So You Wanna Be a Queen
by James Killough
Now that I’ve got myself going on the subject of Tina Brown, I wouldn’t be the first to notice that her favorite circulation booster while editor-in-chief at Vanity Fair, Princess Diana, was also the inspiration for Tina’s hair bob, which she still sports. While I don’t doubt that it is the best hairstyle to frame Tina’s face, it can still be seen as an homage that is slightly stalker-ish, in a Single White Female sort of way.
Last week, the comments section of Brown’s The Daily Beast was all aflutter in response to the news that girls can ascend the British throne ahead of their brothers. Historian Robert Andrews, whose author picture looks like a byline from an Op Ed column in The Daily Telegraph from the early 60s, wrote the most delirious article that begins with how the monarchy is illogical and ends with how grateful we should be this change in the succession wasn’t in place at the turn of the last century because otherwise the psychotic fascist Kaiser Wilhelm II would have inherited the British throne via his mother, the Empress Vicky of Germany, Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter. Thankfully, the article went no further, or Andrews might have lauded the fact women didn’t have the vote at that point, either, or World War I might have gone to the Germans, or some such drivel.
I’m all for the monarchy, but that’s because I love Britain and wish her people the best. Without the monarchy and its ripple effect into the aristocracy, without all of those stately home heritage tours and whatnot, Britain might be forced to commit even more outrageous acts of financial buccaneering than she already does, to the extent they’d likely have to boot her out of Europe: as a tax haven and money laundering facility, British financial institutions and regulators have the ethics of Somali pirates. (I think it dates back to Sir Francis Drake. But that’s for another post.)
A quick dip into Wikipedia reveals that tourism in the UK is a colossal part of its GDP, close to ten percent, which is more than I imagined. In 2009, it generated £96 billion ($156 billion), and employed two million people, or 4% of the workforce. From an entertainment industry box office perspective, which is how I look at these things, the soap opera As The Windsors Turn is a runaway hit that should be fostered, not abolished, or even poo-pooed; let’s face it, the tourists aren’t there for the superlative cuisine, that barge tour of the wine country, the bargain vacation, the sunny beaches, much less the sex.
Now coming in for the finale of more or less its fiftieth season, the next season of ATWT looks likely to be briefer and to be completely overshadowed by the cast of the fifty-second season. Since the demise of Diana, the cast of the fifty-first season has been dull and grey, and Camilla hasn’t exactly added luster to the staging. There will be a boost in ratings with the Queen’s funeral and Charles’ coronation, but whatever sparkle their plot might have had is unlikely to be revived.
Like most upper-middle-class Ameropeans, I grew up with a fair amount of titled people of various kinds, both in school and in social circles. I have known various close friends of the British royal family, a few lovers (even shared one or two), siblings of lovers and stuff, but I’ve never met one myself.
Well, properly speaking I’ve met half a royal.
When I was a morose teenager, who had just been moved back to New York and missed Europe something fierce, my mother set me up on a date with the putative “natural” daughter of Prince Philip, as they would call an illegitimate child in polite circles as well as in The Game of Thrones, a series of books so obsessed with bastardry you wonder if author George RR Martin’s parents were married. Apparently my date’s mother was persona non grata in the UK, despite being British herself, which is why she and her daughter lived in New York City. I don’t doubt the girl was Philip’s kid; she had that horsey look he gave all his kids, and she wasn’t very bright or interesting, another hallmark of the fifty-first season cast, it seems. Or it may have just been that the date itself—movie and a coffee—was dull because I wasn’t into chicks.
The encounter definitely set the tone for my interest in the rest of the family; i.e., next to none. This despite the fact that I had unrelenting fantasies when I was young of being this sort of world-saving wünder-boy emperor of a revived futuristic Holy Roman Empire, a technocratic utopia so far superior to everywhere else that we only emerged from behind the walls that shielded us to right the wrongs inflicted by the rest of the world, particularly those of the United States, my own country. This gives you a peek into the mind of the expat child with a severe messianic complex. I say ‘child,’ but these fantasies persisted well into my twenties, until around the time I stopped writing science fiction as well.
I miss those fantasies, they were fun. They were probably the source (or a product) of my grandeur and arrogance, but they were good company during pensive moments. The capital of my imagined utopia was located somewhere in Germany, nowhere specific because I didn’t know the country very well, and my court had glorious, heel-clicking double-barreled Teutonic names straight out of Dune. Seeing as I often mingled with the scions of European aristocratic families, a lot of the time I used real names I was familiar with.
A few years ago, I was introduced by a close friend I shall call Freddy to a nobleman I shall call Larry—and I call them that because those names are so absurd for both of them. It was a business connection; Freddy didn’t know Larry all that well. Larry had one of those heel-clicking family names that the herald in my fantasy throne room would have bellowed with gusto.
When I first met Larry I shook his hand and said, “I’ve wanted to be you my whole life.”
