Here’s to you, Ma’am

by David Cohen / 09 June, 2012
After some difficult times, the Royal Family has its mojo working again.
In Britain the bunting is flying and the debate over whether the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee is bigger than the London Olympics has, in the opinion of the monarchists at least, been won hands down by the House of Windsor. “Steadfast and true” never seemed more apt as a description of the monarch, now 86. Since she pledged her life 60 years ago to the service of the Commonwealth, Elizabeth II has rarely put a foot – shod always in a royal heel of exactly 5cm – wrong. That doesn’t mean there are no detractors, but the Queen continues to anchor the Royal Family with her enduring and dependable presence. As avant-garde British fashion designer Dame Vivienne Westwood said recently, in confessing that she had changed her views about the monarchy, “At one time I thought the Queen represented all the political hypocrisy of England, but now I have realised the Royal Family are above politics. I think they are a social cement and the job she does is incredible.”

Respect for the Queen, as she ticks off the milestones of her extraordinary reign, has partly been won through her resilience under pressure. In 1992, Prince Charles became the third of the Queen’s married children to have their marriage disintegrate. Worse, from the Queen’s perspective, was that the phenomenal public appeal of Diana meant the intricacies of the marriage breakdown were to become very public. But at the end of that annus horribilis, the Queen looked to the future. “I sometimes wonder how future generations will judge the events of this tumultuous year,” she said, shortly after a fire destroyed part of her beloved Windsor Castle. “I dare say that history will take a slightly more moderate view than that of some contemporary commentators. [Distance] can lend an extra dimension to judgment, giving it a leavening of moderation and compassion – even of wisdom – that is sometimes lacking in the reactions of those whose task it is in life to offer instant opinions…”


And so it has proved. Prince William and his wife, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, have brought back to the monarchy a glamour and popularity that is managing to keep the antics of William’s uncle and aunt, Prince Andrew and the Duchess of York, largely in the shadows. Kate Middleton, described by one commentator as “an avatar of middle-class aspiration”, has been seized upon by a grateful media. “Kate Middleton’s face on the cover sells magazines, from the posh society titles through the slimming and health magazines to the supermarket weeklies,” notes UK media commentator David Hepworth. “This is terrific news. And, what’s more, since she’s not a pop star or film star, Kate Middleton is constitutionally obliged to be available to have her picture taken a couple of times every week, preferably in a new outfit.”

It is not only the women’s mags but also mainstream broadsheets and websites that heavily feature new pictures of the Duchess. Since the Leveson inquiry, it is a blessing indeed that the Royal Family delivered to the media a co-operative, photogenic star – without the need to tap phones, pay an agent or rely on a tacky reality TV show. The media will ensure the popularity of the monarchy – they depend on it. The story those magazines are already hanging out for, of course, is a royal pregnancy. New Zealand remains instrumental in assisting other Commonwealth countries to make any legal changes required to ensure that if the royal couple have children, their firstborn will be the heir to the throne, whether a boy or girl. It is testimony to the Queen’s time as monarch that there is little demurring at the suggestion male primogeniture in the royal lineage is over.


As political and social turmoil troubles Europe, there is also a new appreciation for the solidity of the monarchy. Polling shows the Royal Family enjoying record popularity in Britain, across all social classes and regions. When Europe demonstrates how choosing a head of state can prove so difficult, not choosing one starts to have more appeal. But not to everyone, of course. Writing recently in the Independent, columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown praised the Queen’s personal attributes but said there was still reason to question the place of monarchy in a modern state “and start imagining a future free of the shackles of class and sycophancy”.

But the alternative, a head of state chosen by popular ballot, means the introduction of politics to a process that – whatever else might be said about it – is at least free of partisanship and campaigns. Alibhai-Brown suggested lots of possible options for a head of state in the UK, including actress Joanna Lumley, actor Colin Firth and soccer star David Beckham. Er, pardon? That also raises the question of who New Zealanders would choose as head of state. Exactly how many living former All Black captains are there? For now, that is not an issue that has to be confronted. You can either celebrate the jubilee or ignore it. However, the one person who can’t ignore it is Her Majesty, the Queen. A touching insight on the Queen’s own thoughts was offered by her friend and cousin Margaret Rhodes, who confessed that excitement “was not quite the right word” to describe the Queen’s attitude.

