Archive for the ‘Royal Watching’ Category

Charles Windsor’s letters

prince-of-wales-correspondence-with-secretary-of-p2-normalThe ‘black spider memos’ were finally released yesterday. Successive governments have spent hundreds of thousands of pounds trying to stop their release over ten years. Mr Windsor seemingly makes a habit of writing to ministers – including the Prime Minister – giving advice on anything from architecture, quack medicine to the mass slaughter of badgers. The ministers write back in fawning deference, ‘your most humble servant’ etc.

Well, it will not happen again. Seemingly. The Government has already changed the law to guarantee the secrecy surrounding Mr Windsor’s (and no doubt his family’s) communication with what he probably thinks are his mother’s ministers. His communications are now, therefore, exempt from Freedom of Information requests, however banal they may be. On the other hand, Theresa May, the Home Secretary, is going to prioritise the return of the ‘Snooper’s Charter’ – legislation to enable the security services to monitor all of our electronic communication. Nice.

The landed rich fluff up their feathers

Foxhunting2So, a quarter of a million people turned out on a sunny bank holiday yesterday to pledge their support to their local hunts, for ten years now deprived, by law, of the right to hunt live foxes. This turnout is supposed to be a clear signal that the law should be overturned to allow the rich, again, to tyrannise the countryside in the name of fun. There are seemingly something like 60 million people in the UK. It is going to take more than 250 thousand rich people and their employees to overturn this law.

And then there is architecture. Charles Windsor (aka the Prince of Wales) has apparently come up with 10 principles of architecture that have traction only because he is rich, powerful and the heir to the throne. The principles all reflect his worldview – privilege, aesthetic, means, wealth, ownership, to name but a few. His principles have been put to the sword by architecture critic, Douglas Murphy, in the Guardian newspaper. I have to say that I enjoyed reading the demolition job which concludes with thePrince_Charles_2012 following:

“[W]hen Charles blasts modern architecture, he is essentially blasting the historical processes set in motion by the industrial revolution, and lamenting the diminution of his royal power in the world that it brought about. His dreams of traditionally designed cities are dreams of a world where people forever know their place.”

There’s a lot of architecture that I do not like, but there is an awful lot of architecture that reflects my own origins, sense of place and aspirations. My former university, the University of East Anglia, is one big block of concrete. But I owe so much to that place and the people within it.

Pictures: Master of foxhounds leads the field from Powderham Castle in Devon, England: Owain.davies

Charles Windsor: Dan Marsh


Kate Windsor’s portrait

The newly unveiled portrait of Kate Windor has proved to be quite a talking point. As usual with these matters. The subjects themselves are always delighted with the result. The Royal loyalists are always disappointed. The artists are castigated for being unfair; they present a distortion of reality, the true person.

Middleton_portraitWhilst this new portrait is as near as a photograph one is likely to get, the comments remain that it makes her look old; or as the Sun newspaper put it, looking like Ian Botham, former England cricketer (cue opportunity to post a picture of Ian Botham onto the newspaper’s website). It is also the fault, it seems, of the National Portrait Gallery for promoting the use of photographs by artists. Also, bad choice of artist. In this case the artist – Paul Emsley – is very good at doing animals.

Mrs Windsor and her husband are, true to form, said to be absolutely delighted by it.

What is great about art, and particularly portraiture, is that we get an opportunity to see the sitter through the eyes of another. I’m no artist, but I have been a life model and seen many depictions of my own body; I was always fascinated at how different emphases, light, angle, colour, perspective, etc., impacted on the outcome. It is not for me to say whether the likeness was true. In this case, if the artist thinks Kate Windsor has bags under he eyes and and Ian Botham’s nose then she has. I was not there when she sat for the artist, nor have I seen the photographs that he used.

Artists are artists because they see what most of us do not see – or in Kate Windsor’s case – be allowed to see stripped of normal media management.  If I had the opportunity to talk to Paul Emsley I would be inclined to say that I do not really like his portrait because I cannot see the point in hyper-reality. But even then, Emsley has subverted the perfection of the Kate Windsor fascade. That seems to be a problem for the ‘critics’. But that is the point of art.

