It’s the morning after the four-day weekend before. As the litter pickers got to work on the Mall, Tom Sykes and Clive Irving sat down to ponder what the Platinum Jubilee actually meant for the Windsors.
Tom Sykes: Hi Clive, what are your first thoughts after this weekend of royal celebration?
Clive Irving: I have a mix of emotions. When Paddington Bear settled his soulful eyes on the queen over the tea table and said (voiced with perfect pitch by Ben Whishaw), “Happy Jubilee, Ma’am, and thank you… for everything,” there was an unmistakable sense of valediction. (I’m told that the queen had “great fun” making the clip.)
At some point over the weekend you could feel a change in the atmosphere. This was the beginning of a farewell. I imagine the last thing Buckingham Palace wants is for us to get past the pageant and start thinking about the future of The Firm, but it’s unavoidable.
Tom: It definitely felt like the curtain falling on a great era. It felt like the end of a certain style of royal rule, and yet the arrangement of people on the palace balcony for the queen’s climactic appearance on Sunday afternoon—Charles, William, William’s kids—was the line of succession in miniature sending out the very clear, emphatic message: This is how we intend to continue to reign over you.
Clive: Another emotion is more personal. Because my career as a journalist is as long as hers as a monarch, I had a real awareness of how deeply the queen lived in the 20th century, through the great and testing moments from the war, the echoes of that 1945 balcony scene when her father and Churchill took their victory moment before the millions. And so she, and a large part of the country, were really saying a final goodbye to the twentieth century and what the nation has been through and achieved. That’s a very powerful form of nostalgia—when 87 percent of the people have not known another monarch, she came to personally embody their experience.
Tom: Yes, it was definitely Queen Elizabeth’s party, even if she couldn’t be there. In the letter of thanks she wrote to the nation after it was all over, she alluded to her absences, albeit with classic understatement, saying: “While I may not have attended every event in person...” But the reverence in which she is held by so many across the spectrum is astonishing. I even saw the famous republican Polly Toynbee in the Guardian writing nice things about her! In fact the Guardian has been unable to muster much anti-Jubilee sentiment, and the rest of the British press as these front pages show are united in praise of the queen as of Monday morning. The feeling is that it has all been a triumph.
There has also been a lot of commentary about how the queen has used the event to prepare the nation for the succession. The Times put it thus: “As she stood on the balcony, smiling and waving to the roaring crowds below, surrounded by all three of her heirs, what she had to say was all too clear: this is the future.”
I think this analysis is spot on. The Jubilee is only pretending to be about celebrating QE2. She’s actually a trojan horse. The real goal of the Jubilee is the ongoing survival of the institution. And that means softening up the public for King Charles.
Clive: Yes. And that is the rub: With such a vast amount of affection and memory attached to one person, it means that her successor can never match up to the example set. This weekend really set us up for a future shock and posed the question—what it will actually feel like when she has gone?
Tom: It did. And I hate to be cold, but the fact that the queen is not well enough to perform her basic duties as head of state, that she was not able to even sit in a church for an hour, makes me think that, despite everything the palace say, abdication, or something very like it, can’t be too far off. I felt there was perhaps even a hint, a first admission of human frailty in her statement where she said: “I remain committed to serving you to the best of my ability, supported by my family.” What do you think?
Clive: Yes, it can’t be far away, this is a kind of slow-motion abdication. After all, the queen herself set the rules: if she can’t go on doing the job by the standards that she set for herself, she would quit.
Tom: Right, I mean what happened to, “I have to be seen to be believed.” Is that not relevant any more somehow?
Clive: A telling phrase. So what did you make of it all?
Tom: My initial reaction is that this was a tremendous celebration of the queen and the institution, but a missed opportunity in terms of patching things up with Harry and Meghan. I think everybody behaved very childishly in regard to the great Sussex question. The palace were small-minded not to include them, but the couple then lost the moral high ground by leaving early to return to America during the Sunday pageant in what appeared to be a huff.
As I reported Monday that is being widely seen as peevish attention seeking on their part by the royals. A friend of the royals told me: “So much for not overshadowing the queen. Would it have killed them to wait a few hours?” It seems disrespectful.
