Thursday, 3 January 2013

Royal News: The Top Ten Monarchy Stories of 2012

It is finally the time to look back on the year that has just gone by, to reflect on the serious things and laugh at its foibles. Twenty twelve was a year absolutely packed with royal events, and here’s my little guide and ranking of the most important ten:

10. Prince Charles Does The Weather

It has been a great year for Prince Charles who has blossomed from a petulant impatient heir into a confident elder Prince ready to take over the royal reins—if that ever happens, that is. He seems ok either way, and the reason behind it is arguably the fact he is finally with the woman he loves.

Charles charmed Canada and Australia, galvanized the Diamond Jubilee concert crowd, but the event that best captured his newfound regal self-confidence for me was his impromptu weather forecast in May while visiting the BBC studios in Glasgow. Besides showing that he has finally learned how not to take himself too seriously without looking silly—a subtle but necessary quality in a British monarch—he showed stage presence in spades. If ever he does ascend the throne, his Christmas broadcasts will far more captivating than they are now.  

 Prince Charles’ weather forecast: who better qualified to give advice on how to weather a storm?


9. The Queen and Prince Philip’s 
65th wedding anniversary

It passed almost totally unnoticed but in November the Queen and Prince Philip celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary, an amazing marital milestone for any couple, royal or not. The reason for not making a fuss about it was because they had already broken the record for the longest-married sovereign couple in the monarchy’s history back in 2005, when the surpassed George III’s 57 years of marriage. To put it in perspective, no other monarch besides George III has ever broken the 50 years marriage mark—and the Queen has now spent almost 80% of her entire life in the company of Prince Philip. Makes you think, doesn’t it?

Thomas Struth’s portrait of the Queen and Prince Philip shows all the joys and thrills 65 years of marriage can bring.

8. Prince Harry’s Nakedness Scandal

Looking back on it with a cool head, it was hardly newsworthy that Harry was caught with his pants down in Vegas. When you consider some of the stunts he has pulled in the past—wearing a Nazi uniform, admitting to smoking marijuana, calling a fellow soldier a Paki—this naked escapade was more childish than scandalous. And by en-large the British public agreed that he did not deserve drastic reprimands for it.

In fact, I think the most remarkable feature of the story was not Harry’s own nakedness, but the naked solidarity of hundreds of people across the worldwide British Armed Forces, who took to Facebook and the internet to show support for Private Wales in a global show of naked military power.

 Harry’ naked stunt in Vegas inspired troops across the world
to go commando. And beyond.

7. William and Kate’s Pregnancy

The year ended on a rollercoaster of emotions as we got news within days that one life had begun while another had ended. The announcement that a potential new monarch had begun life in the womb was the cherry on the cake for this glorious royal year, and it could have had even more impact if the news had been let out around Christmas as William and Kate had originally intended (obviously the little heir already has a mind of its own).

But then there was the dark cloud brought by the death of Jacintha Saldanha, murdered by the media through her own hands. It was a reminder of the treacherous media waters this baby and its minders will have to navigate—and also of Australians’ schizophrenic relationship with the monarchy.

The highs and lows of the Royal pregnancy
rolled across Britain’s and Australia’s front pages.

6. Changes to the Royal Succession

Potentially the biggest and most historic change to come out of 2012 was the speeding up of procedures to change the royal succession, prompted by the little bundle of joy on the way which—for some psychic reason—many believe will be a girl. The new royal succession law will make every firstborn a monarch, regardless of gender, bringing to an end 1000 years of unpredictable yet colorful succession history.

Of course, the new Act has not been passed yet, but the fact that the Commonwealth realms’ assent was delivered within days of William and Kate’s pregnancy announcement, and that a new law has already been drafted, make the actual passing of the act a mere formality. Yet, the details will have to be celebrated in 2013. 

The Queen with her two male successors. The world awaits
the birth of the new heir to see whether this historical trio
will turn into Abba or Gladys Knights and the Pips.

5. Kate’s Nude Photos Scandal

This time we weren’t shocked by the nakedness but by the personal violation and the shock of it all (“NOT our Kaaate!” was the overall groan of the British public). But once again the real event was not in the actual naked pictures and their dissemination. The real news was in the way our future king decided to deal with the issue. Instead of taking the usual high road and dismissing the violation with a disdainful royal shrug, like some in his family have done before, William took the magazine and paparazzi to court in what was by all accounts a barely controlled act of royal fury. That he wanted to do so is understandable given his family history, but that he did it at all gives an interesting insight into the forceful and protective king he is likely to become someday. 

We should also spare a few words on what this episode revealed of Kate’s understanding (or lack of it so far) regarding her new role: future Queens of England simply do not take their clothes off in the open air. Ever. Full stop. As Princess Margaret famously said once: “We’ve got plenty of houses. If you don’t want to be seen and photographed, you don’t have to be.”

