write or speak any language other than their own local dialect. So, an educated, savvy, ruthless Monarch assured protection from foreigners bent on ravage. BUT whilst this balance, or should I say, imbalance of power, sat well in Medieval times when the largely uneducated masses needed a sense of “magical thinking” around their King/Queen much as the cult of modern celebrity provides distraction for the masses, is a Royal Family still necessary in an era of mass education, social exchange on a global level and billionaires with empires expanding to Mars? Granted it’s still a teenage dream to marry a handsome prince and live a life of splendid luxury and false entitlement but even that fairytale is being replaced by Wonder Woman and Oprah! Having said that, even talkback queen Oprah invited the scurrilous Meghan Markle to a tell-all interview and before her, Fergie. Yes, if the hoopla around Meghan Markle, Kate Middleton and before them, Diana and Fergie is anything to go by, the dream of a kiss from a handsome prince burns as bright and delusional as ever. The fact that Diana pulled back the curtain to reveal the wizard on the megaphone, seems largely to have been forgotten.
But back to Baker’s book.
Why do the British Royal Family still exist in an age of Silicon Valley billionaires and Louis Vuitton empires of leather and lace? Norman Baker makes many persuasive and compelling arguments against their continuing occupation of Buckingham Palace and the fifteen other estates they occupy at the taxpayers’ expense but none to explain exactly why they still crowd onto the royal balcony for photo-shoots on occasions of manic hoopla and insane expense paid for by the taxpayers. The increasingly thin argument that they’re good for tourism is fast being extinguished by the groaning expense of security occasioned every time there is a royal marriage, birth or death or whenever the golden carriage wends its way through the streets of London.
A note of my own here is that when Coronavirus isn’t halting industry, the West End actually brings in more money per annum than any other industry in Britain, including the Royal Family.
So why, when almost every other Monarchy in Europe has been levelled to “bicycle-riding” and day jobs do the “ribbon-cutting” British Royals still take private jets and live large on the public purse? Baker offers no explanation, but I posit that it’s the fairytale fantasy of their existence that continues to grip the imagination. The idea that somehow these people live in a world long swallowed up in the mists of time, a world that has been immortalised in literature and glamourized on film as a misty Avalon where Guinevere is torn between Lancelot and Arthur and knights rescue damsels and parry for the right. Of course, Avalon never worried too much about the hardworking, exhausted servants who kept the tables groaning and the fires lit and the bedsheets spotless and above recrimination.
All of which brings me to my bête noire – why is the British Royal Family not using some of the insane wealth they have built up untaxed over centuries to house their own homeless and alleviate the struggles of the average person living under their supposed benevolence? Baker points to no such intervention or concern but rather much scheming and dodging of tax to acquire more and still more unvetted wealth from Duchies that have never been returned to the people. Cornwall, for example. But even Cornwall is on British soil, the Royal’s untaxed offshore investments all serve to fatten the exploding coffers of an unelected group of people who sit in the highest office in the land and enjoy a privilege usually reserved for Popes, saviors or Hollywood stars.
Saviors they are not. Stars they undoubtedly are. But why?
Queen Eizabeth and Princess Margaret were blessed with movie star beauty as was the late Diana and I wonder if that kind of beauty casts a glamour that obscures character flaws and corruption that would be spot lit in a less attractive casing? Which of us isn’t just a little dazzled by the physical beauty of our favourite celebrity? Case studies have shown that an attractive person applying for a job with an equally qualified but less attractive person has the advantage over his/her less alluring rival.
Just throwing it out there but was it the queen’s beauty, wit and undoubted charm that blinded us all to the tax dodging and accruing of valuable real estate and offshore investments? It’s hard to look at her and not be mesmerised by the smile, after all.
So now the Queen has passed I can see signs of this institution failing. If Elizabeth II cast a glamour over the Royal Family, her demise has ripped away the veil. Charles lacks the popularity to maintain the smoke and mirrors illusion of relevance, especially as one of his sons is a mannequin and the other a pirate! Without a seemingly trapped beautiful maiden in the tower (Diana, Elizabeth and even notoriously wild-child Margaret) in need of rescuing the public has no-one to fantasize about. Meghan has tried hard to grab the sympathetic spotlight vacated by Diana and the Queen but her canniness and former success as a soap star undermines her victimhood. Even the no-nonsense and much-admired Princess Anne can’t counter-balance the fame-junkies and grubby malevolence that now headline the British Monarchy. Interesting times in Britain with running strikes and extreme dissatisfaction with the current occupants of No 10 Downing Street. The British need someone in the twin seats of power that they can relate to and if the powers-that-be fail to read the room and help the people they’re meant to be serving I fear for the outcome. Revolutions have been started with a whisper after all.
View all my reviews