“I’ve always wanted to have your last name. Sounds so great. Like Schleswig-Holstein, or Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.” Despite my willful goofiness, we ended up becoming pretty good friends, closer than he was with Freddy, at least, which is why he called me a year or so ago with an unusual request.
“I’d like to invite Freddy a dinner I’m organizing with Prince Charles. What do you think?” The reason he was asking my opinion at all is because Freddy is notoriously unpredictable and lives in something of a real-life fantasy bubble of his own far removed from the Court of Saint James, despite the fact his home in London is just across the park from the Royals.
“Sure, why not?” I replied, and gave Larry Freddy’s cell phone number. But I had a terrible feeling that…
A few minutes later, Larry called me, his voice trumpeting imperious indignation. “He won’t do it. He won’t have dinner with the Prince of Wales. I mean, this is the future head of state of Britain, he can’t just not—“
“Got it. Leave it with me,” I said as I lowered my visor and mounted my white horse named Blackberry and called Freddy.
“Dude, you’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” I said. “You have to go.”
“Because it’s Prince Charles! The future head of state of the country you live in! It’s disrespectful.”
“But I have nothing to say to Prince Charles.”
“You can’t just refuse to meet the future head of state of the country you live in.”
“I never said I refuse to meet him. If he wants to meet me, he’s welcome to come to me.”
I know, that seems outrageously arrogant, but Freddy is preternaturally shy and disinclined to leave his bubble for any reason.
The above is a condensation of about four phone calls and a few emails. After I threatened half-heartedly to call Freddy’s mother, he ceased communication with me; it’s reasonable to assume that if Prince Charles wanted to have dinner with him, Freddy is a fairly eminent person in his own right, so my threat was pretty outrageous, and not a little disrespectful in itself.
On the one hand, I think Freddy should have just gone to Clarence House, shaken HRH’s hand, had the meal and left. That was my argument when the discussion was on its last legs. On the other hand, even that would have been unbearably painful for him, a total shattering of his principles. I would have done it, and even offered to go to (figuratively) hold Freddy’s hand and give him someone to talk to. But there was a polite silence on the phone with Larry when I suggested that, and I looked down at my tattooed forearms, twiddled one of my 00-gauge earrings and realized my hopes of getting close to the Windsors, had I ever had any, were not very good. I haven’t heard from Larry since.
That story typifies my ambivalence towards the monarchy; I still don’t know who was right and who was wrong, Freddy or Larry, or indeed if anyone was wrong at all, so I have filed it under the It Is What It Is folder in the archive backup hard drive of my life and let it spin there in silence.
The reason I am ambivalent is that a monarch, someone who has been raised from birth to rule, is sometimes a good thing. Queen Elizabeth II, for instance, as with her Tudor namesake, has been an excellent monarch. A few others have as well. Doesn’t that count for something? It’s not like we hit the jackpot every time we elect a president. Far from it. They seldom seem to have a clue as to what they’re doing.
The one thing all Prime Ministers have noted when dealing with Her Majesty is how well-informed she is. This is understandable: her first political advisor was Winston Churchill. She is, probably, the best-informed head of state anywhere. If knowledge is power, then I feel the Queen’s gives her considerable merit as a worthy head of state.
I support democracy, but not the kind we have. To begin with, not everyone is qualified to vote just because he or she is eighteen and not in prison. You shouldn’t vote just because you want to protect your right to bear arms, for instance. You should have a knowledge of the political process, the way the government is run, and the full implications of your actions when you vote.
If I were monarch, I would implement a test that everyone would have to take before they registered to vote, along the lines of what naturalized citizens have to take, but even more stringent. You wouldn’t be able to get your driver’s license without first taking the voter’s test. Or something like that. I haven’t really worked it out because if I were monarch, there would be no need for you to vote or worry about your government because I would have everything under control, and the palaces and the uniforms would be impeccably designed, especially the landing dock for the imperial spacecraft, which I would pilot myself.
There is a viral piece that has been floating around the net in various iterations since we fucked up the 2000 elections, in which Britain rescinds America’s independence. Authorship is ascribed to John Cleese, but apparently it isn’t his, which is a relief because it’s not as funny as it could be. In it, the Queen reassumes monarchical duties over the US, an idea that in reality would only appeal to the staunchest dingbat snob reader of Town & Country. The sad thing is this piece is still making the rounds eleven years later; friends of mine posted it on Facebook the other day. We aren’t changing the perception that we are no longer capable of governing ourselves. It’s only getting worse.
All fantasies aside, I certainly don’t think we should have a monarch. I do think change is inevitable and that it will be positive, although I don’t think I’ll see election reform in my lifetime, which means I will never vote. My observation of America since I was an expat child is that it pulls back from the brink just when you think it’s colliding with disaster. Despite my scathing criticisms, which are meant with as much love as they are frustration, this country today is far more livable than the place I came back to as a teenager, which I only wanted to flee. Maybe I want us to succeed again because we’re becoming the underdog now, and he’s always been my hero.