Grace Dent on TV: Our Queen
All right, hands up, I do quite like the Queen. And she did enjoy that flotilla after all...
The mark of a good “up close and personal” doc, in my opinion, is the tally of fresh insight one learns. I mean, quite literally, the number of times one turns to one's partner, sleeping cat or disinterested teenage child and squeaks, 'Ooh I didn't know that!' Take, for example, the E! channel's True Hollywood Story on Jennifer Lopez, a veritable smorgasbord of J-Lo trivia and candid family interviews. Bag open, cats everywhere. The husbands, the houses, the daily hoopla of being J-Lo. When someone collars me to discuss BBC4's Borgen, yes, I may appear to be smiling and nodding, but behind the eyes I'm replaying J-Lo curb-dumping second husband Cris Judd for Ben Affleck. True Hollywood Story: Janet Jackson, on the other hand, sullies the good name of documentary. Load of old bobbins that I learned from Smash Hits in 1986 and no rights permission granted to play the hits. Very poor.
With this in mind, I was a tough audience for ITV's Our Queen, being something of an expert on Her Majesty, god bless her. Mark my words, as a bored eight-year-old child in a royalist household attending a Church of England school, one didn't live through the ten-week media blitz run-up to the 1981 Royal Wedding without soaking up a shed-load of Queen trivia. I rather like the Queen, or at least was brainwashed into believing that I did while waiting in sideways rain for her to appear and pretend to enjoy her trip to Carlisle. It was a moment of unexpected excitement in the dour north. I also waited two hours to meet June Whitfield when she opened a new Walter Wilson supermarket branch, but I'm squandering anecdotes here; there'll be nothing left for my memoirs.
Our Queen, it transpired, was really rather brilliant: candid, nosy, but brimming with charm. My note pad is heavy with queenish titbits. For example, when the Queen does the voiceover for televised speeches, she is not – like all other voiceover artists – made to traipse to Soho to sit in a soundbooth which reeks of cup noodles and cough medicine, before being told to say the lines faster, then slower, then faster but slower, then saucier like the Cadbury bunny, then more upbeat like Jeremy Clarkson. And when the Queen visits Fortnum & Mason with Kate Middleton, whoever is in charge of the schedule makes them immediately be taken to the chocolate counter to behold rows of chocolate. Because that's what women want to look at always: chocolate. “Mmmm, chocolates!” says Kate Middleton, grasping around for something to say. She's probably seen chocolate before, having lived on Earth for several decades. “Patronising bastards” I have written on my jotter, not sure who I'm cross at for this casual sexism (I've decided on “everybody”).
When the Queen is at a party – which is almost continually, as she is never allowed to sit down with Homes under the Hammer, battering her way though some chocolate-covered Brazils like most pensioners – she is a rather independent spirit. She often roams around parties by herself, cup and saucer in hand, or a gin and dubonet, sidling up to folk for a chat. Like a Dynasty character, she never says hello or goodbye. She feels this “a waste of words”.
Until watching ITV's Our Queen, I had assumed, like a complete tit, that David Cameron possibly got access to Buckingham Palace about twice yearly and even then was only allowed as far as just past the gift shop. But, oh no, Cameron is in the Queen's apartment every single week, explaining to her what's happening and getting her views. Hang on; this surely means that the future Prime Minister is going to have to explain world affairs once a week and gain the input of Prince Charles? I don't even enjoy his views on what makes a good stem-ginger biscuit.
I will, however, eat my words about the Diamond Jubilee flotilla. I was one of the loud naysayers who claimed that nobody, including the Queen, really enjoyed it. I said it was nothing more than a bunch of Rotary Club hierarchy staging an advanced water-bound willy-waving competition which meant nothing to anyone working class. Our Queen proved that I was wrong. The Queen really enjoyed the flotilla. The evidence of her gleefulness was starkly present. And so, too, did Boris Johnson, who found the snobbery and rivalry over “who had the biggest boat” a terrific wheeze. I do not own a boat, but I have watched The Love Boat and once owned some Matey bubble bath, so yes, I can empathise with this emotion.
My enduring image of Our Queen is Her Majesty demanding a preview of the table designs for a royal banquet, arriving with corgis and handbag, and demanding that all the pineapple table-pieces are moved back five inches as they're getting on her nerves just looking at them. Moments like this made the documentary. Long may she reign.
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