First published by The Pool on 30 December 2016
In the early hours of this morning, there was a Twitter storm. A fake BBC account tweeted that the Queen had died, and the ‘news’ spread fast. A rumour formed that the reason her death wasn’t being reported by the mainstream press was that a ‘media black-out’ had been declared until 8am. #Mediablackout began to trend at number one. People went down to Buckingham Palace to look for evidence of the death. But as it turned out, the real reason why the news was not being reported by mainstream press was that it was bullshit: the Queen is apparently fine. If, presumably, a bit irritated.
Sometimes when this kind of rumour crops up, I take to WhatsApp to circulate the news – but not with the royals. I was born into a left-wing family, and I’ve always skewed a bit further left than the rest of them. I grew up in a northern city (Newcastle) with a mother who worked in legal aid; I believe in the welfare state and justice for all as the most essential British principles. I’m perennially more swayed by human suffering than by any other argument; I’d say that’s one thing we all agree on in my immediate family. Another thing is that we don’t support or follow the royals. I have never watched the Queen’s speech at Christmas or texted my mother about one of the Duchess of Cambridge’s dresses; I would never have lived it down.
And yet, it is with an awkward shrug and a lowering of the voice that I’m about to make a confession. Somehow this year, without meaning to, I have become a secret royalist. I’ve changed sides and now I’m rooting for them.
How did this happen? Some blame must go to Prince George and Princess Charlotte. When they first appeared on the scene, I tried to resist paying attention, but soon found myself forwarding photos to my sister – because look at their sweet little fat faces! Have you seen Prince George’s knee socks? I’m not made of stone, for God’s sake.
Then there was the charming ITV documentary in which William and Harry told Ant and Dec about getting letters from their father, and double-checking with each other to see if there was a “bollocking” being delivered in his illegible handwriting. Why was I watching a documentary about the princes? I don’t know, I hate myself.
But Netflix’s drama The Crown has put the final nail in the coffin of my republicanism. It’s wonderful: beautifully written, gorgeously filmed, and perfectly played by the likes of Claire Foy, John Lithgow, Eileen Atkins and Jared Harris. Foy, as Queen Elizabeth II in her youth, is mesmerisingly good. In the script she does very little other than poshly say “Oh!” in a variety of tones (scolding; flattered; anxious) – but all the work is going on under the surface. She is an enormously expressive actress, combining self-doubt, sorrow and resentment with a steely determination. She turns the silent monarch I was previously familiar with into a human being with a beating heart – a woman who was young, and had to give up all semblance of a normal life in order to fulfil an inherited duty. I’m sorry, I’m starting to sound like the Daily Telegraph.
What is driven home by the first season is that – and I realise this sounds insane – being the Queen is a horrible personal sacrifice. Yes, she has more money and privilege than she knows what to do with. But she also has very little control over her own life. On the show, we see her royal obligations cause terrible damage to her relationship with her sister, Princess Margaret. Add into the mix a petulant 1950s husband who feels emasculated by his important wife, and a series of ‘advisors’ who won’t allow her to make her own decision about anything, and being monarch starts to look very un-fun. So I can’t help it – I feel for her.
And now that my heart has reluctantly thawed, it’s dawned on me that I’m going to be very sad when Her Maj does actually die, and fascinated by the next coronation. I’m not proud of myself, so please don’t tell anyone. Long live the Queen.