The Queen must become a tour guide

No need for a guide book if Her Majesty were regaling you with personal anecdotes
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The Independent Culture
THE OBVIOUS answer to the Great Buckingham Palace debacle - as a tourist attraction, the latest edition of Holiday Which? rates it "poor" and only gives it one star - would be to get the Royals to act as guides and show the tourists round themselves. It might mean rearranging their summer holidays, of course. Buckingham Palace is only open for visitors for two months in the summer when the Royal household retires to Balmoral. But I am sure they could work out some sort of shift system.

If, say, the Queen did Tuesdays and Prince Philip Wednesdays, they could travel up and down on the sleeper and still have five clear days on the grouse moor. Yes, I know what you are going to say. Train tickets don't grow on trees. I've thought of that. Because they are not travelling during peak periods or at weekends, they'd be entitled to Supersaver advance returns and still be in pocket, because just as you pay more to see Man U or Pavarotti at Covent Garden, you'd pay more to have the Queen. Maybe I'm wrong there. On a sliding scale, Mrs Parker Bowles would probably attract more punters.

One of Holiday Which?'s chief complaints was that the Buckingham Palace guides don't give enough information about the state rooms and exhibits. Visitors wanting more detail had to fork out an extra pounds 3.75 for a guide book on top of the pounds 10 entrance fee. No need for a guide book if Her Majesty were regaling you with amusing personal anecdotes. "Where were we, oh yes, here's the very chair that unfortunate young man was sitting on during an investiture and the ceiling fell on him. How we laughed."

What would really turn the corner for Buckingham Palace would be if the Queen were to wear one of her special ceremonial outfits and a crown when on guide duty. It's asking a lot, I know, but modern tourism is a cut- throat commercial business, as I am sure her new PR consultant future daughter-in-law, Sophie, would be the first to point out.

"You wouldn't have to wear it for the whole tour, ma'am," I can hear Sophie say. "You could excuse yourself at the entrance to the last room - `bear with me a moment', you could say - and then after a small fanfare (nothing elaborate, we've got to keep our overheads down), you could suddenly emerge from the shadows magnificently robed as if for a state opening of Parliament. Wow. What a finish!"

Don't ask me how but I happen to know that the Queen might be persuaded to go the whole hog in terms of ceremonial togs and crown. Alright, you can ask me. It was back in 1985 when I and 2000 other reporters were dispatched to China to cover the Royal tour. I'd never done a Royal tour before. So when James Whitaker, famous Daily Mirror Royal correspondent, asked what I was going to wear to meet the Queen at the reception that evening, I was aghast.

"You mean we actually get to talk to her." "Yes, indeed we do, but don't worry, I've done it dozens of times. It's just like talking to an ordinary person," said James. This, of course, is codswallop. The Queen is not an ordinary person.

Significantly, as we drew nearer to the Royal presence even Mirror-man Whitaker began to look nervous. We were to be presented to Her Majesty in groups of four, after which the Queen would look at each of us in turn, we would say something conversational to which she might or might not reply, and that was it. Moment of glory to pass on to one's grandchildren.

It was our turn. The man for Reuters talked about Chinese culture, Mirror- man Whitaker reminded Her Majesty that they had last met in Canada, and then the Royal gaze fell on me.

"It was so interesting when we were all waiting for you outside the Royal guesthouse this afternoon," I gabbled hysterically. "You remember all those little schoolchildren who danced and sang and waved flags when your car drove by, well, we talked to them earlier and asked what they thought the Queen of England would look like; and they all said you'd be wearing a silver dress and a golden crown."

There was a long, terrible pause. The Queen stared at me and I stared frozenly back like a rabbit caught in headlights. Everything seemed to be running in slow motion. I knew she was going to say "Off with her head" and I would be hustled unceremoniously away like one of Alice's playing- card courtiers. The Queen's mouth snapped open like a trap. "It is a very curious thing that no matter where I go, in whatever country, the children always think I should be wearing a silver dress and a golden crown. They must all be bitterly disappointed. Maybe I should."

She moved on. "Well done," said Mirror-man Whitaker admiringly. "That was a proper conversation."