The Queen, Prince Harry and his “little Paki friend”

I once made a flippant remark about the Queen whilst having dinner with the Oscar-winning Hungarian film director, Istvan Szabo in Budapest.

Too much name-dropping, ok, I admit it.

By “the Queen”, I mean of course Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom – and probably some other places but I am not sure. Let’s think..um..The Falklands of course and for the moment, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and some Caribbean countries and a few other scattered islands and territories that hardly any one remembers. She is still, of course, Head of the British Commonwealth – which is hardly the same as the British Empire – and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces and, less glamorously, Head of the Church of England.

By Istvan Szabo, I mean of course the director of that wonderful film Mephisto starring Klaus Maria Brandauer which won the 1981 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. The “foreign language” bit always strikes me as a sell-out on behalf of the English language in 1981, in particular, when Mephisto was certainly the best film at the Oscars ceremony – Chariots of Fire, the winner for the Best Film Oscar, is fine of course but not really in the same league.

Well there I was, flippant English liberal from a flippant liberal country, cracking some weak joke about Her Majesty when Mr Szabo, in the most friendly tone and with the lightest of touches, put me firmly in my place.

“You should remember how lucky you are,” he said,”with that little woman, the English Queen, who dresses in silly hats and clothes that no one else would wear making herself a unique symbol throughout the World.”

She is, he said, a symbol of freedom to all the former Soviet block countries.

He reminded me that we were sitting in a city which had been invaded not only by the Nazis but also by Stalin and before that the Austrian Empire. Anyone who had seen their country conquered and bullied by every passing dictator must appreciate the political system perpetuated and enshrined by a head of state, strengthened not weakened by her eccentric dress-sense who could never seize power and who held a role of respect which prevented any would-be dictator else seizing power in her place.

I was silenced – rightly I think.

She is still with us of course and, now in her eighties, she is somehow less eccentric-looking and has become just the sort of figure-head that the British love – elderly, dignified and female. She has become what Britain has always loved ever since Queen Victoria’s later years, the nation’s grandmother.

So long may she reign.

As long as she is Queen, there will be few who question that her reign works – crazy, illogical and bizarre though it may seem to anyone who thinks it odd that anyone would want thirteen pet corgi dogs or go out wearing a sequined corset over her evening frocks.

It is the other royals that are the problem.

We have got used to the old man. Prince Philip, the royal consort, may have fresh air between his ears but he keeps his wife happy and that should be good enough for the rest of us.

The royal heir to the throne, Charles, inherits his father’s intelligence and is an identikit picture of all the least attractive physical features of the House of Windsor but, with a bit of luck, now that he is turning into an eccentric old man, his mother may well reign into his dotage.

The grandsons, William and Harry have reminded us recently of their power over the British press.

William of course, every inch his mother’s son, has dominated the headlines by changing his appearance. Soon we will be reading breathless reports, not just on his facial hair but on his suits and socks. A fortune is to be made by the first fashion designer who can create the look that will transform William into the first male Diana.

And then we come to Prince Harry.

What is there to say? A lot by the sound of it.

OK he did his bit near the front line in that ill-advised war and he certainly knows how to have fun.

Enough, in days gone by for an English aristocrat but, some of his less attractive features strike a more jarring note in an age when monarchy, aristocracy and privilege are at least under scrutiny.

Dressing as a Nazi for a fancy dress party was not a good idea. Not only was it bad publicity, an act of immaturity and not that funny but it showed a breath-taking lack of sensitivity, historical understanding and, yes, intelligence.

He made profuse apologies of course. Well he would wouldn’t he…..once anti-royal stories get into the press, royal PR advisers advise and the sincere apology is written.

Loads of fun later in some of the plushest night clubs in London and after loads of fun training for the army, this charming boy has now been seen to have done it again.

This week he is being carpeted for making racist remarks in a private video when he was training at Sandhurst, the military academy for army officers. The army is furious that the news has got out about these remarks. A senior defence “source” has said that if Sandhurst had been aware of the video then all copies of the tape would have been destroyed. As usual, it is the public knowledge of an offense that is often deemed worse than the offense itself.

So loveable Harry is seen referring to a fellow cadet as “our little Paki friend.” Attempts have been made to paint this as a friendly brotherly bit of ribbing but, the Pakistani cadet in question, Ahmed Raza Khan has denied not only that he took this insult as a bit of ribbing but he also claims that he was not a friend of the royal prince.

Far from being a “little Paki friend,” he was the winner of the “Overseas Sword of Honour” for being the best foreign student in his year and he is now a captain in the Pakistani army.

Prince Harry has done us all a service. Just as we are getting cozy and sentimental about our ancient traditions of loyalty to the Crown, along comes this revealing insight into the prejudices of what used to be called the ruling classes.

Harry’s “little Paki friend” is of course just another outing for those patronising comments we mostly associate with Philip, his grandfather, he of the “slitty eyes” joke. If anyone can be bothered there is a whole literature on the snobbishness and elitism of the royal family from the Queen Mother down to most of the royal princes.

I don’t know Ahmed Raza Khan’s height but we can be sure that “little” was not meant to be a measure of it. “Little” in the elitist dictionary means, inferior, albeit in a sweet cutsey kind of way. “Paki” of course was not meant as an insult but, again in the language of Harry and his “equals”, it is meant as a patronizing condescension from a superior race. “Friend” is another term which has a different meaning in this circle. Here friend means something like “my good man,” not a friend in the real sense particularly as we now know that Captain Khan was certainly not one of Harry’s real friends.

Of course, we have now had the public apology. It was some time ago, they say, the Prince regrets his words and all that stuff.

Of course he regrets his words now that they have become public. He, like the rest of the royal family, must regret that he has come over, once more, as an over-privileged, intellectually-challenged, snob. He has also demonstrated how it is perfectly normal for his in-set to use this kind of language casually. It has, after-all been handed down to them with their silver spoons.

He is no big deal of course. He is third in line to the throne after his nice but dim brother and his distinctly odd father. Not only is he highly unlikely to ascend the throne but he is helping by his behaviour, to prevent any of the others taking up that role too when the rightly respected “English Queen” with her funny hats and too many corgis, leaves the stage.

I am sorry Istvan Szabo, but after the Queen, Britain really should try to grow up without grandma.

Meanwhile, if you have not already done it, find a copy of the film Mephisto. It is, unlike Harry’s video, grown up stuff.

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