Picture: screengrab, Sky News

The BBC and the Jubilee

I thought that I’d said enough on this subject, however, this morning’s discussion on the Today programme on Radio 4 demands comment. Where I and others thought the problem lay was in the BBC’s uncritical coverage and subsidy (the concert was funded by the BBC it seems at least until the rights were successfully sold). But alas not. Actually, the issue was about the innanity of the coverage, particularly over the flotilla on Sunday. Seemingly, no attempt was made to explain the makeup of the flotilla – why particular ships were historically significant vis-a-vis others, for example. Viewers were treated to more parochial comments from observers on the banks of the Thames at the expense of historical enlightenment. The flotilla, therefore, was not treated as a Dimbleby event, but rather as a reality TV event.

Now, I did not watch any of it, so I cannot comment on the specifics, but the clips I heard on Radio 4 this morning did suggest that it was pitched a bit low. But what if the BBC got it right? Maybe this was not about history necessarily. Rather it was just a spectacle that did not really need additional commentary. The festivities – with the exception of the the service in St Paul’s – was not about history or even the queen. It was about those people who stood in the rain to watch the spectacle. Their hardships, stories and aspirations. Innane though it may have been, maybe it was spot on. The feelgood factor this morning after the long weekend of festivities is palpable. Isn’t it?

The Jubilee 2

So, today it it the turn of the musicians to fawn. And beacons (of what?).

Who is not performing? No sign of Jarvis Cocker. Chumbawamba, Neil Hannon (aka The Divine Comedy). Kate Bush is probably doing her laundry. But then, I can be reassured about those who are there. Elton John, no surprise. Shirley Bassey, Cliff Richard, etc. Not sure what Stevie Wonder was told when he was booked. Actually, come to think about it, is that the best they could do? Where is Adele? Where are Rihanna, Coldplay, Florence and the Machine, The Cure, Midge Ure/Bob Geldof, David Bowie, Paul Weller, Morrissey, Gallagher Brothers, Blur, Stone Roses etc.? And then those who have left us. Would Freddie Mercury have been there (I know Brian May will play the national anthem from some vantage point)?

Can’t wait.

The Jubilee

It has arrived. I am in Munich, so not watching from afar. [Incidentally, I’m not the only one. Gatwick Airport was heaving on Thursday evening when I left]. However, am I mean spirited? Am I misguided? Why am I so much in a minority?

I say this because I have just read the comments beneath the article in Friday’s Guardian newspaper by Polly Toynbee, with whom it is fair to say, I do not share many opinions.

Toynbee’s article is entitled “Queen’s diamond jubilee: a vapid family and a mirage of nationhood. What’s to celebrate?” Says it all really. Earlier in the week (27 May), the fabulous Peter Wilby had made some suggestions for things that we should celebrate such as the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, the 300th anniversary of the Glorious Revolution and more recently, “the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act 1918, the penultimate step towards universal suffrage. Plus a specially big party for 2028, in celebration of the final step.”

Both get vilified for this. And then David Mitchell (comedian), writing in the Observer today, wades in with nonsense such as: “And I like the monarchy’s effect on the trappings of the British state: the fact that what is officially important isn’t really, that MPs swear an oath “by almighty God that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors” rather than piously promising to defend democracy or serve their constituents. I wouldn’t believe them whatever they swore, so I’d rather it was something that didn’t matter. In an era when few things are what they seem and people seldom say what they really think, our constitution and oaths of allegiance are perfect – they elegantly reflect a hypocritical and duplicitous world. Our monarchy gives us constitutional irony.”

But is that not the problem? Swearing allegiance to the Crown does matter. It is not a joke. The Monarch can veto decisions made by her parliament. The Monarch is more powerful than is admitted. More is the point – and assuming that Mitchell’s argument is correct – there may well be politicians who do want to swear something meaningful – something that does matter; moreover, if they did, I might respect them more for it! The fact is, the monarchy perverts democracy, it does not add to it.