“I think there might be a tiny shred or two of mild dread,” Rhodes told the Telegraph. “She slightly dreads the ship thing [the flotilla on the Thames].” She also suggested that when the young Elizabeth began to understand the consequences of King Edward VIII’s 1936 abdication, she hoped for a brother. “I believe she hoped she might have one and be let off the hook.” The personal sacrifice and strong sense of duty required to take on the burden of monarchy was depicted in the runaway success The King’s Speech: a film credited with changing perceptions of the monarch’s role. Privileged, yes, but almighty personal sacrifice – of both privacy and personal choice – goes along with it. In this week’s Listener, various views and insights about the Queen have been gathered. David Cohen Does Not Approve. Anne Scott, who has been just this week for lunch at Prince Charles’s home, Highgrove, approves very much. And whether you do or don’t, 60 years in a high-powered job deserves acknowledgement. Not a scraping bow or curtsey but perhaps a glass raised. To the Queen.

The real Queen Elizabeth

Movies try to convey what the Queen is really like, but a New Zealander with rare insights says they don’t always get it right.

by Joanne Black

When the acclaimed movie The Queen was released in 2006, fictionally depicting Queen Elizabeth II at home in the tumultuous days following the 1997 death of Diana, Princess of Wales, Clare de Lore watched it from an unusual perspective. As the wife of Sir Don McKinnon, who from 2000 to 2008 served as Commonwealth Secretary-General, de Lore gained rare and privileged insights into the life and duties of the Queen and her family. As well as attending numerous official engagements, she and McKinnon spent time offduty with the Queen on a number of occasions and the couple found her relaxed, warm and witty. So, on watching the film, de Lore did not completely share the prevailing public view that actor Helen Mirren had “perfectly captured” the Queen. “That was a curious perception, because what was portrayed in the film was mostly the behind-the-scenes turmoil going on at the time Diana died,” says de Lore, who now lives in Auckland.

“Very few people actually know what went on in the privacy of the Queen’s household at that time, and those who the Queen trusted enough to confide in certainly won’t have betrayed any confidences. “Despite being one of the most photographed and talked-about people on Earth, the Queen gives little away in public about her personal views or feelings. She doesn’t do interviews. She has so little privacy beyond the walls of her homes that she has determined to retain what she can.” De Lore says it is paradoxical that the Queen’s discretion has led to a huge mystique and heightened curiosity about her and her family, and with that comes a great public appetite to see behind the scenes, real or imagined, as in the film. “Also, people generally like the Queen and so they liked the Queen they saw portrayed by Helen Mirren. It made them feel like they had access to the part of her life they simply don’t see.”


In fact, real access to the Queen on a one-to-one basis is rare and valued, de Lore says, and men in powerful positions are particularly prone to falling under the Queen’s spell. “That scene in the film where Cherie Blair jokes to Tony, ‘Oh, off to see your girlfriend,’ when he is going to see the Queen made me laugh because that’s exactly what I used to say to Don. I had no idea that Cherie also referred to the Queen as her husband’s girlfriend. “Don took huge pleasure in her company and would come home in a great mood when he’d seen her. They’d have talked about all sorts of things and he would never tell me what she had said, just as he knew she would also maintain the confidence of his exchange with her.”

That discretion, de Lore believes, has made the Queen privy to many secrets. “Over the years she has sat and listened to Prime Minister after Prime Minister, some of whom would have poured out their troubles to her knowing that she is the one person who would never betray the confidence. Some of them might have been overawed but those who stayed around long enough, I suspect, really got great value out of being able to sound her out about problems and her, perhaps, being able to inject a little bit of historical knowledge about the situation, because she has spanned so many decades and seen so many changes. She remembers a lot.”

De Lore says she and McKinnon developed affection and admiration for the Queen, especially for her professionalism. “Every time I read something that is snide or sarcastic and quite often ill-informed about her, I think how she has never returned fire and never ever had a go in public at the people who criticise her. She simply wears it, and every single day there is stuff published about her that obviously is not always favourable, let alone even accurate – she just quietly puts up with it as part of the job. “Those lines when she turned 21 about dedicating her life to the service of the people set the tone and she has maintained that ever since. Few of her detractors would last a week in her situation.”

