William Saunderson-Meyer
William Saunderson-Meyer

The Empire loyalists wipe away a tear

So was it really that touching? Or is the Anglophone world just having one of its periodic attacks of mass hysteria? Not touched in the heart, just touched in the head.

If they weren’t dabbing their eyes at the 60th jubilee of that aged foreign queen, Elizabeth II, it would be something else. The weepy outpouring that accompanied the exit of that ersatz royalty, Michael Jackson, springs to mind. It’s the braid and pomp that does it.

While the British monarch is indeed admirable in her unflinching devotion to duty and her dogged execution of a job she did not choose, it was astonishing to hear and read that joy at her jubilee was shared the length and breadth of the land. This land.

The Mercury‘s normally irreverent columnist, Graham Linscott, lamented a vanished land where “once we shared fully in that mystique of monarchy”. As befits a citizen of old Natal, proudly the British Empire’s Last Outpost, Linscott confides that he was of the final national service intake that swore allegiance to the queen and “I’ve never seen any reason to renounce it”.

The head of the SA Institute of Race Relations, John Kane-Berman, had a serious attack of crown envy. He declared in Business Day that the jubilee would “outshine the London Olympics” and went on to enthuse over the advantages of a monarchy, since the head of state is “above politics”. Umm. Swaziland, anybody? Or Britain’s narrow escape with the abdication of Nazi sympathiser Edward VIII?

In Britain itself the media naturally bowed, scraped and curtsied in unison. How different from 1997 when — again en bloc — it echoed and stoked in equal measure public anger at the queen’s supposedly “heartless” response to Princess Diana’s death, when she was accused of being out of touch with the national mood.

This time it was the state broadcaster that was apparently out of touch with popular sentiment. BBC coverage was slated as “mind numbingly tedious”, “inane” and “celebrity driven”, according to the celebrities quoted by its competition. In defence of the BBC, how interesting can one make a rainy day paddle down the Thames by an old biddy whose only signs of life were the rote swivel of the head to match alternate twitching hand-signals?

Sky, in contrast, chirped cheerily about what it called “the right-royal knees-up” for four full days. Its relentless coverage included an interview with another old queen, Elton John, who enthused mysteriously of Her Majesty that “she’s been the constant in my life”.

When Prince Philip missed the jubilee concert because of a bladder infection — standing for hours in the drizzle without respite for a piddle will do that to a 90-year-old man — the network’s royalty reporter sketched a fawning imaginary dialogue between the monarch and her consort.

It opened with Philip bravely saying “Don’t worry about me darling …” and continued downhill, ending with the Sky anchor’s cloying rhetorical question “What would Her Majesty want us to do?” Carry on in true Brit spirit, of course.

The Daily Telegraph boasted of the 4 200 jubilee beacons “lit across the globe tonight [by] loyal subjects, patriots and Royal family fans”. Not quite. Fewer than two dozen beacons were outside the UK.

Aside from the Australian government — ag shame, a territory still awaiting permission for its own flag — it transpires that most overseas beacons were erected by scouting associations (Caribbean), English-language teaching schools (China), publicity savvy charities (Cape Town and Uganda), and an entrepreneur (Tyson’s Village Store, USA).

Whatever the nostalgic imaginings of a scattering of Empire Loyalists, the queen’s overseas realm is terminally diminished. The true value of her monarchy lies in that — much like Nelson Mandela here — she binds the bitter regional, ethnic and class divisions of her nation, assuages its political decline and economic woes, and inspires in the face of a challenging future.

And also like Mandela, she won’t be around for much longer to do so.

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