A Right Royal Fall-Out

One year ago today Prince William married Catherine Middleton while the world watched on their televisions.  I didn’t have a television to watch it on because I was there.  Yes.  That’s right.  I was there as crowds of people flocked along The Mall and flashed their phones at the procession of history.  Of course I was there!

When I was ten-years old I woke at the crack of dawn to watch Charles and Diana’s wedding.  I repeated this ritual five years later with Andrew and Sarah.  I even watched Edward and Sophie’s modest little affair.  All my life I watched royal events from afar.  I was not about to let this one go by without being part of it.  So I found two friends who wanted to go (both American) and we made our plans in eager anticipation.  But there was one thing I did not plan on: my own British royal family.

I genuinely adore my in-laws.  My Mother-in-law is a former science teacher, avid gardener, legendary cook, aspiring photographer and fiercely committed Labour supporter, which means she is somewhere left of Michael Moore in her political affiliations.  She finds the Royal Family at best an embarrassment and at worst an inappropriate addition to a free Democratic Society.  And she is not alone.

When I proudly boasted about travelling to London for the Royal Wedding, my American friends and family were universally jealous and anxious to see photos and hear stories of the day.  My British friends and family thought I was joking.  When they realised I was in earnest, they turned…not exactly hostile but their disgust was clear.  Several rolled their eyes and mumbled “She’s American” by way of explanation.  One commented in shock: “I had no idea you were royalist!”  The horrified tone of voice meant to indicate he had learned I was a closet puppy torturer or secret collector of Nazi memorabilia.

From my in-laws there was a lot of tense silence.  No one wanted to talk to me about it and went ominously quiet if I introduced the subject, like it was something embarrassingly private, not suitable table conversation.  When I spoke to my husband about the travel arrangements he gave a heavy sigh of resignation, as if we were discussing my preparations to undergo life-altering surgery.  I found the whole situation thoroughly confusing.

It’s your Royal Family not mine!  This is your history and your culture.  What is your problem?

Intellectually I understand why the Royal Family might be a source of shame.  I agree completely that power and title inherited by virtue of familial connections is out of step with democracy, equality and freedom.  I appreciate how the mere existence of the Queen encourages a culture of class-conscious elitism which trickles down through society.

Unfortunately Britain, no one gets to choose their family—especially not their Royal Family.  Not without revolutions and chopped off heads, which did not work out so well for the country last time (*cough* Cromwell *cough*).  Like it or not, Britain needs the Royals and they are a part of you.  The Queen, Buckingham Palace, the Changing of the Guard: these are the images the world associates with Britain.  Tourism would crash and burn without the fairytale appeal of the Royals.  They might cost in pride and taxes but they make up for it when hoards of overseas visitors flock to UK shores lured by this ancient, majestic institution.

But the Royals are also an inescapable part of Britain’s national life story, and the British are not known for giving up history easily.

The British understand history…they have long memories and an appreciation of time which most Americans lack.  The first flat my husband and I lived in was a converted Gothic church.  The congregation faded away but the building remained.  In America that church would have been torn down and replaced by a modern high rise without a backward glance or a batted eyelash.  The Foss Way built in Roman times, now known as the A46, is still a regularly used road.  A ROMAN ROAD!  We got rid of Route 66 after less than 60 years.

I understand why the Queen is controversial, particularly for my left-leaning family and friends.  We have an auntie in my family we never talk about either.  But like all families, the Royals are a part of the British character.  They may not be a part every Brit wants to boast about or invite over for Christmas dinner, but the Royals say something about who Britain is and where Britain came from.

They also throw an awesome wedding!

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8 thoughts on “A Right Royal Fall-Out

  1. I too woke at the crack of dawn to watch Charles and Diana; Laura and I watched on a tiny tv in her room. I also made it a point to watch Andrew & Sarah, and Edward & Sophie. My husband thought I was INSANE to set my alarm for 2 o’clock to watch the street in front of Clarence House. I whole heatedly agree with your assessment in regards to history.

  2. Well my logic hides with embarrassment when it secretly knows that I too believe the loss of the royal bloodline would be a very sad thing.

  3. good post Kate. I think I agree with pretty much everything you said in here. I too was an avid Royalist as a youngster, can you imagine my dismay that for BOTH Royal weddings of my youth (the Wales’ and the York’s) I was on school camps away from television !? at least my mother taped them for me! I was also fortunate when I was about 12 or 13 to have my dad fly me across to another town on the route of a visit by Charles and Di, and after I managed to elbow past a wall of rabid boy scouts lining the route I managed to shake Di’s hand as she did the walkabout. ( I put off washing that hand for a week or so!)

    I think as a ‘colonial’ I appreciate the history of our queen and that family and agree wholeheartedly that for all of the disdain the British public has for the expense of this small family, that the UK would be in a sorry state without the income that same family and its traditions generates. I also endorse and appreciate the Commonwealth that persists through goodwill and tradition in the former subject states of the British Empire. We have a shared history and continued sense of community all linked by this one person and her family.

    Am, known here as my ‘Quiet American’ feels very strongly about the Queen and admires her greatly – so much so that anyone who inspires us is added to our hallowed list of “things like the Queen” (its a standard term in our house for people and/or things that move and inspire us, kind of like being a Grade 1 listed property). others on that quite short list include: Joanna Lumley, Judi Dench, David Attenborough and Maggie Smith – grace, kindness and sense of duty that inspires great admiration and loyalty in others.

    Am always says “this is a woman who takes time to know people she meets, for however briefly, she genuinely works hard every day and has done so for over 60 years even when you KNOW she must be bored to tears at so many events. What President would put up with that for so long? and more so, what member of Congress would send their sons and grandsons into conflict situations (all arguments about how close Andrew and Harry ever got to the actual shooting wars aside, they went, they trained and they inspire)”

    We’re neither of us sure how inspired we’ll be by Charles when that sad day comes but until that time we’re proud that she’s our queen. She’s been such a part of the background fabric of our lives for decades now, through wars and prime ministers, presidents and revolutions, she has been the constant, living touchstone. I’m unsure what the future monarchy will be like but if William and Kate have one quarter of her sense of duty I think we’ll be fine.

    • Wow, you are a bleeding heart royalist! My mother always said she thought it was a pity we did not have anything like a Royal Family in American for very practical reasons (Mom’s like that). In America the President must be both diplomat, figurehead and statesperson. In other words, s/he (I live in hope for Hillary) must fulfill the necessary role of running the country as well as playing nice with all the other nations. In Britain, the Royals take some of the pressure off the Prime Minister by fulfilling some of that function whilst having no real political clout. Its a bit like having what the US had for a time with the Kennedys, except with Britain its this ready made, custom designed fleet of people whose sole purpose in life is to be the public nice face of the UK. Meanwhile the PM can shout and scream and throw mud all s/he likes and not have to worry as much about the celebrity side of it.

  4. So, in the US we have ridiculous reality show personalities; you have the Royals. I’ll trade you. At least the Royals (mostly) have some class. And in defense of Charles, I don’t think he’s going to be all that awful. Poor man couldn’t marry as he wanted (until now), can’t really have a career, just has to wait. He has a good reputation for his environmental work…and from what I’ve seen it is work, not just blather and posturing.
    and what she said above is right. We need a classy figurehead in the US. Something to counter the Kardashians and the Jersey crowd.

  5. Most of my British friends were really jealous after they saw the fun we had and they all missed out on the opportunity of a life time! I enjoyed that day more than I can ever express and am very thankful we were able to enjoy it together!

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