De Lore does not pretend to have had an intimacy with the Queen but is absolutely sure she is “there for the long haul”. “She will not abdicate. When people say they should skip a generation and go to William as the next monarch… it misses the point about a monarchy – you don’t get to pick and choose who succeeds. “The Queen took very seriously that vow that she made to dedicate her whole life to the job. And apart from her constitutional role, she also takes seriously her role as the head of the Church of England and she won’t walk away from those duties as she sees them.” De Lore thinks people who talk about an abdication also underestimate the trauma and damage caused by the last such event, in 1936, when the Queen’s uncle, Edward VIII, gave up the throne to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson.


De Lore thinks the Queen would look at her family now with satisfaction, despite her children’s marital difficulties. “The tut-tutting that went on whenever Camilla appeared in public has now generally ceased. People who meet her find her a very down-to-earth, goodhumoured woman, and in the Duchess of Cambridge they see a new, glamorous and rejuvenated side of the Royal Family. And, frankly, for the Queen, that has to be a blessing, because at 86 she wants to spread her workload, especially meeting and greeting and foreign travel. It must be a relief to hand over some of this to people whom the public are genuinely pleased and excited to see. “Although Kate is glamorous and crowd-pleasing like Diana, there are significant differences. Kate was older when she married William and it’s a love match, not one engineered by people introducing a rather naive young woman to someone who was really being put under great pressure to find a wife.

Diana so very quickly outshone Charles and we all know what the result of that was. Also, Kate knows discretion is essential to her own success and William’s. It hasn’t worked any other way.” The Queen’s own marriage was a love match, de Lore says, which must make the Queen pleased for William, especially since none of her own children, bar Edward, have easily found enduring marital happiness. “And when things did go wrong, they not only were personal crises for her children but undermined the Royal Family as a whole. She very much minds both of those things.”

'Just like a Kiwi bloke'

A New Zealand couple who met Prince Charles in tragic circumstances found him very personable

by Joanne Black

Anne Scott never expected to meet any members of the Royal Family and the way she did so is tragic. Scott, the owner and editor of New Zealand Quilter magazine, and her lawyer husband, Roger Howard, lost their only son, Jack, when he was killed while serving with the British Army in Afghanistan in December 2010. Travelling to England to collect Jack’s body, Scott, Howard and their two daughters stayed in Oxford at a house loaned to Jack’s parachute regiment, of which Prince Charles is commander-in-chief. They were all sitting around the lunch table when a big bunch of flowers arrived along with a letter, Scott recalls.

“There was a bit of a kerfuffle and Isabella, my youngest, said, ‘It’s from Highgrove, I’ll read it.’ And she read out ‘Dear Anne and Roger’ and the rest of the letter in which the writer expressed his condolences and said that he did not know, as a father of two sons himself, how he would cope with such a loss. “It went on, and Isabella got to the end and was struggling to read the signature and said, ‘Yours, everso … Wally!’ We said, Wally?’ And she said, ‘Well, I can’t read it but I think it says Wally’, and of course all the paras just fell about the place laughing at their commander-in-chief being called Wally. Actually, Charles, when handwritten, does look a little like Wally.”

In June last year, Jack’s family went back to England for Jack’s regiment’s medals parade when Roger was presented with the Elizabeth Cross for next-of-kin of those killed in combat. The families spent time with Charles and his wife, Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. “They went around all the families. Charles talked to us for 10 minutes; he’s very personable, just like a Kiwi bloke. Very relaxed.”

This week Scott and her husband have been back in England again, this time to attend lunch at Charles and Camilla’s Highgrove home. Scott says she has a new appreciation of the role and importance of the royals. Not, she adds, that she would ever have been a republican. “I’d rather see parades of the Royal Family than parades of tanks down the streets. And having met Prince Charles, I think the Royal Family do a tremendous job. They execute their duties day in day out, their whole lives. They know what they are doing and can be relied on to be competent and to discharge their duties with warmth and care. “They do, I think, go the extra mile. The Duchess of Cornwall was there at the medals parade; it was pouring with rain, someone was holding an umbrella for her but no one was for Prince Charles and there he was, shirt sleeves rolled up in his para uniform, getting just as wet as the soldiers.”