So what to do? Well, this morning I was greeted by an instant message from a dear friend of mine. My friend chose to walk from West Hove to Brighton on this dank day in early June. Along the way I received images that capture the tackiness of the whole thing. Below I reproduce those images with a short commentary. I am indebted for the pictures. They help me vent my anger about the whole thing. And before anyone says that I am being mean spirited, the prize goes to the Church for the only bit of creativity that I have yet seen for the Jubilee. The experience does seem rather passive. Even far away in another country, this is happening to me rather than me volunteering for it. And for those that say, ‘it is only at times like this when the country comes together’; first, that is incorrect. I was with millions of others on the Stop the War in Iraq march. And second, even if that were true, it is only because the British are so passive that it takes a Monarch to get us onto the streets.

Whoever you are, if you have time off, make the most of it.

 “I picked up some bunting at Sainsbury’s. Where shall we put it?”
 “I picked up some better bunting than the neighbours, and it is long enough to go round the tree across the pavement.”  
   Care homes seem to be in the spirit of things, but even here (see below) there is a ‘beat the competition’ mentality at work?
 “The bunting as Sainsbury’s was a bit expensive, we’ve got some old dresses left from the last jumble sale, we can cut them up. No one will notice. Least of all the Queen.”  
   “The cash and carry had run out of bunting. This is the best I could do. We should have been more organised. It sort of crept up without us noticing.”
Shouldn’t that be fairy cakes? Still, the markup should pay for the bunting.  
   Shouldn’t that be Queens Carpets? Who would buy a union Jack carpet?
 “Surely, we get the prize for having got to Sainsbury’s first?”  
  “That’ll show those Bon Accord amateurs. We have a picture of the Queen and we drape the bunting along our superior iron fence. That should get us at least another generation of tenants. Brilliant marketing.”
“You’d have thought that they would have made them waterproof.”

60 years

We are now into the Jubilee year. On the Eve of her accession anniversary on 5 February she went to Church on her Sandringham Estate and then reaffirmed her pledge of service to her subjects. Then on the anniversary itself she went to King’s Lynn Town Hall and then to a local school. Very nice.

The Royal press office has been busy. Harry is doing the talk shows about his Grandmother. The old friends, too, are coming out of the woodwork to talk her up. John Major has been drafted in to chair her new trust for underprivileged people. And the media are soaking it up uncritically.

And now we have Gary Barlow announcing that he loves the monarchy and the Queen and is organising a concert for her in London with a packed line-up of all of our favourite artists including Cliff Richard, Tom Jones, Elton John, Jessie J (I bet the Queen knows who she is) and others. What a really exciting time we are all going to have this summer. Doesn’t it make one proud to be British?

Please remember, this is a hereditary monarch. And even if she has been devoted to her subjects, the institution itself is outdated and inappropriate for a modern democracy. Remember also that Charles – next in line – lobbies politicians and the civil service to maintain his privilege and tax advantages. They are very rich and own a lot of land. Unlike the rest of us.

A New Royal Yacht

A tear was in Her Majesty’s eye when the Britannia was decomissioned back in 1997. Prince Charles clearly likes the idea of a new Royal Yacht for himself his mother. And being apolitical as he is, he’s been lobying the government for it. Thank goodness for Michael Gove and David Willets supported by the Daily Mail to put this vital issue on the agenda. The Diamond Jubilee – only the second one in world history – should be remembered more than the Olympic Games in 2012. A new royal yacht is clearly the best way to do this.

Today, 22 January 2012, the Observer is running the story about how this bid for a new yacht was orchestrated. No co-incidence, it seems, that this was raised at this time. There are many issues. Even if there are no tax receipts used to fund this ship, the list of backers suggests that we should have a little concern. The focus on the educational value, is a case in point. Primarily, goes the argument, the ship will be a training vessel for underprivileged young people to learn a seafaring and develop teamworking skills. That is why, no doubt, Pearson Education, owners of Edexcel, the skilled company that sets impossible exam questions for 16 year old students and briefs teachers on exam content, is a big supporter. (Why have public qualifications been privatised?)  The Queen’s representative in Hampshire [does she need a representative in Hampshire?] Rear Admiral David Bawtree, also a director of Visor Consultants, a private security firm, is the man behind the project called FSB21. Not forgetting also that Tony Blair, the man who decommissioned Britannia, now regrets the decision. He’s got a bob or two, these days.

