When I was in grade 5, my father helped fill the gaps in my social studies curriculum by explaining to me how the “Governor General” part of our parliamentary system really worked. He explained that the Queen was our head of state (which is why her face is on the money), but that neither she nor the Governor General actually DID anything to govern the country, and that Canada’s membership in the Commonwealth was really just a leftover from days gone by. Though I can’t remember the exact words my father used, the gist was that the monarchy was stupid and Canada didn’t need it.
Being a very politically minded ten year old with strong notions of what was “fair” and what was “stupid”, I wholeheartedly agreed with my dad. I even made up a song in support of Canada severing its ties to the monarchy (to the tune of O Canada–I sang it to my sister but she wasn’t a huge fan so I never sought to record it). For the most part, I still agree that to pretend Canada is ruled by a British monarch when in actual fact we are governed by a Prime Minister (and an increasingly powerful PMO) is a bit stupid.
So why did I just catch myself googling articles about baby Prince George’s christening? Why did I bother finding a YouTube video of the Royal Wedding a couple of years ago so that I could watch the ceremony and cry a little as two complete strangers exchanged vows? Why am I so fascinated by the life of the young Elizabeth II, and her parents before her? Why do I agree that Canada’s parliamentary system doesn’t make much sense nowadays while secretly hoping it will never never change? (With regards to the monarchy, I mean, not the more pressing ills plaguing it).
I don’t think it’s just celeb-worship–while I flip through an InTouch or Life&Style in the staff lunch room every now and then, I don’t seek out celebrity news or celebrity photos (though I seem to absorb more than enough of it anyways). And it takes more than being rich and royal to interest me (I’m not interested in the royal cousins, Sarah Ferguson, or any other Windsor-family offshoots). And Prince William is NOT a handsome man (despite what Maclean’s politely prints about him, he’s just not. He’s tall, he’s neat, and he does not yet appear to have a beer gut, but that’s it). So what the hell is the appeal?
Maybe it’s just nice to see a nice young couple behave nicely in public. Most young famous people in the news these days do NOT act very nicely in public. That last sentence made me sound about seventy years older than I actually am, but it’s true–I mean, Justin Bieber wore OVERALLS to collect his completely undeserved Queen’s Jubilee Medal for goodness sakes. (Someone I work with also received a Queen’s Jubilee Medal. He is a wonderful educator who devoted years of his life to volunteerism and to helping young people enjoy and understand math, and though Stephen Harper did not personally give him his medal, you can bet your ass my colleague dressed for the occasion). But I digress. My point is that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge seem like a nice young couple who comport themselves very decorously through an endless stream of public engagements that I would find mind-numbingly boring. I also have a lot of respect for the Queen, who’s been comporting herself decorously through mind-numbingly boring public engagements (on average more than once daily) for over 60 years.
Is it absolutely stupid that some people, by virtue of their birth alone, are supported in relative wealth by the public purse, are pursued relentlessly by media, and are required to christen boats, tour cracker factories, and publicly announce the birth of their children? Yes. It’s stupid. It’s absolutely stupid. But there’s something comforting about it just the same. It’s not just that everyone likes the idea of a fairytale (and royal weddings in which the heir to the throne marries a commoner are the closest we can get to Cinderella’s ball)–there’s something about watching people carry out a duty they did not ask for, politely and without complaint, that does us good. With the exception of Charles’ and Diana’s carryings-on, the British royal family uphold an image of propriety in an increasingly vulgar world (a world where just the other evening a drunk man peed in my stairwell, such fun!). And it’s not a life I’d want, riches or no riches.
Do you think the pregnant Duchess enjoyed a slew of news cameras all but up her uterus as she was giving birth? Do you think William enjoys having stories about his dead mother smeared across newspaper stands and screamed on the nightly news every time some quack has a new conspiracy theory about her death? Do you think either of the royal couple enjoyed having their engagement and marriage compared to that of Charles and Diana, a marriage that failed so disastrously and so publicly they can never be free of it? Do you think the Queen enjoys touring the aforementioned cracker factories or standing on a barge in the pouring rain as a flotilla goes down the Thames in her honour (if someone was going to do something in MY honour, I’d ask to not be standing around in the rain, please). Do you think the royal family enjoys having to ask the British government for money every time their home (Buckingham Palace, which also doubles as a tourist attraction) gets a leaky roof or a past-due carpet? Of course they don’t. But they do these things, all of them, and they never act as though they mind. They understand the ways in which they are privileged and accept the ways in which they have to pay the price. In other words, they’re the absolute best kind of rich people, and for that, I bear them no ill will.
My respect for the Windsors’ commitment to their duty aside, perhaps I, like many other closet monarchists, just like being able to watch a young couple live out their (relatively) normal life–dating in college, getting engaged on vacation, getting married, having a baby, etc. I wonder if everyone should be assigned a random young couple whose lives they can follow with interest and a sense of good will even though they have no personal connection to them. Isn’t it nice to want happiness for total strangers who can do nothing for you? I think so. Whether you agree with the monarchy as part of a governing structure or not, you can’t deny that if “Will and Kate Windsor” were just a new couple in your neighbourhood you’d probably think they were very nice and wish them the best as they started their family. The fact that they’re “royal” really shouldn’t change that. Like a win for our favourite sports team, a turn of good fortune for the royal couple (like the delivery of a healthy baby) is something that people seem to rally around and be happy about. And why not?
Maybe deep down the real reason I am interested in the monarchy is because somewhere in my mind I have confused the Queen with my grandmother. A much more soft-spoken, well-dressed, and British version of my grandmother. Actually, Queen Elizabeth II and my Latvian grandmother are nothing at all alike, but I don’t care. I once saw a photo of the Queen at her wedding (when she was still Princess Elizabeth)–her gown was relatively simple with long white sleeves and a long filmy veil. Though my grandmother’s wedding dress was not similar in grandeur, her style was similar in sentiment–same post-war simplicity and modesty, same white sleeves, same long filmy veil (same hairdo too I think, though my grandmother did not have a tiara). Same soft black and white photographs, same tall husband standing with military erectness, beside and a little behind his new wife. All of this is absolutely fascinating to me.
I also once heard an anecdote in which one of the Queen’s hunting dogs brought her a nearly dead pheasant (this happened in 2000, I believe). Her Majesty took the bird from the dog’s mouth and wrung its neck until it was dead (I assume to end its suffering, as it had already been shot). I like to think that my grandma, who was raised on a farm (until the Soviets took it away), would do the same. Some may shy away from the harsh realities of pastoral life, but not the Queen and my grandma, no siree. If a pheasant’s neck needs wringing, they wring the pheasant’s neck–no harm, no fowl.
[Sorry, I couldn’t resist. I’m trying to cheer my dad up now that his daughter’s a monarchist against both our better judgement. I guess I was smarter at ten than I am at 27.]
UPDATE: My mom says I forgot to mention that I have a British passport–very true, I am a dual citizen. So if one is a subject of Her Majesty by virtue of being British, or by virtue of being Canadian, then perhaps I’m such a monarchist by virtue of being DOUBLY a subject of the Crown. Such fun!