Change has al­ready come to the Wind­sors

The New European - - Agenda - BY BON­NIE GREER

Walk­ing through the dark, the way il­lu­mi­nated by dis­creet Klieg light­ing and torches on stands, the smell of fresh flow­ers in the air and the sound of dis­tant voices laugh­ing on what seemed like water, this was a scene straight out of The Great Gatsby.

Not the movie, but F. Scott Fitzger­ald’s novel. I was in the world of Tom and Daisy Buchanan, a priv­i­leged world “wher­ever peo­ple played polo and were rich to­gether”, where “men and girls came and went like moths among the whis­per­ings and the cham­pagne and the stars”.

I was in Wind­sor Cas­tle to do a news­pa­per re­view for one of the broad­cast­ers. It was the night of the wed­ding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle and it is im­por­tant to state now: Wind­sor Cas­tle re­ally is a cas­tle. Bat­tle­ments, stone and all.

I had been there once be­fore, in­vited, for some rea­son, to a party thrown by the Queen to cel­e­brate the re­open­ing of Wind­sor Cas­tle af­ter the fire in that year of her an­nus hor­ri­bilis, 1992. What amazed me then was the amount of smok­ing be­ing done in a ban­quet­ing hall that had sur­vived the fire. But no one seemed to care be­cause there were ash­trays as well as tiny plates of food and loads of drink and an or­ches­tra on a bal­cony play­ing the kind of mu­sic that BBC Ra­dio 3 feels like on a Sun­day af­ter­noon.

Sud­denly, HM her­self just seemed to be there, in the midst of us. She was per­fectly shaped like some magic granny, full of ro­bust­ness and no-non­sense.

You are never sup­posed to speak to the Queen be­fore she speaks to you and, even then, you do not en­gage in con­ver­sa­tion; idle chat; and cer­tainly not ask her a ques­tion. In the kind of shindig I was at, it was un­der­stood that it was only a mat­ter of time be­fore she came up to you. At royal re­cep­tions you are sup­posed to wait in small packs, tiny con­glom­er­ates of the hope­ful.

At Prince Charles’ sum­mer gar­den par­ties in the grounds of Buck­ing­ham Palace, you can al­ways tell if you are go­ing to meet him by the num­ber on your tent. The higher the num­ber the bet­ter the chance. The low num­bers are sim­ply lucky to be breath­ing the same air. Charles is very warm. But re­gal. You are ex­pected to know your place.

The Queen, at Wind­sor that day of the re­cep­tion to re­open the cas­tle, car­ried her trade­mark hand­bag on her wrist.

She just walked around. When she fi­nally came to my small group­ing, some peo­ple curt­seyed, oth­ers just bowed their heads. I did a quick curt­sey. I was taught that in some­body’s house you fol­low their rules.

The royal fam­ily are the last silent movie stars. Most of us will never hear their voices. Yet they are given voice, given emo­tions and wills and in­ten­tions. By us.

I once asked a friend of mine, no monar­chist, why the Wind­sors were so im­por­tant to the Bri­tish. I call th­ese type of en­quiries: ‘An Im­mi­grant Asks’. He ex­plained that there were al­ways kings and queens on this is­land, which must mean that roy­alty is liked. Maybe even de­sired.

While do­ing my news­pa­per re­view at Wind­sor that even­ing back in May this year, I could hear the muf­fled sound of a party deep within the cas­tle walls. There were voices, too, down on what seemed like some body of water, ev­ery­one laugh­ing and call­ing out in the dark.

The steady beat of pop and hip hop rat­tled through the old walls. Out­side, the tele­vi­sion peo­ple strug­gled with cam­era po­si­tions and lights and chairs.

One shot was meant to be on the bat­tle­ments and, as I climbed the wob­bly stone up to po­si­tion, I thought about the peo­ple I had seen dur­ing the day.