Clive: It seemed to me to be very petty to so clearly push them out of the top tier. I also have a strong aversion to Harry’s father wearing a chest full of medals without having been in a hot war while Harry, who saw the horrors of a hot war up close, and who spends a lot of effort to take care of the casualties of war, does not parade around in funny uniforms.
Tom: Prince Charles’ dress sense is definitely getting increasingly grandiose and absurd as the throne hives into view. We joked before about how ridiculous Charles looked when he opened Parliament in a white naval uniform. I think you described it in an email as “very Gilbert and Sullivan” at the time which made me chuckle! Harry at least looked like a normal human being as he arrived at St Pauls! But what about those boos?
Clive: I wonder if there is such a thing as a cheer-ometer, something that accurately measures cheers against boos, because watching live as Harry and Meghan arrived at St. Paul’s they received far more cheers than boos.
Tom: I was watching on Sky News and the boos were audible, but so were the cheers. I would like to say that I think the people booing are selfish twits. It certainly wasn’t patriotic. On a day like that, if you don’t have anything nice to say, why say anything? What kind of person thinks, “I’m going to get up at 6am and go to London to boo Prince Harry?”
Clive: Boris Johnson, today facing a vote of no confidence in his leadership, deservedly moved the needle high on boos at the church service, and then at the Saturday night concert. I wonder if any MPs voting today are thinking about those boos; royalists are not notably an anti-Tory bunch, and hearing him booed like that might be a bracing corrective about the erosion of his support.
Tom: Yes. Would you be inclined to believe a rumor I have heard that Harry and Meghan were invited to the Guildhall reception after the service but chose not to go? I don’t think it is the whole story. I think if they had been encouraged to go they would have delightedly accepted. I keep wondering if the palace have got a few hints of what’s in Harry’s book, hence this exclusionary attitude.
Clive: That’s an interesting rumor, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out to be true. This has been a very tricky thing for them, playing counter to their perceived egos as showboaters and noises off. But I always feel that whenever Harry is there, so too is Princess Diana, she would be in her mid-sixties now, and St. Paul’s was where she and Charles had that marriage as the whole world watched, and I wonder, was that palpable to Charles? That was the beginning of Diana’s stardom.
Tom: I thought Meghan and Harry had handled it pretty well until they made a break for the private jet on Sunday, while the pageant was still going on and the queen was about to appear on the balcony for the big climax.
Of course, we would be remiss not to mention the breakout star of the Jubilee: Prince Louis! For all the splendor and pomp and pageantry, the defining image of the family this Jubilee for many people will be that little scamp with his hands over his ears and Kate trying to control him! Maybe they need to give those kids the ear muffs you see trendy parents putting on their kids at festivals? But it was actually a brilliant moment: it’s funny how it’s the things that don’t go according to plan that often show the more human side of Windsor, Inc.
Clive: The Cambridge kids are a model of a very modern monarchy. They are spontaneous and real as we saw again on Sunday, and are enjoying a quality of parenting that Charles never did, which is part of his problem (although it was a lovely moment when Louis went to sit on his grandpa’s knee). If only the Cambridges were, in fact, the next Windsor monarchy, it would be so much more fun and so much more relevant. It heightened my feeling that the Windsors live in a kind of weird time machine. Charles is comfortably seated in the eighteenth century, the Queen, as I said, embodies the twentieth century, and the Cambridges are wholly of this time and century. The institution is going to fracture along those lines.
Tom: Can we talk about how bad the beacon lighting moment was? What was going on? The Christmas lights stretched out in the garden, the queen hobbling out looking all confused and pressing the button…I felt it was very disappointing. Couldn’t we have had Charles, a fiery torch, and a pillar of fire? Was that too much to ask?
Clive: Yes, those were weird moments. But, having complained some months ago about the lapse in production values when the queen appeared for an audience at Windsor Castle, I was knocked out by the production values of the major pageantry, well up to Top Gun standards. I know from my American friends that it evoked that old phrase, “Nobody does it like the Brits.”
