Joan Smith: Yes, I know she's turned 80. But calm down, dear, calm down

'She works incredibly hard.' Er, compared to what?
Click to follow
The Independent Online

You'd never think, listening to all the tosh about the Queen's 80th birthday last week, that this country beheaded a monarch more than a century before the French got round to it. Not that I'm advocating execution for Her Majesty, you understand - after all, I'm a lifelong opponent of the death penalty. But really, how long do I have to put up with all this bilge from Max Hastings, William Shawcross and even Jonathan Freedland of The Guardian? Not to mention Sunder Katwala, general secretary of the bloody Fabians, who thinks the Queen is a good thing and the monarchy just needs a bit of tweaking.

Royal birthdays, weddings and jubilees invariably demonstrate the ghastly effect the institution has on the country. Like deities, monarchs encourage fantasies, so the airwaves have been filled with people who have never met the Queen telling us how nice, generous and wise she is. Then there are the royal sycophants and courtiers who have been allowed endless opportunities to say nothing at great length - even, in some cases, to talk obvious nonsense that a halfway-decent interviewer would in other circumstances demolish.

I mean, have everyone's brains turned to mush in the past few days? Since no one else seems prepared to do it, I'm now going to offer a public service by dismantling five myths about the Queen and her family:

She works incredibly hard. Er, compared to what? Being Queen was not, when I last looked, a minimum-wage occupation involving long night shifts. Elizabeth II doesn't have many days when she has to get the first Tube home from the other side of London after cleaning offices with a team of mostly female, mostly immigrant workers. Meeting presidents, mayors and members of the WRVS may be boring but it's not like being a refuse collector, for God's sake.

She was born to the job and doesn't have any choice. She does, actually - we all do. She grew up in a palace; I grew up on a council estate. I chose not to leave school at 16 and work in the local supermarket; the Queen could decide to renounce her titles at any time, and so could her family. But giving up the throne involves losing a great many privileges, which admittedly doesn't happen when you move away from a council estate.

Say what you like about the Queen, but she's devoted to her family. This may be true, in the rather distant way that members of the British aristocracy go about showing affection, but she can't escape responsibility for raising a spectacularly dysfunctional bunch. Divorce is hardly uncommon these days but few warring spouses slug it out as viciously as Charles and Diana did. And I'm still trying to work out the precise difference between their sons and other Hooray-Henries who like killing animals and getting their friends to dress up as funny foreigners.

They can't answer back. Oh, really? Neither Prince Philip nor Princess Anne strikes me as a shrinking violet, reluctant to say what they really think. As for Prince Charles, he does nothing but complain about how misunderstood and unappreciated he is. And just tell me this: if the Windsors are so stoically reticent, how did all those hostile stories about Diana get into the public domain?

They bring in tourist revenues. I guess that explains why there are no tourists in France, Egypt or the US, then. Actually, if we got rid of the Windsors and opened royal palaces and art collections permanently to the public, they might attract even more visitors. I'd be quite happy for some junior royals to stay on as guides, like former convicts showing tourists round Alcatraz.

Comments