Long to reign over us

The monarchy may be anachronistic, even faintly ridiculous, but it is invaluable.

by Jane Clifton

It seems inevitable that a majority of New Zealanders will one day decide to make this country a republic. But it’s a conversation we have yet to conduct rationally. So far a lot of anti-monarchy sentiment is based on either prejudice or unreliable assumptions. Some pro-republicans deplore Britain’s colonial history; some just hate Poms. Still others despise the whole business of royalty. These are not terribly cogent reasons to make a constitutional change. Then there are those who worry that our royal ties make us look less of an evolved, independent nation to the rest of the world. But it is doubtful that the first thing our trading partners think of when the subject of New Zealand comes up is “ornamental monarchy”.

Other countries’ knowledge of or even interest in the precise constitutional arrangements we make here is almost certainly negligible. What they do know is that we’re an educated democracy with sound human rights practices. Every couple of years, there’s the expense of a royal visit, but that’s it. It costs us exponentially less than an America’s Cup campaign, the Rugby World Cup or Hobbit tax breaks. Are we oppressed, instructed, intimidated or affected in any way by the monarchy? No. Neither the Queen nor the Governor-General wield meaningful power. It’s true there is a certain amount of power on the books. But Parliament is where our sovereignty resides, and after the lingering bitterness in Australia over the sacking of Gough Whitlam’s Government, it beggars belief that such vice-regal intervention could happen again. That really would spell the end of the monarchy.


What is left then but the way the monarchy makes us – or some of us – feel about ourselves as New Zealanders? Republicans feel it demeans us to retain an unelected, aristocratic head of state. Is our sense of nationhood and identity so fragile that such a harmless anachronism as the monarchy can keep it off its hinges? There are certainly things that psychologically undermine our national self-respect – from our incidence of child abuse to the recession, the continuing drain of citizens to Australia and a bad run at rugby. I worry that the more shrill our republican campaigners are, the less grownup we sound as a nation. As with teenagers busting a gut to leave home, kick over the traces and rudely repudiate their parents’ and grandparents’ generation, intemperate calls for ditching the monarchy simply make us seem less, rather than more, robust and mature.

The leading Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands, which we frequently look up to for their enlightened, progressive, liberal and democratic qualities, all have royal families and do not noticeably tie themselves in knots worrying about how this makes them look. Their royals are simply part of the fabric of life – a harmless, decorative and generally respected relic from Europe’s feudal past. Canada retains its monarchic ties to Britain without a great upswelling of angst – despite the considerable competing claims of native and French founding influences to have a structural piece of Canada’s sovereign architecture. It’s true we have become much less Anglo-centric than in past decades, a trend that will undoubtedly continue. But why should that necessitate writing the British aspect of our history and origins out of the picture – pretend it never existed?

Yes, the monarchy is anachronistic, and can be seen as faintly ridiculous in a modern context. But so is that other living fossil of a bygone age, the tuatara. The monarchy needs to keep justifying its existence by such things as charity works and royal tours. Modern royal families do not enjoy the hedonistic life of their ancestors. They hardly deserve our sympathy for their workload. But in contrast to bygone eras, they are, to quite a large extent, at our beck and call, rather than agents of oppression. The monarchy is entertaining, it generates tourism and other commerce, and some people even find it inspiring. At worst, it’s an arbitrary hierarchy like any other, be it the “celebrity” cast of a reality TV show, or sports team. At its best, it’s living history – a reminder of how far our democracies have come.

It's been nice knowing you...

The time has come to sever our ties to the increasingly irrelevant House of Windsor

by David Cohen

The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee is by no means a total blessing for royalists in Britain. While they collectively salute their last real cherished symbol of international outreach, a more problematic historical moment can hardly be imagined, as almost everything else surrounding the monarchy enters its final drawn-out stages of global irrelevancy. But hey, that’s Britain’s issue, and Britain’s issues surely aren’t New Zealand’s. We could hardly be further away from that small island. The average Brit thinks little about our country and cares for it even less. And why should they? Why should we? Our cultural marriage with the old country – the only actual basis for our ongoing political connection to the monarchy – is dead, finished, gone, kaput. Yet here we are with a significant number of the monarchy’s withered local supporters within our own ranks looking out at the current Elizabethan festivities in a state of anonymous rapture.

