THE QUEEN AND I
by Ruth Minshull
Although I’m a WASP, I have never felt privileged or influential–and I have certainly never felt British. If I have any family pride at all, it’s in the fact that my ancestors were among the earliest settlers in this country, rather than in the fact that they came from the UK.
While I disclaim any other Anglophiliac leanings, I will admit that I have always been mildly interested in the queen.
This is because we are the same age. That is, we were born the same year–she a few months ahead of me (I think it shows a little around her eyes, too).
I never heard of Elizabeth until we were ten years old. That’s when her uncle Edward shucked it all and ran off to play house with Wally, leaving his brother George to mind the throne. This put Princess Elizabeth next in line and brought her almost constant media attention as she grew up. I saw pictures of her at the races, riding horses, attending official functions, reviewing the troops.
Every time I heard or read about her I was fascinated by the fact that we were the same age (twins-across-the-sea) yet our lives were so different. Now and then I wondered what it would be like to change places. At first, the idea of being a princess seemed quite glamorous, but gradually I realized how little freedom she had.
In 1952, at the age of 26, her papa died and she had to quit playing around and settle down to the serious job of being the queen. Now you’ve totally lost your freedom, Liz, I thought. Will there ever again be any joy in your life?
She did get married and have children, but after a brief time-out she always had to go right back to that hard throne, the rubber chicken circuit, the meaningless ceremonies and, of course, those interminable troops that always seem to need reviewing.
For the rest of her life, her every moment seems to be planned for her. All schedules, all meetings, all menus must be cleared in advance with the proper authorities.
There’s no room for spontaneity in her life. She even has weights sewn into the hems of her dresses so they won’t blow up and reveal too much of the royal legs. As an added precaution, no one is allowed to photograph her when she’s eating. (Thus you never see a shot of her with a blob of lettuce stuck in her teeth or a glob of tomato sauce on her chin.)
And people who meet her are expected to curtsy. She must end each day, her mind numbed by this throng of pates: healthy, bald, combed-over, black-rooted blonds and white-rooted browns. Perhaps even the occasional errant wig, tipped askew by all that bowing.
And there can’t be much privacy. When she’s not out nodding to the mobs she still has all those ladies-in-waiting—waiting around. And those footmen under foot.
Despite her enormous riches, she’s missed out on some of life’s most delectable experiences. I’m sure she can’t eat a piece of fried chicken with her fingers–let alone a sticky sparerib, a hot dog, or a slice of pizza. (Certainly no wayward string of cheese would be allowed to droop down from the royal mouth.)
Has she ever had the messy delight of licking a dripping ice cream cone? Surely not—it’s much too unqueenly.
Instead, she must shake millions of hands, endure the palaver of toadying subjects, listen to countless boring speeches. She’s never known the thrill of finding a hot bargain at a garage sale for two shillings. I doubt if she ever hears a raunchy joke or sits on the floor and sings with a gang of friends.
And, if she looks as if she has a chronic headache, think of what the regal head must support. If it isn’t a weighty tiara or a jewel-encrusted crown, it’s one of those hideous dyed-to-match hats. Of course, worrying about what her kids and grandkids are up to might also bring on the occasional royal headache.
In the end, after all the pomp and puffery, what does she get out of being queen? She is never allowed to make any significant decision. She’s merely a figurehead. As a child did she really long to be a tattoo artist? a hairdresser? a belly dancer? Unthinkable! Her job is to make nice to everybody, while the Prime Minister and the parliament actually run the country.
Since I have an extremely low tolerance for small talk (not to mention headgear that looks like a cross between a saucepan and a failed wedding cake) and I can’t even imagine having to review those tiresome troops (Why do they need so much reviewing anyway?) I’m thankful that she’s over there handling her job—while I get to be me.
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© 2010 by Ruth Minshull