Back in 1950 , King Farouk of Egypt made the following pronouncement ” The whole world is in revolt. Soon there will be only five Kings left–the King of England, the King of Spades, The King of Clubs, the King of Hearts, and the King of Diamonds.” King Farouk himself was deposed shortly thereafter and died in exile in Italy. .Today, other than the kings in a deck of cards , the only other monarchs that come readily to mind are those in England ,Thailand , Jordan, Netherlands , Sweden and Norway. None of them ( except for the King of Jordan) wield any real power ; they are mostly ceremonial figureheads.
Recently, the British Royals have been in the news , what with Prince William’s engagement to Kate Middleton and the movie ” The King’s Speech ” about William’s Great-grandfather King George VI and his struggles in overcoming his stutter. This led me to thinking about the British royalty and the continuing affection that their subjects have for them . What is at the root of this affection ? What is this mystique that still attracts the British public ?
To a foreigner , the British public’s affection is inexplicable.When one considers the British monarchs objectively , they seem a pretty ordinary lot. They are not particularly well-educated or accomplished , they are not glamorous or charismatic and they haven’t had a real say in the governance of the kingdom for more than a century. Ironically , the two most glamorous royals in recent times are outsiders who married into the royal family . Prince Philip , still a fine figure of a man at age 90, looks like royalty . So did the late Princess Diana , a tall , willowy beauty who was the darling of the public. I never thought Queen Elizabeth had much of a personality even when she was younger and nowadays she looks positively frumpy.Neither do any of her brood appear at all impressive .
The reason perhaps is that we know too much about them. The British tabloids are extremely aggressive and unscrupulous and love to dig up dirt , especially about the royals. Charles and Diana’s marital troubles ,his liaison with Camilla Parker- Bowles the escapades of Randy Andy and Fergie, , and a host of other titillating happenings have been gleefully seized on by the British press and described in great detail on their front pages.Under these circumstances , it would be impossible for anyone to appear kingly.
There would seem to be two reasons for the attraction that Britons feel for the royal family. One is that the royals are part of a tradition . Britons are accustomed to having them around and it may seem unthinkable to see them gone from the scene. Like double decker buses and steak and kidney pie , the Royals are part of what makes the British British . England has been a steady decline for the last forty years but , since the monarch has no say in the government , the English public does not hold him accountable for the hard times . No, the public’s ire is reserved for the PM and elected officials who do run the government.
The other reason is that the British royalty is like a real-life show , not just a reality show. The common man (and woman) have a fascination for the lives of the rich and the privileged . If they can’t be like them they still want to know all about them ; their life style ,their parties , their quarrels and, above all , their peccadilloes .In the U.S, we have reality shows about the rich and famous , shows like the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills / New York City/ Atlanta / New Jersey/ Washington D.C and the Kardashians to name only a few. In England , they have the royal family ; the public’s voyeuristic tendencies are completely fulfilled by the real life soap opera of ceremonies ,engagements, escapades,marriages, divorces, affairs , deaths etc. Right now , the two hot topics are Prince William’s impending marriage and the question of who will succeed Queen Elizabeth. Will it be Prince Charles or will it be Prince William ?
Every so often , there are rumblings about the cost of the upkeep for the British Royals and whether they should get a real job , at least the ones with no real chance of succession to the throne . The truth however is that the cost of upkeep is only a fraction of what the royals have already given up ( i.e ownership of the various castles and estates ) and what they bring in in terms of tourist revenues. In a few years time , the King of England may very well one be the last one standing. King Farouk’s observation may yet come true.
P.S . It is strange how perceptions change over the years . When King Edward VIII abdicated the throne to marry the American divorcee ,Wallis Simpson , he was initially seen in a romantic light . His younger brother Bertie , who succeeded to the throne as King George VI was not viewed as favorably. Later , these perceptions were switched. Edward VIII , it turns out was a weak -willed , self-centered playboy with Nazi sympathies . George VI , on the other hand , was admirable because he performed splendidly when thrust suddenly into the lime light . During the Battle of Britain , when the Luftwaffe was bombing London almost nightly , he toured the stricken areas at great danger to himself and earned the admiration of his people . ( In this , he was not unlike our own Harry Truman who was totally unprepared for the presidency when FDR passed away suddenly. Still, Truman took the bit between his teeth , made many difficult decisions and emerged as one of our greatest Presidents ).
P.P.S.I haven’t seen The King’s Speech yet but I plan too.