Notwithstanding all of that, fine, if they want another Royal Yacht, go ahead. Amongst that lot, there is enough money for sure. But why not just be honest, it is a floating hotel for the elite. The spin is nauseating. And please make sure that you have enough to maintain it. So often, taxpayers are left with the bill.

Royal Watching

3 July 2011

I wonder now how the Dutchess is feeling after her first brush with people who not only are un-interested in her, but positively hostile to the institution that she has married into. Quebec was always going to be a challenge, but the posters and chanting may well have surprised her after all of the adulation.

30 June 2011

The lovely couple have now gone to Canada to test the water of popularity. A complete load of drivel this morning on the Today programme again on this topic. They devoted 7 minutes to this subject at a time of global crisis and domestic strikes.

Some commentators seem to live in some bizarre world where this kind of privilege and deference is preferred. In this case I refer to Amanda Foreman, US-based author of Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire, and Richard Fitzwilliams, former editor of International Who’s Who and royal commentator in the UK. Listen at:

23 June 2011

Now we’ve got a new picture of the Queen and the Duke. All part of the run up to the Jubilee. The picture is fantastically composed by the German photographer, Thomas Struth. He talks about the picture on an interview on the BBC ( Worth a listen.

As for the picture, remind me not to be like that when I get old. As a symbol of the monarchy, we republicans are winning.

12 June 2011

It’s all ramping up nicely. What a splendid fellow is the Duke of Edinburgh (picture What a brick he has been to the Queen as she carries out her duties on behalf of the nation. She’s had a birthday as well. Many happy returns Maam, or however one is supposed to say it.

Ah yes, that very ordinary Dutchess, Kate, or whatever we are supposed to call her these days, is now advertising for a Dresser/Lady in Waiting. It’s just that the public engagements can sometimes mean two or three changes of outfit and it is just too much responsibility for the poor woman to manage. She needs someone to take on clothing responsibilities. Internal appointment, though. It was a big enough story for BBC Radio 5-Live to devote a mind-numbingly irrelevant 10 minutes to it on the Drive show in the week. The Firm has certainly reasserted itself as it heads towards the Jubilee next year. To that end, I have changed the heading here from the previous Royal Wedding to Royal Watching.

1 May 2011

I tried to avoid it. When Charles got married, I cycled up to Bridlington with no radio. Lovely sunny day; I enjoyed myself. This time, I drove to Hull, but I listened to the radio with my companion. I’m disappointed with the BBC and some of the ‘reporters’. Why did Jonathan Agnew and Eleanor Oldroyd stoop so low? Naughtie, again, being reduced to talking about dresses and Victoria Beckham’s hat. Jane Garvey, you are better than this!

This pictures sums up much of it.

Of course, I do not really understand. Why would anyone be interested in this couple, and particularly this family? Why would so many people go to Central London on that day? Why are there so many fatuous arguments given by those people for being there?: ‘I wanted my children to be part of history’ is the one that annoyed me the most. What kind of history is this? At a time of major global unrest, why do these people not send their children to Syria or Libya? There is plenty of history being made there!

Then there is the security expert on Radio 4 who discussed the security organisation for the event. Quite without irony he talked about all the phone ‘listening’ that had been going on to ensure that the event passed without incident. Who are the people who had their calls intercepted? Did the Home Secretary sanction this?

19 November 2010

The Royal Wedding has been announced. How macabre is it the Prince giving Ms Middleton his mother’s old ring? What kind of thinking is behind this? Clearly the House of Windsor is going to use this occasion to claim back some lost territory, but any connection with the late Diana would seem to me a little risky. However, if the ring symbolises a new ‘peoples princess’ then Ms Middleton has a lot to live up to. And whilst the House of Windsor may have ‘learned’ something, clearly Ms Middleton (and her advisors) have not. If I was her father, the advice would be ‘love counts for only so much. They are a bunch of aristocrats; we may be rich but we are vulgar by comparison. Keep searching….’

At least we may get the day off  (helping the country’s productivity).