Rulers with pedal power

The Royal Family is debating a new role, but just who will pay the piper - and call the tune?
Click to follow
Since Britain stumbled on the odd notion of a ruler without power, constitutional monarchy has become, alongside soccer and cricket, one of our more succesful exports. In fact, the damned foreigners liked the idea so much that they have become better at it than ourselves (like soccer and cricket).

Ten years ago, the British monarchy was the most popular and least controversial in the world. Now, it seems, othershave managed a smoother transition to the post-deferential era.

There have been non-British royal scandals aplenty. A couple of years ago, a Norwegian princess was cited in a divorce case by a shop assistant from Ellesmere Port. But royal pecadilloes elsewhere have not had a devastating effect on the institution of monarchy.

There may be two reasons for this. The British royals make global news in a way most of the other royals can't. Secondly, the other royal famillies (Japan's apart) sloughed off their quasi-divine status years ago. Human foibles were no great shock to their largely indifferent subjects. The British, by contrast, have had a rapid and uncomfortable descent; from veneration to near-mockery.

The Windsors evidently detest the notion that the-called "bicycling royals" of Europe got it right and they got it wrong. Two years ago, Prince Charles splenetically told the Mail on Sunday that the Scandinavian royals, in particular, are "grander, more pompous, more hard to approach than we are".

Grander? Most of the other royal families are less expensive to maintain than ours, although not cheap and always more expensive than a president.

The cost of the Dutch throne, probably the most expensive on the Continent, is estimated at pounds 37m annually, compared to pounds 100m for ours (hidden extras included). The flunky count is also instructive. The British Royal Household is 400, Norway's 120, Sweden's 70 and Denmark's a dozen.

More pompous and harder to approach? The Japanese certainly; the Europeans, hardly. Queen Margrethe of Denmark has fortnightly audiences with members of the public. The Belgian royal family is especially touchy-feely: they were out and about hugging victims of accidents long before the Princess of Wales became the Queen of Hearts.