Monday, April 25, 2011
We’ll be watching this weekend. In England, it’s about fifty-fifty. Half the nation will be glued to the television set or standing patiently along the streets hoping for a glimpse of the Royal Couple. The other half clicks their tongue, rolls their eyes in disgust and mumbles something about the irrelevancy of the Monarchy, the shameless, gaudy, tasteless consumerism, the fashion excess, the conspicuous consumption and the bumbling, fumbling Prince of Wales and his frumpy, wrinkled spouse. That half will be busy doing anything but gawking. Me? I’ll be tuned in along with the first half. High definition.
I can be as cynical as the best of them. But not this time. There are some personal reasons. My grandmother, on my father’s side, was born in London. It took me awhile to understand that much of Grandma Dorothy’s quirkiness and attention to detail came from her roots. She believed in manners. Protocol. Prim and proper. She introduced me to Prince Charles (well, not in person), who was, as she explained, my same age (we were both born in 1948). I remember him as a boy, imagining his life at Buckingham and Windsor, the ponies and the grand gardens and playrooms and staircases and a Queen for a Mum. I watched him grow up. We did it together. He was crowned Prince of Wales when we were ten. He became a Naval aviator – jets and helicopters, fulfilling yet another of my fantasies. I got married well before he did. But in 1981, I watched his wedding, trying to imagine a thirty-one year old Prince marrying a nanny aged nineteen. The notion of marital failure in the Royal family didn’t occur to me for a moment back in 1981. But what a story – the fairytale became a nightmare. The Queen introduced us to the Latin phrase, annus horribilis.
Carolyn and I traveled to London for business in August of 1997. We were scheduled to arrive on Tuesday, but on the Saturday night before our flight, we got the shocking news while dining with friends in California. Diana had been in a terrible accident in Paris. We switched on the television set. Within an hour, we knew she was gone.
So the week following Diana’s tragic, untimely death, we were there. We toured Buckingham. We watched as grieving Brits left candles and messages and flowers at the Palace gate. We roamed through Hyde Park, over to Kensington Palace where the heaped up bouquets formed an impassible mound at the entrance. We read the LONDON TIMES as the drama unfolded – speculation about a memorial (public or private?) and whether the Queen would even acknowledge her estranged former daughter in-law (she resisted resolutely until public pressure forced her to make a speech on Friday that week). We watched Saturday as Diana’s coffin made its way through the crowds to Westminster Abbey where her brother chided a stiff Royal family from that bully pulpit as the world watched, scolding the Paparazzi and the gossip mongering yellow journalists and Elton John sang “Candle in the Wind.” Then we joined the throngs on the parade route as Diana’s hearse passed by and the people wept under banners honoring the Queen of Hearts. Our hearts broke for William and Harry, then barely fifteen and thirteen. We wondered, like everyone else, if the Monarchy would survive.
When Prince Charles, still my age, later married Diana’s nemesis, Camilla, the future of the Royal family looked grim. I wince whenever I hear someone speak of Charles. Most consider him dreadfully inept, awkward, and singularly uninspiring. It’s hard not to take it personally. Grandma always spoke as though the good Prince was someone I ought to emulate, and here we are, a couple of geezers. Both of us. (I will say this: I am married to a much more attractive woman.)
And then came Kate Middleton. Kate the Great. (Our granddaughter Kate is also known as Kate the Great. She’s three.) It is difficult not to think that the unrealized promise of Lady Di, the promise that was extinguished in a Paris underpass, just might be fulfilled in this striking young “commoner” who brings charm and wit, poise and intelligence, glamour and simplicity to a nation eager for inspiration. And the young Prince, William (we have one of these, too; our spirited grandson, Wil – age five), seems to understand the nature of duty. He appears eager to rehabilitate his father’s image and to revitalize his birthmother’s legacy. There may well be hope for the Monarchy after all.
Several hundred years ago, Parliament trumped the Monarchy’s exclusive control over the nation. So HRH the Queen is largely a figurehead. Charles has waited a long time for the Crown. If he ever gets it, he won’t have it long. It will go to William. What a Coronation. And Kate will be beside him. That’s my prediction.
I grew up on “happily ever after.” Walt Disney put all those classics on the big screen in full color animation. It’s all still in the DNA. I trust William and Kate will fare better than Charles and Di; Andrew and Sarah. One can hope.
So on Friday, the DVR will be set.
Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2011