Down on bended knees they’ll fall again this month, heads reverentially bowed in front of an elderly woman with no democratic claim on our country waving her handbag around and insisting New Zealanders everywhere call themselves her loyal subjects. Well, as my friend John Pagani likes to say, to be a subject is to be subjected – and who wants that? True, as even many of her hometown critics concede, QEII has turned in 60 years of relatively graceful, energetic service. But her modest achievements surely belong to a different century, as much as the inherited privilege her Royal Family represents belongs to another millennium. Of course, fewer complimentary words can be offered about the other members of the increasingly dingy House of Windsor on whose watch the old matriarch has served.

These are people apparently happy to tumble in the sheets with almost anyone who comes along, and don’t seem to mind getting caught at it by their country’s unusually prurient media. Sometimes they even dress in Nazi uniforms for a lark. Others among them behave oddly, offensively and judgmentally in the presence of outsiders, as for instance in the Duke of Edinburgh’s words of encouragement to a dusky maiden in Kenya presenting him with a cultural figurine: “You are a woman, aren’t you?” Ha, ha. And witty old Phil is the patriarch of an extended family of lavishly paid welfare recipients, a clan that stands as the antithesis of any democratic notion of equality, social mobility and progress, still less one containing any notable living examples of beauty, intelligence or talent. Meanwhile, for any sensible, republicanminded New Zealander – which is to say, anyone not drunk on the lush prose of women’s magazines – the royal air wafting in from points north reeks ever more of mothballs.


I know a bit about this. Although I was born in New Zealand, my earliest abiding memories are of breathing the same air as the British in the 1960s – in the south of England mainly, but also north London. This was a time before the final transformation of an empire on which the sun never set into a rather odd commonwealth in which it never rises. It still felt possible for a kid to believe that Britain was the centre of the universe, a reasonable assumption for someone whose parents came from that part of the map. As it transpired, I was happy enough to come back to New Zealand. But what seemed equally clear – and this might be incomprehensible to anybody today aged 35 or under – was that my new country liked where I had come from even more than itself. In many ways, New Zealand at the time seemed like a British production yet in process.

People on the radio and television wanted to sound like BBC announcers. Social snobs assumed a similar accent, and books published in places other than Britain appeared only infrequently on the library shelves. Our art and literature followed a similar trend. Some people even enjoyed British cinema. Looking back, I suppose there was probably an element of an insurance policy to this, a sense that if things got too wild out here in the South Seas and the natives played up too much, then everybody else could repair back into the arms of an obliging colonial spouse. Or so it may have been hoped.


It sometimes happens in a relationship that one party realises things are over long before the other. Thus, even at a time when the older Kiwi rank-and-file still referred to Britain as home, a Rhodes Scholarship remained the last word in academic pedigree and our musical kids obediently latched onto the sound and look of English bands, we were in the process of being royally cuckolded. The watershed came in 1973, when Britain joined the Common Market – the precursor to today’s European Union – and New Zealand’s main export market accordingly fell through the floor. The move made good sense for the British, and probably had less to do with any actual antipathy toward the old colonies than a growing understanding of their own diminished global status and the need to create a greater Britain closer to home.

Anyway, as we now know, within a few years our living standards slumped from among the highest in the developed world to 22nd. And even then, astoundingly, we still played the part of the loyal spouse sitting meekly and gratefully while our unfaithful partner smirked and played footsies under the table with her newfound boyfriend. But something else also happened. We started to stand on our own feet. We began opening our doors to newcomers from other parts of the world. OE-minded youngsters set out for more interesting places than scungy bedsits in Peckham, and infused the country with the better things they brought back. And history surely shows that we chose a more reliable succession of new trade partners (Australia, the US, Asia) after the old English mistress made off with the dynamic likes of Greece, Spain and Portugal. Forty years on, the time has never been better for Aotearoa to serve the final divorce papers – to acknowledge the spent force the monarchy has become in this markedly different South Pacific culture – and get on with the infinitely more exciting life we’ve now made for ourselves here in what deserves to be a new constitutional republic.
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