The sun shines this morning, and I look at pictures of the Queen in the paper. She looks very elegant and calm, like a majestic ocean liner. Gor bless her, and all who sail in her. In a way, she is the British ship of state, and she does sail serenely on through turbulent seas.
I shall never meet the Queen, I think, a little regretful. Lots of people do meet her. They meet her at flower shows and Lord Mayor’s banquets and garden parties and I don’t know what. They meet her when she opens a hospital or inspects the troops. They shake her hand and they don’t forget it.
I did see her once, in a room. I was just arriving and she was just leaving. There was a murmur and a rustle of evening dresses as the women curtseyed while she moved past. I flattened myself against a friendly wall and stared. She has an incandescence which does not show in photographs, as if she is lit by some inner light. Also: she glides. A flash of diamonds, a beam of that famous smile, another murmur, another rustle, and she was gone.
At this stage, those who believe in a republic will be chewing their arms off. This week must be agony for them. Our own dear Queen is about to be ninety, and all those who admire her will be getting misty-eyed. This outpouring of affection drives the anti-monarchists bonkers.
I used to be one of those old bolshies. I thought it perfectly absurd that a mere twist of birth led to someone ruling a kingdom and wearing a crown. It made no sense, not in this modern age.
As I have grown older, I see that it is one of those things that is indeed absurd, but also, oddly, works. (I love things that work.) The doughty traditionalists' argument of continuity and steadiness has some validity. But really, it is not a question of a rational argument, of who is right or wrong. It’s a question of love.
What the most strident Queen-bashers don’t understand is that they are at risk of sounding like crashing snobs. The crossest republicans are mostly metropolitan chattering classes. I used to be one of them, with my urban, bien pensant, liberal bleeding heart, so I know what I’m talking about. When they sneer at the Queen and at the monarchy and at the whole royal family, they think they are being tremendous femmes and hommes du peuple. They seem to believe sincerely that they are speaking up for the man on the Clapham omnibus, the woman in the street. They are taking a stand against those ghastly posh people, with their green acres and their huntin’, shootin’, fishin’, their stately piles and their family jewels. They are fighting for the Ordinary Decent Britons, who shall never wear a tiara or sit on a throne.
In fact, the irony is that it is those very Ordinary Decent Britons who love the Queen the most. It is not posh people who adore the Queen. The posh people say things like: ‘Oh, the Queen. Don’t know how she does it. Marvellous.’ And then they go back to contemplating something much more important, like Labradors or the 3.30 at Sandown. They are not the ones who line the Mall on state occasions to watch the carriages go by, or buy commemorative plates, or queue up to look round Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle. They don’t wave Union flags joyfully below that famous balcony or wait outside Crathie Church to see the royal party emerge or send off for special coins from the Mint. No, the people who do that are the very people that the furious anti-Queenies insist they are speaking for.
Ah, say the republicans, clearing their throats; well, you see, false consciousness. I am relieved to admit that even at the height of my own chattering class, bleeding heart pomp, I never uttered those words. They are so bloody patronising that they make me want to punch someone in the nose. Here, little people, you think you love the Queen, but you don’t really, because she is the one who is Keeping You In Your Place. Every time you wave your stupid flag, you are instrumental in your own oppression. We, however, we clever, right-thinking republicans know what is good for you better than you know it yourselves.
Can you imagine anything more snobbish than that? It puts the most patriarchal old Tory in the shade.
I do love the Queen. I love her steadiness and her sense of duty and her thriftiness and her passion for horses. I love that she knows the stud book back to front, and can confound the most storied breeders of racehorses with her encyclopaedic knowledge. I love that she understands, better than anyone, the glory and might of the thoroughbred. I love that she wears sensible shoes.
It may not be cool or hip or fashionable to love the Queen. How the sneerers would curl their lip if they could see me stand to attention when the National Anthem is played as I watch the racing at the Royal Meeting. I don’t care. I am an ordinary Briton, and I wave my little flag.