Prince William: “I am not amused…in fact I am bloody p-ed off!”

4. The Queen Shakes Hands With The IRA

The barriers kept tumbling down between Ireland and its old overlords in 2012. After her historic trip to Ireland last year, the Queen this year took arguably an even bigger step towards reconciliation when she met Sinn Fein politician and former IRA leader Martin McGuinness, and shook his hand in public. Mr McGuinness’ motivations for doing so have been questioned as being an act of pure political opportunism—read this interesting article about it here—but I don’t think you can doubt that the Queen just wanted to move on from past misdeeds.

When you consider that Martin McGuinness was once an IRA terrorist, a member of the group that murdered the Queen’s cousin, Lord Mountbatten, the Queen’s willingness to forgive the past was far more impressive than any nationalist or political creed.

The Queen buried Irish grudges with a smile and a light green dress.

3. The Queen Opens the Olympics

Fifty years from now, when people look back on the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony, they won’t remember the musical numbers or the unusual cauldron or the chimney stacks rising from the ground. The only thing they’ll remember will be the Queen jumping out of a helicopter into the stadium. Well, ok, her body double, but her willingness to play herself in the short movie before the jump was shock enough when the nation saw it.

She was a great sport, and no wonder they decided not to have a celebrity to light the Olympic cauldron: what celebrity could have topped that?! The stunt showed that, oddly, the older the Queen gets, the more adventurous she becomes with her role. What in the world should we expect from her in the next few years?

Watch the Olympic sequence on its entirety here.

The Queen makes history by becoming the oldest ever Bond girl.

2. The Royal Jubilee Tours

We live in the age of the media monarchy but we should not forget that there is no substitute for being there in person, and that is the reason why the Royal Family often travels around the country and the Commonwealth. It is also a way to gage public support for the monarchy, and this year’s Diamond Jubilee tours showed that the institution is safely ensconced in the nation’s hearts. Everywhere the Queen travelled in Britain she drew crowds worthy of pop concerts: 20,000 in Leicester, 30,000 in Nottingham—I myself tried to see her during two appearances in greater London and was defeated by crowds of 10,000 squeezed in suburban parks.

She was the biggest celebrity in Britain this year and her magic was carried across the Commonwealth realms by her family. Harry charmed Jamaica by outrunning Usain Bolt and flirting with its republican Prime Minister, William and Kate strengthened the monarchy in the Pacific island realms, and Charles and Camilla carried perfect monarch-in-waiting visits to Canada, Australia and New Zealand—and thousands showed up wherever everyone went. It all showed that current support for the monarchy is not a media invention but a truth borne by numbers and pictures.

Diamond Jubilee Tours 2012:
Grass skirt dancing, wild creatures, and May-December flirting.

1. The Diamond Jubilee Weekend

In a way, the monarchy had been living in the shadow of Queen Victoria’s celebrations for over 100 years. Her imperial jubilees were held to be the pinnacle of royal power and popularity, never to be repeated. Four unforgettable days in June 2012 laid that ghost, as well as many others, to rest. The Jubilee Weekend showed that Britain can still stage spectacular events like the Jubilee Thames Pageant, that people in the digital age can still come together personally in great numbers to celebrate patriotic events (I loved the Big Jubilee Lunch), and most of all that the monarchy has not lost the power to symbolize and unite the nation since Victorian times but in fact it has increased that power.

Above, Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee Procession in 1897;
below, Queen Elizabeth II’ Diamond Jubilee Procession, 2012.
The empire might be gone but pomp and ceremony remarkably endure.

Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 was, more than anything, a celebration of the power of the British Empire at its height. Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee was instead a celebration of the monarchy itself and a reflection of renewed British pride and optimism, a mirror of the nation’s current feelings about itself. The stunning results from British athletes at the Olympics and Paralympics, and the success of the London Olympics as a whole, should not in hindsight have come as a surprise after the way the nation bound together at first for the Diamond Jubilee. That is the function of our monarchy: to bind people together across classes, geography and ages in the present, and to bind the nation across time with its past and with its future, as we go on our national journey.

The Diamond Jubilee showed that the national journey Britain and the monarchy started together over 1,000 years ago continues in earnest, the two partners inseparable now as they were in the beginning. You could see it in the electrifying chemistry between the crowds and Her Majesty as she (and her family) sailed down the Thames, took the stage at the Jubilee concert, and travelled through London by carriage and car. What a time it was to be in London and Britain that glorious weekend and see it all with your own eyes. What a weekend, what a year!

The River Pageant: Iconic

The Concert: Inspiring

The crowds in the Mall: Incredible.

Watch the last 15 minutes of the Diamond Jubilee Concert below, including Prince Charles’ speech, the National Anthem, and the most memorable moment of the whole weekend: the fireworks over Buckingham Palace. 

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