Joanna Briscoe: At the Sharp End

Cavorting Sloanes and limelight junkies - but at least they keep us in commemorative mugs
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The Independent Online

God save our gracious Queen and her heaving brood of chavs.

Now that the stern old matriarch's in her dotage and statistically more in danger of going ga ga - though no signs of that yet, ma'am - she's been farmed out to sheltered housing in Windsor well before any dribbling might set in. Her bleeding gentian lipstick off our screens, the spotlight falls naturally upon the younger generation: a cat-fighting, boozing, gun-toting rabble almost guaranteed to provide Footballers' Wives levels of entertainment for the forthcoming season.

Must the show go on?

Hurrah! The royal soap is truly hotting up again. About bloody time. After its Diana-goes-Eurotrash heyday, we've had an extended wilderness period with only that Sophie-someone marrying the effeminate bald son we're not interested in. Camilla kicked up ratings very mildly with her postponed wedding, but it was nothing on tampongate. The show always seemed like pure soap to we folks at home with our tea-towels tucked into our collars over a telly supper: a princes' mother cavorting with son of millionaire Harrods' owner on yachts; limelight-gorging royal butlers; Sloanes and toe-jobs; multiple divorces; James Hewitt; burning castles and Paris car crashes. It looked like it was scripted at Elstree, but oh my Gawd, it was actually happening.

OK, it's not quite as pumping now, but you can't have "Who Shot JR?" every week, and some juicy ingredients are brewing. We've got the delicious spectacle of two randy young chargers and their fillies rampaging through the tabloids, charging round military parades, crashing into lap-dancing joints, and braying in nightclubs. The Windsors for the spring 2006 season is a cunning merger of reality TV and soap opera.

Beyond the soapish aspect, all life can be observed in The Windsors. It contains just as many brain-dead chavs and limelight junkies as a standard episode of Big Bruv. William's the beautiful toff, Harry's the thick squaddie, and Kate and Chelsy are the new Di and Fergie. We've long mourned the disturbed romantic heroine that was Diana and the royal fool that was Fergie. Now we've got their replacements: a plain-faced young lady the press is pretending is pretty, and a bling-draped, frosted, snubby-nosed Uber-chav with colourful family connections. Thank God for that. I can now pick up the Daily Mail in a caff and enjoy it again.

Kate! She enjoys shopping with her mum! She doesn't seem to have a proper job! Glorious stuff. She looks like a bog-standard boarding school girl in Jigsaw clothes, but William Windsor fancies her, so that's all that matters. There's also a suspicion that her parents (mail order business; Berkshire) might be a touch too thrilled at the way events have panned out, which jacks up the back story nicely.

Celebrities in the raw

On to Chelsy, the Coleen of the piece - the Chantelle, the Chardonnay - the permatanned colonial missy who's brought some foreign spice into the picture. Splendid! With her Zimbabwean origins and her Shazzy name, its spelling dicked-around-with to the point that she can enter Burberry heaven any time she chooses, she's the real face of The Royals now Pauline Fowler's locked up in Windsor. Long live them new Slater sisters! And the great thing is that Kate and Chelsy weren't chosen by Simon Cowell to be famous; they're not airbrushed and skin-peeled to death: these are celebrities in the raw.

Since Lady Di, the Royals have deliciously mutated into a family like everyone else's, with unreliable rellies, embarrassingly named in-laws, divorced partners slagging each other off, wastrels, mean tippers and drunk army lads. You'd move away from them on a train. They look like one of them might steal silver off their aunt.

As a lazy republican - yes, of course the monarchy is a howling anachronism, and as for Chelsy's security guards, I for one don't want to pay for Harry's shag - I can't be bothered to get too worked up about the Windsors when they bring in commemorative mug revenue and provide me with a good brain-numbing when I need a computer break.

Only Brenda knows how to behave, and behave bloody impeccably she has for over half a century. Happy birthday, ma'am. God save our gracious Queen. And feel free to pap the rest so we can have more larfs.

Towering genius

On to Dame Muriel Spark. She was a raving, towering genius, and even in death, the extent of her talent has not been fully acknowledged. I was always banging on about the fact that we had Shakespeare in our midst, and now she's dead. Bugger it. I wish I'd left fan letters in her olive grove. She should have been rated as a living treasure, like Lucian Freud, like Rushdie or McEwan, but she hared off to live on a Tuscan hilltop and she was a girl, so she wasn't.

The first sentence of one obit referred to her "humorous novels", not a "darkly" in sight, which sums up part of the problem. Spark was be-damed, she was feted, but she was also viewed as a writer of slim novels with a light touch. If she'd had a penis, she'd have been canonised. I vote we create St Muriel's Day, for bunking off work and re-reading The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie in awed silence.

"Sleep With Me", a novel by Joanna Briscoe, is published in paperback by Bloomsbury in June (£7.99)

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