Helen Mirren just gave an alternative Queen’s Speech and every one of us should take heed

The city is never healthier than when one citizen – especially one whose years have earned them the right – can let rip about unacceptable public behaviour


One does get a little tired of all the Helen Mirren adulation. One occasionally feels one is being hoodwinked into expressing Royalist sentiment by proxy. Or that by joining in with the endless celebration of the lone sexy female over 40 that the media admit into existence, one is colluding in sidelining all the rest of them. But one can’t blame Her Royal Mirrenness for that.

Even if you do hold a grudge, over the weekend Mirren did something so magnificent it will have you doffing your cap like it’s on a spring mechanism. She was halfway through a performance of The Audience at the Gielgud Theatre, in which she plays a one-legged aerobics instructor called Shirley (only joking, she plays the Queen again, of course) when the scene was interrupted by loud drumming. In full regalia, Mirren marched outside to discover the source of the noise, a parade promoting a gay and transgender festival. As she explained to The Daily Telegraph: “They got a very stern royal ticking off but I have to say they were very sweet and  stopped immediately.”

Country dwellers have their idylls. Urban dwellers, this is ours. The city is never healthier than when one citizen – especially one whose years have earned them the right – can let rip about the unacceptable public behaviour of another and reach a good humoured resolution. Yes, it’s confrontational, but it makes an important statement about the value of communal spaces and our shared responsibility to look after them. Sadly, most don’t have Mirren’s confidence.

If you ever ride public transport, sit in the park or go out to eat, you’ll have been in a situation where a stranger was behaving in a way that made others uncomfortable, by letting their headphones leak, for example, or smoking in a non-smoking area. You probably didn’t say anything, and understandably so. The same freesheets we use to avoid eye contact with our fellow commuters include stories about people who did take a stand and were violently attacked for their troubles.

Even non-psychotics tend to get a bit shirty when asked by a stranger to modify their behaviour for the benefit of others. Let these Soho bongo-botherers provide instruction on the proper response to a public telling off. They weren’t to know they were interrupting another performance. Fair enough. Once informed, they expressed calm bemusement and moved on. “Not much shocks you on the gay scene,” commented parade organiser Mark McKenzie, “but seeing Helen Mirren dressed as the Queen cussing and swearing and making you stop your parade – that’s a new one.”  

It’s all child’s play at Tesco 

We’ve long known big business makes decisions based on profit, not ethics.  So Tesco’s determination to keep separate “boys” and “girls” toys sections is baffling. Let Toys Be Toys, a pressure group, is asking retailers to stop the practice, arguing it limits children’s development. Boots have agreed. Whatever you think of the gender politics, surely it would be easier, and therefore cheaper, for Tesco to do likewise.

Chuck the toys on the shelves wherever they may land, do away with the pink and blue bunting (it looks tacky anyway) and let kids decide for themselves if they’re interested in chemistry, or cooking, or both.

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