Over the years I’ve heard many impassioned pleas by republicans to axe royalty – not literarily, I assume, though I wouldn’t put it past some of the raving firebrands.
Predictably, they trot out the usual verbiage, like that voiced by a strident anti-monarchist in a BBC Newsnight debate last Monday, amid the euphoria celebrating the birth of Prince George of Cambridge, new, third man in the House of Windsor pecking order.
In summary, the woman – a Guardian columnist (surprise, surprise!) – insisted the monarchy was an anachronism; nobody was entitled to have a silver spoon thrust into their mouth from Day #1; most countries opted for a president; and it was all ‘yah-boo unfair.’
Ah, such is life. Because if fairness prevailed, I’d have won last week’s British Open Golf championship or be banking €350,000 a week, like Neymar, Barcelona’s new, Brazilian wunderkind, just for playing keepy-uppy with a spherical object.
Alas, alack or otherwise, some are born into privilege and a rare few become kings.
Meanwhile, having a good president – especially with executive powers, which British monarchs long since lost – is pretty much a lottery of deciding who the most plausible snake-oil salesman is.
And when presidents come to mind, so does the spectre of Richard Nixon and the slogan that immortalised his Tricky Dicky image: ‘Would you buy a used car from this man?’
Personally, I prefer a constitutional monarchy and, over the 61 years of her reign, The Queen has done an impeccable job, which is more than can be said for some of her kith and kin.
Even at 87, the gait now plodding, she exhibits wholehearted commitment to the cause of country, commonwealth and empire, albeit now reduced to a melange of sometimes contentious dependencies.
Ma’am suffered trials and tribulations, of course, none more than in her ‘annus horribilis’, 1992: Charles’ separation from Princess Di erupted into a public slanging match, Ann divorced and the tabloids had a right, royal photo fest with snaps of Andrew’s ex, Fergie, having her toes sucked by her ‘financial adviser.’
To cap it all, Windsor Castle caught fire and a priceless art collection was damaged.
Five years on, the Palace gaffed monumentally, utterly misjudging the national mood following Diana’s death. Against protocol, Prime Minister Tony Blair practically ordered the entire bunch back to London from Balmoral and drop the Buck House flag to half-mast, because the people demanded it.
Never before was the British monarchy’s stock so depleted and resurrecting it so costly. The Queen and Charles agreed to pay income tax, Buckingham Palace was opened to the hoi polloi to raise funds to repair Windsor and HM’s exes ( a.k.a. the Civil List) was slashed.
However, what resuscitated Royal fortunes was the advent of the Princes Charming, Wills and Harry – the heir thoughtful and sensitive, the ‘spare’, an endearing jack-the-lad.
William’s marriage to commoner Kate captivated the nation and now the birth of a son and future king has catapulted the British crown’s popularity to a new zenith (and how many kings will be able to claim their gran was a BA trolley-dolly and great-great granddad a coal miner?)
Still, the Guardianista-republican is right: the monarchy is an anachronism and probably the world’s juiciest, real-life soap opera – an everyday story of Royal folk – to boot.
That, though, is the way we like it. Because forensic analysis of Britain would inevitably conclude the country is an anachronism, too, miraculously and creakingly evolving like no place on earth.
Steeped in the trappings of centuries-old tradition and inclined to be socially conservative, Brits are mainly tolerant as a nation, though resentful of foreign interference and stoic in repulsing invaders. Hence, ruffling our plumage comes with a health warning.
Meanwhile, we’re obsessed with bemoaning the weather – hot or cold – and inventing games with rules so arcane only a handful of former colonies understand them (e.g. have you ever tried explaining cricket to a Spaniard?)
And, despite losing an empire on which once the sun never set, Britain continues to punch above its weight on the international stage, Perfidious Albion one moment, honest broker the next.
Unlike almost everywhere, we have no written constitution yet constantly defer to one; we also have an affinity for democracy, even if our politicians are often more quantity than quality.
Then there’s our relationship with Europe, best summarised by a 1930’s Times headline that pronounced, with telling understatement, ‘Fog in Channel – Continent cut off.’
But, then, we do inverted superiority rather subtly, which probably accounts for Britain’s semi-detachment from the EU and retention of the £ (no bad idea, in retrospect, given the Eurozone’s abject failings).
Meanwhile, underscoring our distinctiveness, we drive on the wrong side, have a taste for warm beer, don’t dress as foppishly as Italians, our national dishes are invariably fried and, in the publicly-funded BBC, we possess a self-appointed, liberally illiberal arbiter of the national conscience.
I could go on, but you get the drift.
So finally, let’s return to the Monarchy. And note the capital M this time, since there are countless kings and queens sprinkling the planet, but only one Monarchy the world sits up and really notices – the British one.
Others come and go almost unheralded, as Holland’s Queen Beatrix, 75, did in April, standing aside for her son, now King Willem-Alexander. And earlier this month, 79-year-old Albert II vacated the Belgium throne, replaced by his son, Phillippe.
Neither abdication caused much of a ripple and it would have been thus had Harald V of Norway, Sweden’s King Carl Gustav XVI or Queen Margrethe II of Denmark asked for their marching orders.
Meanwhile, King Juan Carlos – once feted for leading his country out of the dark age of dictatorship – must be eying Britain’s monarchy with undisguised envy, as a slew scandals rock Spanish royalty.
To those hankering for Britain to be a presidential republic, then, here’s a tip: visit Zimbabwe.