Tom: The pageant was a good combination of pomp and circumstance and bonkers Britishness. Although I do feel that asking the public to venerate the queen for four days was a bit excessive. It was too drawn out. I thought it could have been condensed. I’d have gone for Trooping the Color and concert on the Saturday, Church Sunday morning, pageant Sunday afternoon and then, you know, can one and all please kindly fuck off now, and we will see you at Charles’ coronation.
Clive: Tom, what’s your take on the two ticking bombs in the immediate future: the investigation into honors for sale at the Prince’s Trust, which will draw attention to Charles’ longtime enforcer, Michael Fawcett, and—a lot more ominous—Harry’s book?
Tom: We shall see, but will the Establishment somehow make the corruption charge against Charles and his consigliere melt away as effortlessly as snow in spring? Becoming king could help Charles here.
Harry’s book is going to be an absolute nightmare for them. An informer in the heart of the family? It’s a disaster, no two ways about it. But it could also badly rebound on Harry and Meghan: if the queen dies literally two weeks after it is published that will damage Harry no end. Trash-talking your family never makes you look great. I think the Sunday flight back to California underlines the fact that this feud is still very active, and I struggle to see a way back for Harry and Meghan now, not least because they don’t appear to want it.
Clive: A further thought for which there is no available data: How inclusive do you think this carnival really was? In London the crowds reflected this most multicultural of cities, but I’m not sure how that was true elsewhere. Let’s remember the terrible fiasco of the Caribbean royal tour, with the Cambridges and the Wessexes. Then let’s remember Horse Guards Parade and the historical tableau that was enacted there. The light dragoons and the hussars wore the kit that their forebears wore when imposing imperial rule on the Indian subcontinent, on Africa and in the West Indies. For a lot of people that’s a very bad vibe. It works as pageant but it’s toxic as history.
Tom: Yes, the Caribbean trip was an urgent memo for change. William got it, but I don’t know if the queen did. But on the whole I thought there was an appropriate effort to be inclusive. The institutional racism of the royal family was much more evident at Prince Philip’s memorial, where you really had to look pretty hard to spot a non-white face in the crowd.
Clive: The YouGov survey of May 16-17 did not show any age group that favored a republic instead of a monarchy. The closest was 18 to 24 year olds, where those wanting to retain the monarchy have a very slight lead, otherwise the republican support slumped rapidly among older age groups. The queen is largely responsible for this. She has proved the basic principle of a constitutional monarchy: that a head of state who is completely neutral politically, whose feelings on any issue, no matter how fraught, remain unknown, is far better than a political appointment. But, of course, how does that work without someone of that nature?
Tom: That’s the nub of the problem when we think of King Charles, isn’t it? A lot of the Jubilee was about selling him as King but it is still hard to imagine him on the balcony, commanding the love and respect the queen commands. I think the royal family will have to radically change the way it operates if Charles is to have any hope of making it really work and ensuring the long term survival of The Firm.
That long term future of course involves the Cambridge kids who were such fun. Kate was her steady, fabulous self, and she garnered a lot of praise for relatable parenting when she was trying to wrangle Louis! But did William look a little bit the disinterested and dutiful heir at times? The only time he seemed genuinely enthused was when he gave his speech at the concert, which was a rallying cry for the environment.
The unavoidable issue hanging over all of this, of course, is the queen’s health. It’s like the Emperor’s new clothes. We can all see, quite plainly, with the eyes on our face, that she isn’t well, but then we have these ta-da moments on the balcony that try and say she just has a sore foot. I thought it was interesting that they admitted to her being in “discomfort” which, I regret to say, I suspect means she was howling in pain. It’s all getting a bit ridiculous, not to say cruel, and I do hope that the events of the last few days were also about saying farewell and preparing for the inevitable regency. I’d be prepared to bet we have King Charles by this time next year—and the present queen still alive. I wonder how he will do.
Clive: As my last word, I will propose a new test of whether a future monarch has a sense of humor and the gift of relating: let’s call it the marmalade sandwich test. Can you imagine Charles ever doing that scene with Paddington Bear, being prepared to joke about carrying a marmalade sandwich with him?
Tom: I think that is a fantastic idea! so… Long Live the Queen?