Johann Hari: God save the Queen from the job, the mother and the court who have ruined her life

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The Independent Online

The British people are about to roll out the bunting and crack open the beer-crates to celebrate 80 years of tormenting, stunting and warping an innocent person. This woman was seized at birth, taught by her mother to chant "I am not normal, I am not normal" when she could barely walk, instructed to cauterise any emotions she might haltingly develop, denied a free choice over her job or husband or religion, and forced to work, work, work in unimaginably boring conditions long after her contemporaries had retired. Her name is Elizabeth Windsor. Her tormentors call her "The Queen".

The birthday-wake for Elizabeth this week will be used by monarchists as another opportunity to peddle the myth that we have a blissfully happy monarch, a woman whose emotional needs are met entirely by her sense of duty to us, her adoring subjects, and by a gaggle of corgis. But the real story of Elizabeth Windsor should not be lost amid this velvet-lined propaganda.

As a child, Elizabeth watched the institution of monarchy reduce her father to a near-permanent nervous breakdown. He hated the duties of being King, and developed a constant stammer so severe many people assumed he was mentally disabled.

He even told his friend Ramsay MacDonald that he was so horrified and nauseous during the Coronation ceremony that he was entirely unaware of what was happening. Unsurprisingly, his traumatised daughter - according to her friend Lord Strathmore - began to "pray for a brother" who would take precedence over her in the succession and save her from this golden cage.

But the monarchists permitted her no escape. Her instincts towards freedom and normality had to be snuffed out, most enthusiastically by her mother, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, who was perhaps the most enthusiastic monarchist and (a logical twin) the most aggressive social climber in British history.

She forbade Elizabeth from going to school, and her nanny, Marian Crawford, explained that, as a result, the child found it "difficult" to make friends. She had one "rather special friendship", but it ended when the girl was sent away to school and Elizabeth was left alone once again.

The child did not even have her mother for comfort. After putting her in purdah, her parents abandoned her for months on end as they met the "requirements of royalty". When Elizabeth couldn't even talk, they jetted off to Australia for six months and barely recognised her when they returned.

Their primary use for her was as propaganda for the monarchy machine: she made her first appearance on the cover of Time magazine at the age of three, and her first words were front page news. Her best friend, Lady Patricia Mountbatten, reveals that "she was very aware that how she behaved in public was very important. For instance ... she knew she must try not to cry." To find another child who was so ruthlessly pushed into the public eye from infancy, you have to look to Michael Jackson.

Monarchy began to twist and deform her personality, making her unable to function. Don't take my republican word for it - listen to Patricia Mountbatten: "If you are brought up to live your life in the eyes of the world, you can't afford to be seen to be terribly sad, or in tears or cross or even unwell. You have to have such total control over yourself at all times that it then becomes quite difficult to show your emotions, even in private. I think that is a particular thing with the Royal Family - they cannot be seen to be other than totally composed and in control of the situation in public, and that spills over into their private life."

Almost everybody who knows her well agrees that it is monarchy that has misshapen her spirit in this way. Douglas Hurd, who got to know her well when he was foreign secretary, says that while Elizabeth's "constitutional machinery" is in tip-top shape, her "emotional machinery" is almost entirely out of order because "she has almost trained feelings out of herself".

She later re-enacted this pattern of abuse and neglect towards her own damaged children. Who can forget the clip of a tiny Charles Windsor waiting in line to shake his mother's hand as she returns from a six-month "royal engagement" without him? As Anthony Jay, who scripted the documentary Elizabeth R, explains: "She's one of those people who is deeply unemotional. For people who are emotionally detached in that way, institutions become more important than families. The Queen's children were handed over to nannies, and a kind of emotional cauterisation took place. Something was sealed off very early. For her, that is a strength. If she were emotionally involved, she couldn't do her job."

It did not seem to occur to him that an institution that mandates psychological abnormality and child abuse should be ended.

There is only one fleeting, beautiful moment in her life when Elizabeth wriggled free from monarchy. After she married Philip Mountbatten, they lived in Malta from 1950-51 and she tasted life as a comparatively norma, high-end, Navy wife. Marian Crawford said, "The Princess had no very clear understanding of the way people lived outside palace walls. But when she flew to visit Prince Philip in Malta, she saw and experienced for the first time the life of an ordinary girl not living in a palace."

Lady Kennard, a good friend of Elizabeth's, has said: "I'm quite sure that the first five years they spent together [in Malta] were the happiest days of their life. The Princess was able to live just like an ordinary naval officer's wife and it was the only time that she lived such a free life." She could see the life she might have had, if only the monarchy had not existed.

Patricia Mountbatten says that being ripped from this life and forced on to the treadmill of duty was "a tragedy. From the Queen's point of view, it was a disaster that it all happened so soon." But really, it is a tragedy that it happened at all.

This is what the monarchists have done to this frail, broken old woman. This is their achievement. They have locked her into an isolation ward of sycophancy for 80 years, deadening her emotions and deadening her mind, turning her into a neglecter of her own babies and a woman with busted "emotional machinery".

Yet these same royalists dare to claim routinely that it is republicans who hate the Windsor family, when all we want to do is set her and her tormented offspring free to live happy lives in the Republic of Britain, far from the public gaze and the dead hand of duty.

The only song we offer on this sad anniversary is - "God Save the Queen" from the monarchists who have ruined her life, and god save us all from the lukewarm bath of snobbery in which they soak our country.

j.hari@independent.co.uk

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