Terence Blacker: Being royal for beginners - it's easy when you know how

Do have a madcap sense of humour or, if you are a woman, a bubbly sense of fun. Wear a humorous Nazi uniform, have food fights and be a good sport
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The Independent Online

It is a freakish aspect of our times that the more the House of Windsor is mocked, deemed to be out-of-step or revealed to be in a state of group emotional meltdown, the less it changes. The satirists sneer, the "royal-watchers" shake their heads knowingly, the tabloids do their worst and yet the institution lives on, more or less the same as it was half a century ago.

It is as if there is something in the royal family - something to do with class perhaps, or maybe it is the reassuring nature of dullness - which the British people find restful in times of change.

But at least we have never seen the Windsors as trendsetters, which is more than can be said of the Americans. Following the success of Stephen Frear's film The Queen, New York is said to be in thrall to the Sandringham style, with Manhattan fashionistas competing as to who can look most like our own dear sovereign. Waxed Barbour coats are to be seen at Broadway first nights. Binky Urban, the famous literary agent, turned up at the National Book Awards in green gumboots. Condaleezza Rice was interviewed on The Larry King Show wearing a Hermes scarf.

Our national duty, as shoulder-to-shoulder pals on the world stage, is to prevent the Americans from looking foolish by getting the royal thing slightly wrong. Kitting themselves out like Madonna on her first trip to the Cotswolds is relatively easy. Now they must learn the dos and don'ts of the royal way of life.

Do: Go to boarding-school from as early an age as possible. There your emotional life will be freeze dried, only to melt messily 30 years later. Affection will expressed in the form of practical jokes. A lifelong distrust of eggheads, swots and chaps who insist on taking everything so damned seriously will be inculcated.

Don't: Pass an indecent number of exams which will encourage the dangerous idea that you might do something unusual with your life. The Prince Charles method, attending university but not for long enough to be tested, is a useful model.

Do: Be terribly interested in those who happen to belong to a different social class to one's own.

Don't: For heaven's sake mix with them on a social basis. Ensure that any schooling puts you into toff quarantine and that your chosen career is one in which the importance of breeding and social rank is recognised.

Do: Have a madcap sense of humour or, if you are a woman, a bubbly sense of fun. It is absolutely acceptable, indeed desirable, that you should be a normal healthy young person, snog in nightclubs, wear a humorous Nazi uniform, have food fights and generally be a good sport, before marrying someone who will keep your feet firmly on the ground.

Don't: Take things too far. The Duke of York once went out with the "glamour model" Vicki Hodge - and now look at him.

Do: Take a surprisingly modern interest in the world around you and deliver half-formed opinions based on dinner-party chat.

Don't: Be intelligent or show an unattractively swotty interest in any particular subject. Remember how silly the Princess of Kent looked when she boasted recently that her children were the brightest in the royal family. Of course, being a brain-box is supremely un-royal. Poor old Princess Pushy had got it wrong again.

Do: Go to hell and back in your private life and discover who you really are.

Don't: On any account, blub. Behave throughout as if you have just emerged from the headmaster's study having received six of the best.

Do: Get an ugly little dog that expresses your personality in canine form. The Queen has a constipated corgi. Princess Anne has a killer bull-terrier. Prince Edward has a shih-tzu.

Don't: Apologise if your dog kills a stranger's dog or copulates with President Chirac's leg. Tell them it is what being in the country is all about, even if they are not.

Do: Have a slight chill occasionally and be unable to fulfil your public engagements.

Don't: Die until you are old enough to become a national treasure.

Miles Kington is away