Ear­lier on, I had been part of a tele­vi­sion com­ment team, housed in a kind of tower over­look­ing the road from the chapel where Meghan and Harry were mar­ried and which led up to the cas­tle. Be­fore that, I had seen a group of boys from Eton Col­lege, dressed in uni­form and walk­ing in groups like lit­tle ducks. They loved the tele­vi­sion equip­ment.

The peo­ple lined on the route wait­ing for Harry and Meghan to emerge were the or­di­nary peo­ple, the ones for­merly known as ‘the plebs’. They are part of the great cul­tural ma­chin­ery that keeps roy­alty alive.

Look­ing down at them on a per­fect and sunny day high up in the makeshift broad­cast tower, it looked like a medieval pageant. There were hats and bells and whis­tles and masks and ‘best wishes’ signs. I re­alised that this was how some peo­ple lived their lives.

The French ex­e­cuted their aris­to­crats but kept the spirit of them go­ing in the rich. The Paris Com­mune of 1871 tried briefly to get rid of class it­self, but failed. The Rus­sians ac­com­plished it with ruth­less and mur­der­ous ef­fi­ciency, but you might say that Putin and his oli­garchs have kept the spirit alive.

Of course, the monar­chy un­der­pins ev­ery in­sti­tu­tion in this coun­try. Even the Labour Party, whose leader can­not re­ceive sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion un­less he/she joins the Queen’s Privy Council, thereby be­com­ing the ‘Right Honourable’. You can­not sit in par­lia­ment or any num­ber of things un­less you take an oath of al­le­giance “to the Queen and her suc­ces­sors”.

There is some­thing funny and strange and cruel about all of this. The monar­chy is a rock, with some pretty un­savoury things be­neath it. Things like class and priv­i­lege. Things like Boris John­son and Ja­cob Rees-mogg. Not roy­alty. Not even aris­to­crats. But peo­ple who pro­mote them­selves as a kind of quasi-roy­alty. The roy­alty of the ‘We Know Bet­ter’. We are meant to bow down to this in a metaphor­i­cal sort of way.

This at­ti­tude is deeply em­bed­ded in the culture. It goes be­yond them and us. It is a cul­tural trait that car­ries with it ex­haus­tion, not verve. It is the stance of the spec­ta­tor; of the one who watches and does not get in­volved. So it is pos­si­ble for John­son to find an out­let for mis­chief, bile and non­sense. And for Rees-mogg – as Shake­speare wrote: “a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage... full of sound and fury, sig­ni­fy­ing noth­ing” – to have a voice. A place.

If I think about the royal fam­ily at all, I think about my fel­low-coun­try­woman, Meghan, the new Duchess of Sus­sex.

There has never been a Duchess of Sus­sex be­fore and so, like the pro­fes­sional ac­tor and busi­ness per­son she once was, she should cre­ate some­thing mem­o­rable out of her new role. Maybe some­thing new for the on­look­ers. This week she and Prince Harry are mak­ing their first of­fi­cial joint trip to Sus­sex, to Brighton to see the Pav­il­ion. This struc­ture is what is known as a ‘folly’. It was a place of big eat­ing, and ‘r and r’ for Ge­orge IV, son of the King who lost Amer­ica.

Now a cit­i­zen of that land has joined the fam­ily, at a se­nior level, so, in a sense, things have come full cir­cle. The his­toric irony of this – some might say re­venge – is some­thing I thought about as I made my way up the stone stairs of Wind­sor Cas­tle on the night of the royal wed­ding.

I was there, too, at this cas­tle. The fam­ily seat. And so was the guy hook­ing up the lights whose grand­dad had sold fruit and veg in a mar­ket. And the lady pow­der­ing my face who had been born in Bangladesh. We were all at the cas­tle. It was just an­other job.

Photo: Ben Stansall - WPA Pool/getty Im­ages

NEW BLOOD: The Duchess of Sus­sex is help­ing the royal fam­ily to evolve

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