It is too easy to mock the Queen of England, as they call her in Ireland. She wears funny clothes, talks funny too and stands for a whole load of things, for some, that are symbols of Britain at its least glorious: Britain the snobbish, imperious, behind-the-door nation with delusions of grandeur or just an old-fashioned relic best forgotten.
Actually, Britain has moved on in many ways even if we do still have a hierarchical class system and an eccentric constitution with Elizabeth II as our blood-line Monarch and head of state. I suspect though that only the most intransigent rump of Irish terrorism really hates this actually rather impressive woman who, well past retirement age, soldiers on and now, the first time for a British monarch in one hundred years, takes an historic trip to Ireland, old enemy and old friend.
I was once told off by a distinguished Hungarian film director for making a flippantly amusing remark about Her Majesty. He said that everyone that he knew who had been through Fascist and then Communist dictatorships in his native country, admired the fact that we had a head of state who was a funny little woman who wore silly hats but who was an immediately recognizable symbol internationally for democracy and freedom. We all love, he said, “that funny little woman, the English queen”.
I felt well and truly put in my place and it changed my attitude. I know that we would never choose a monarchy if we were planning the British state from scratch and that we would never have chosen the family that has occupied the throne now for centuries and who, mostly weaklings or bullies, have the curent queen as a rare and exceptionally able person as their representative. We might not have invented her but we have her and, for these her later years, I think we should value her – funny little woman that she is.
It is an awful job even if it does have a certain social caché – all those speeches about nothing very much, all those performances by average amateur musicians, semi-naked dancers and those endless military bands.
She mostly enters into the spirit of these tedious municipal events and tries not to show what most be an overwhelming sense of boredom at times when she would much rather be spending time with her pack of corgi dogs on some of her rolling Royal acres or just spending a day at the races like most elderly woman of her class.
I worked “with” her once when I was making a television programme about an event where she was guest of honour. I was briefed by an equerry who told me that the Queen was happy for us to film her but she didn’t like being seen in the act of either sitting down or standing up. I told the equerry that we wanted to film her in the royal box at this theatre but we needed to put an extra light in it so that we could see her properly. A series of messages went backwards and forwards between me and the Queen and a solution was found. We could put in our light but it could only be switched on at agreed moments which were, inevitably, when she wasn’t either in the act of sitting down or standing up. She suggested that at the time when she was ready for her shot, she would indicate it by raising her hand. The moment happened – well she did it and I always remember that gloved hand signal as my own personal royal wave especially as I like to think there was just a hint of amused irony on her face as she did it.
I hope the Irish get to see her qualities and recognise the positive spirit of this state visit, silly in so many ways, can mend many of the highly justifiable injuries that Ireland feels in its historic relationship with Britain. Britain and Ireland should be friends – I like to feel that we are.