Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Mazel Tov! It's a Royal!

Ok, so it must be done. A few words about the royal baby... from someone who has been on the British tax rolls, and who likes babies.

During my second stint living in the UK, a few years ago, we brought some visiting relatives to all the regular places that you go with tourists. (Borough market: check. Tate Modern: check. London Eye: check). Even though none of us are royalty enthusiasts, we took a day trip to Windsor Castle. Because, let's face it: you can visit castles in other places. But there are few places where you can visit a castle that still houses a sitting queen.

The day we visited, the flag flapping in the wind above the ancient walls indicated that, in fact, the queen was in residence. On our walk through the public areas of the castle, we found ourselves in a grand room, all golden moldings and oversized equestrian paintings. A docent pointed to a set of locked doors and said to the children, "That door leads to the queen's quarters. She could be sitting right on the other side of that door right now." Their little eyes opened wide, as they imagined themselves running into the queen. Never mind that none of them would probably recognize Queen Elizabeth II if she was sitting next to them on the tube, unless she happened to be wearing a bejeweled golden crown.

As we recovered from our brush with royalty with pints of ale at a dungeon-like pub, decorated with chain mail, one relative expressed to me his absolute disgust with all this royal nonsense.  He reminded us that we fought a war so we wouldn't have to financially support the monarchy anymore. He found it appalling that the monarchy is still supported by the public, and that their vast properties are protected from inheritance taxes. "Why do the British put up with it?" he wanted to know.

When I asked the above question to a British friend of mine--a liberal populist--she had a quick, confident answer. The royals more than earn their keep, she told me, by acting as traveling emissaries of the British brand. She argued that the monarchy is the UK's most valuable export.

Which brings me back to the royal baby. The excitement around the world for Kate and Will's baby is completely over-the-top, and a bloody boon to the Brits. People are looking at England, and they're not, for now, talking about austerity. They're happily sipping PG Tips and letting scone crumbs tumble down their chins, as I did with my girls when we watched the royal wedding a couple of years ago. Because we commoners love pomp and circumstance, and this royal nonsense is (for a minute or two) damn entertaining. We all wish, on occasion, that we had a staff standing by our side ready to fulfill our most humble commands. The dream of being royal is an ancient fantasy, and the foundation of fairy tales.

I do feel for that baby, though. I can't say "poor thing," as that he is not, but I don't envy him, for his predicament of being a lifelong object of the public gaze. I suppose if he needs guidance, he could talk to Suri Cruise. Or, of course, his dad.

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