Christina Patterson: The one little problem with the royals

It is a shame that the Queen's eldest son seems a terrible fuss-pot. But the eldest son's eldest son seems just the ticket
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The Independent Online

A few weeks ago, I had a drink with the Queen. It was in a lesbian bar round the corner from my flat. The Queen was keen to see the changes in my kitchen, and so we set off together on the icy road. When I woke up, I was surprised, and also disappointed. Surprised by the lesbian bar, surprised that the Queen could be so polite about some painted cupboards in a room the size of one, and disappointed that the contents of my psyche were quite so bourgeois. But I wasn't that surprised that I dreamt about the Queen. Most people do. And, besides, she looks like my mother. And, besides, I like her.

I like her so much that when I heard her saying, in her clipped, Brief Encounter voice, in a DVD of footage from the Forties that I gave my mother for Christmas (a present, I have to say, rather better than the Edinburgh Woollen Mill scarf and electric blue towel that she gave me) that she was, at 25, dedicating her life to the service of her subjects, my heart swelled with pride.

It's nice, at a time when most people decide (and fail) to dedicate their lives to getting rid of their cellulite, and maybe drinking a bit less in January, so they can drink a bit more the rest of the year, to hear someone deciding to do something that has something to do with somebody else.

And when, like every other sentient being in this country, I saw The King's Speech at the weekend, I saw where that sense of duty came from. God only knows how accurate Colin Firth's no doubt multi-award-winning performance of the terror-struck accidental King was. Or, indeed, whether Lionel Logue, the speech therapist who helped him through the live broadcasts to the nation that were then a central part of the royal role, and particularly the royal duty to stiffen the upper lips of a nation at war, really thought that he was braver than the men he must have known who risked their lives, and lost eyes, limbs and sometimes bits of their brain, in the fight against fascism. But I can tell you this. Every gulp, every twitch, every blink, and every clenching of that royal jaw was felt, on a Saturday afternoon at the Odeon in Guildford.

We, too, had battled adversity, humiliation and Hitler. We, too, had stood before our subjects (a fifth of the world's population, in those days when Britain was Great!) and known they were waiting for our every (clearly enunciated) word. By the end of it, we were in pieces. By the end of it, some of us (including, I'm ashamed to say, my mother) had, in a cinema, where there are no actors, directors, screenwriters, or best boys, clapped.

By the end of it, we were proud to be British, proud to be part of anation with backbone, proud to beconfronted with an obstacle and sayb-b-b-bugger it. Maybe some of us were even proud to be in a nation that has a queen and will, at some stage, even allowing for the life-preserving properties of blue blood, have a king.

Whether we would have been quite so proud if an American divorcee had not learnt the sexual techniques in Shanghai which had, according to the film, the first in line to the throne in such exquisite thrall that he couldn't contemplate a life without her, is another matter. A first in line to the throne, by the way, who seemed to think that Herr Hitler was a pretty good sort. But, luckily, she did.

So we got plucky George, and fabulously dutiful (and, when she was young, beautiful) Elizabeth, the Queen who has spent the past 57 years making polite, if unenthusiastic, small talk to boring stranger after boring stranger, the Queen who keeps her cornflakes in Tupperware and looks forward to digging out the Marigolds for a once-a-year session of washing up.

It looked, for a moment, as if the death of a people's princess, or at least royal restraint at odds with the hysteria of a nation poleaxed with grief for someone they'd never met, might scupper a tradition that started with Egbert, or perhaps Alfred, and has, with the help of a little inter-breeding, and some injections of foreign blood which may have warded off a few drooling elephant men, lurched on through the generations. But a people's prime minister, as we all know from another film, had a word in a royal ear, and it was agreed that a tiny bit of public emoting would, on this occasion, be an acceptable alternative to a royal head.

It was a shame that the Queen's eldest son wasn't handsome, or brave, that he seemed, in fact, a terrible fuss-pot, though the others, to be honest, were also no great shakes. But the eldest son's eldest son seems just the ticket. He's got the frame, he's got the cheekbones, he's got the teeth. He's also got the sense of duty, and, in case you've been on one of those planets which, according to a discussion on the Today programme this week, may have a civilisation pretty like ours , a Big Fat Royal Wedding to a nice, pretty girl.

One might, if confronted with one of those not-so-near neighbours, wearing, if the scientists are right, skinny jeans or this season's camel coat, struggle to explain quite why, in what we choose to call the 21st century, but which is probably about the 200th, we continue to allow a system of what The King's Speech calls, at one point, "indentured servitude" to exist, flourish and be funded by the British taxpayer, one attached to a family which owns a big chunk of British land and property and is passed, at a time when you can be taken to tribunal for inadequate provision for breast feeding, from eldest son to eldest son.

One might struggle to explain that you might as well toss a coin for what would end up as Head of State and Commonwealth, and model for stamps and coins, but that you couldn't toss a coin, you just had to take whatever emerged from royal loins.

One might struggle to explain that this person was just a figurehead, and that although they had the right to "encourage", "advise" and "be consulted", no one really wanted their advice on anything. What they wanted was the thrilling sense that something that ought to be in a museum was actually alive. And so, luckily, lucratively, did Japanese tourists.

What the skinny-jeaned Saturnian might point out is that it's a bit strange, in a country which talks about the importance of social mobility, and "hard-working families", and "alarm clock Britain" (which, one would have to explain, meant anyone who was still lucky enough to have a job) to have as the richest family in the country one whichdidn't technically have to do any work at all, except for one of them to turn up for the opening of Parliament and have weekly meetings with the Prime Minister, and one which, even though it was meant to be picturesque, could be full of hideous wastrels, and that you could be stuck with them practically for ever, and couldn't trade up, or down.

The Saturnian might well say that he understood that tourism, like the arms industry, was a good source of income, but that he thought some things probably mattered more than sources of income. And he might well add that he had heard, in a discussion between scientists on their early-morning news programme, that you could work out a lot about another planet's civilisation by its symbols.;