Years after the fact, what survives of these great royal occasions are the sideshows. What must have seemed, during the festivities, something to tickle the onlookers and fill a few hours between parties comes in time to seem the thing which lasts best.
What survives of the wedding of Edward VII and Alexandra? A marvellous ode by Tennyson – "Sea-king's daughter from over the sea, Alexandra!" Of his mother's, a superb Winterhalter portrait of the bride. What makes George II's coronation memorable is the magnificent, savage cantata by Handel, Zadok the Priest. And going back much further, the marriages of James I's children, otherwise rather obscure figures, maintain some claim on our interest through the commissioned works of celebration, including some glorious masques by Ben Jonson. (Why doesn't anyone stage some of those Jacobean masques? I'd go to see them).
More recently, however, the habit of commissioning works of art, theatre and music seems to have fallen into abeyance. We seem to settle for a short poem by the poet laureate of the day, very few of which have been successful since Tennyson's Alexandra ode. Even Ted Hughes, who wrote some thrilling laureate verse, struggled with his epithalamium for Prince Andrew and Fergie.
There is a case, of course, for saying that art nowadays is subversive or it is nothing. There is not much mileage these days in art that celebrates an institution. Still less in an art which, sooner or later, is going to have to address the question of two young people becoming an institution and find something celebratory about it. It is always going to seem a little bit like the end of The Godfather.
All the same, I must say that I would rather like to see a little bit of the gigantic budget for the royal wedding pushed in the direction of a few usefully brown-nosing artists, musicians and writers. Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, the wonderful Master of the Queen's Music, has not concealed his disappointment that he has not been asked to write a piece of music for the service – I suppose they were worried that he might write something less like his Orkney Wedding and much more like his Eight Songs for a Mad King.
The thing is costing anywhere between 50 and a 100 million quid, after all. A million of that could surely be allocated to encourage the artistic community to dust off those long-neglected skills of panegyric, epithalamia, and, if necessary, rank toadyism. If that seems too much to ask, then I'm sure that stuff in the vein of mild, semi-concealed mockery is perfectly attainable.
A burst of royal patronage of the arts could kick off a whole revival of artistic sycophancy, inspired and paid for by oligarchs and Indian steel millionaires. And why ever not? I've genuinely never understood why the enthusiasm of the wealthy for artistic flattery seems to begin and end with portraiture. Every year, one can go along to the BP portrait competition at the National Portrait Gallery and enjoy some absurdly improving portrait of some money-grubbing tycoon or other – there was a simply hilarious one of Theo Paphitis off Dragons' Den last year, trying to look contemplative. Why can't one go along to the West End and watch a play about the rise to power and riches of Mr Richard Branson, paid for by Mr Branson himself?
Not so very long ago, people did take money from patrons to write plays, books, operas, poems along very strictly dictated guidelines. Nowadays, that sort of thing is seen as rather sordid, though it's perfectly OK to take money from the state, in the form of the Arts Council and the Arts and Humanities Research Council, to create work in accordance with its dictates of outreach and diversity.
I can't understand why. Both seem fairly equally compromised. So I really don't see why, in the present climate of restricted private funding, why the happy couple couldn't set an example in patronage, and commission a really sickening operatic masque on the subject of the Marriage of Grace and Trade, an allegorical tapestry for the V&A of The Ascent of Mrs Carole Middleton into the Ruling Classes, or at the very least a vitrine by Damien Hirst with something unspeakable but festive inside it. I'm sure the rest of the moneyed idle would dash to follow suit.
Brighter future for the embattled bookshops
The other day I gave a reading from my smutty new book, 'King of the Badgers', at one of London's most cherished bookshops, Gay's the Word. It's been there for decades, sometimes rather struggling against market forces against which it is quite helpless. When it started out, its mission was clear – mainstream bookshops did not stock gay-themed novels, on the whole, and the only other resource were porn shops in Soho. A bookshop devoted to the world of gay literature and gay studies filled a gap. It's an irony that in the years following, the success of Gay's the Word damaged its own viability, as its parish shifted into the mainstream. Two or three years ago, they were talking about having to close.
Well, I had a full house last week, and Jim and Uli, who run the bookshop, seemed more hopeful about the future. The internet has been a curse for the large chains of bookshops. But it may be having less of an impact on some, at least, of the best small independents. No one would claim to be able to see a bright future for all bookshops. But there are certainly some small bookshops with a special remit, like Gay's the Word, or especially excellent service, like Daunt or John Sandoe, which might just be seeing a way through the disaster which was price discounting. The future might mean a choice, when you buy a book, between Tesco, Amazon, and John Sandoe. Which is perhaps better than the worst-case scenario.
Gaga shouldn't suck up to fans
The question, posed by a child in an A A Milne poem, of whether the King knows about him, has been replaced in the internet age by whether celebrities know what the rank masses think about them. Should they ever admit to taking an interest? Or would their allure be better served by sailing in an icy way above the details of public judgement? I find it pretty hard to imagine that Lady Gaga cares all that much about what people are saying about her. I mean, she probably wouldn't go out dressed like that if she was that concerned. Nor, with 265 million responses to her name on Google, does she have the time to go through a lot of it. Still, there it is: in a documentary, she says, "Sometimes I still feel like people are trying to destroy me. I cannot be destroyed, I will not be destroyed and you will never destroy the kingdom that is my fans. I just wanna be a queen for them and sometimes I don't feel like one." Buck up, sweetie! It would really go down a lot better if you stopped sucking up to the "kingdom that is my fans" and just said, "Look, I'm a really busy person – I suppose that some people like me and some people don't like me. And now I'm quite occupied thinking about a new dress made out of Tupperware, so if you could shut the door quietly on your way out, that would be grand."Reuse content