The euphoria surrounding Queen E’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations shows that royalty is still relevant today.
SUDDENLY, I wish I was in London this weekend. Wearing a Salabianca “Love London” plaid dress at a street party, stringing up bunting and waving the Union Jack. And, naturally, tucking into Coronation Chicken in between generous sips of Jubilee Punch – with a cut-out paper tiara placed precariously on my head.
I don’t live in London. I’m not British. Nor am I an ardent monarchist.
Yet somehow in the weeks leading up to the Queen of England’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, which began yesterday and are due to last until Tuesday, I got caught up in the hoopla, too.
It wasn’t difficult. To mark one of the most significant events of the year, the British newspapers have been filled with stories of their beloved Queen Elizabeth II, who has reigned over them for 60 years. But English royalty has always been of interest. Books, films and plays repeatedly compete to explore every angle of the monarchy that first began in 400AD. Royal weddings add a sweet dream substitute, while the scandals sizzle to ruffle some feathers.
However, this time around, the stories of the Queen’s possessions and pursuits vie for space with her family and corgis. It seems there’s a story earmarked for every aspect of her life – grandchildren, racing, jewellery, fashion, travel. For the modern, on-the-go royalist, there is even a top 10 list of the best new apps that include quizzes and choosing outfits for the royals.
All of these are augmented by artists’ illustrations, never-seen-before photographs and intimate portraits of people who have served the world’s second longest-serving monarch, in both her private and public life. (Thailand’s King Bhumibol is the longest-serving, at 65 years.)
Meanwhile, column inches extol the virtues of the unflappable, hard-working Queen who, at 86, still undertakes numerous official, ceremonial and representational duties. I never knew as much about the head of the House of Windsor as I do now.
Certainly a lot more than what I knew when, at a Kuala Lumpur reception in 1999, I met the Queen. Suitably dressed in a demure sari and with a ready smile, my experience was fodder for an article I wrote for the magazine I was then editing. Elizabeth was not what I had imagined her to be.
Today her loyal subjects have had their imagination and inventiveness tested to the limit. All ways and means are being employed to celebrateher six decades on the throne, as well as to cash in with memorabilia.
London is caught up in the euphoria of Jubilee glee, with a tantalising array of shop windows and smart phone apps, menus and mementoes, picnics and pictorials. The nation’s imagination is aflame – look out for the topiary floral crown in St James Park.
Even with the usual royal scandals, wars of old and bad press, including Republican detractors and a level of resentment over the royals’ substantial wealth, it is astounding that the monarchy still rustles up such interest.
In fact, the Queen scores the highest in popularity approval ratings (22% short of 100%) in comparison to Prime Minister Cameron, who languishes at the bottom with -11 percentage points. The British royal family is now arguably England’s strongest and most popular institution.
A Daily Telegraph columnist attributes the monarch’s popularity to the House of Windsor’s chameleon-like knack of adapting, to meet public desires. In a recent column on how the country’s politicians could take lessons from the public servant Queen, Mary Riddell expounded the need for a new compact for market, state and citizen. What Britain craves, she claims, in the light of this Jubilee’s lessons, is a shared life and common purpose.
And the Queen has proved it by the public unity she has unwittingly summoned forth to join her in celebration.
The House has stuck to time-honoured traditions and ceremonies, yet has embraced the 21st century with a certain polished modernity.
The official British Monarchy website (royal.gov.uk) is a perfect example. Full of facts and history, it adopts a breezy approach that regular people can easily relate to. It even gives out Queen E’s address, in case you want to write to her.
Either by design or pure accident, the royals have united a country to come together communally and celebrate the enduring reign of a member of the royal household. Yet it was not so long ago, at the time of Princess Diana’s passing, that people were saying royalty had become irrelevant in this modern day and age.
Since I am not in London and won’t be part of the crowds cheering on the 1,000-boat Jubilee Pageant flotilla sailing down the Thames, and I am not a party-goer in a tiara at one of the 10,000 street parties being held, I indulged in the next best thing – an English Jubilee tea (in my plaid dress, of course) yesterday afternoon with London-loving friends and one of the Queen’s stellar subjects!
Delighting in dead ends, Jacqueline Pereira seeks unexpected encounters to counter the outmoded. Find her on Facebook at Jacqueline-Pereira-Writing-on.