Belfast Telegraph

Whatever our woes, we can count on various royals for a healthy dose of escapism

Good cheer: Prince Harry with his girlfriend, Meghan Markle
Good cheer: Prince Harry with his girlfriend, Meghan Markle
Queen Rania of Jordan

By Mary Kenny

Honestly, I do wish Prince Harry would hurry up and get married. I'm not that fussy who he marries - this Meghan lass seems to be his heartfelt choice - just so long as he provides the world at large with the general spectacle of a royal wedding.

TS Eliot famously said that "humanity cannot bear very much reality". Everyone needs an escape from the grim reality that meets us from dawn to dusk, whether it's our own daily worries or the relentless march of depressing news afflicting humanity at large.

It's hardly surprising that Disney thrives with gossamer fantasies like Beauty and the Beast, although I'm not sure if Emma Watson needs to sell it to us as a feminist tract. If there's a feminist theme in fairy tales, let us discover that for ourselves: we don't need to be constantly beaten over the head with messages of sexual (or other) politics.

The royal houses of Europe have discovered, almost by accident (or by seeing their cohorts abolished, assassinated, exiled or guillotined), that their role is to provide the public with an escape from politics: to deliver ceremony and symbolism, shorn of political weight.

Nowadays, when we can't even trust movie stars not to make a political speech when accepting an award, it falls to these glittering dynasts to get us away from it all (or to get me away from it all, anyway, since this is my chosen escapism).

When I feel melancholy about the state of French politics, for example - the sad likelihood that the failings of François Fillon opens the door of opportunity for Marine le Pen - it's nice to turn instead to the happy situation of France's proxy royal family, the Monegasques, and Princess Charlene's rapturous experience of motherhood with her twins, Jacques and Gabriella. And the Grimaldis' delightful obsession with, and championship of, the traditions of the circus.

We are all duty-bound to follow what is happening in Brussels, the Imperium of our time, but when it comes to the speeches of Jean-Claude Juncker or Michel Barnier, I do sometimes feel that I'd rather read about the good works and lovely costumes of Queen Mathilde of the Belgians, who was a speech therapist before her marriage to Prince Philippe, has four children and goes about trying to bring people together - quite an agenda in divided Belgium.

Or her friend, the Argentine-born Queen Maxima of the Netherlands, who is such a restful contrast to the controversial Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who gets all the headlines.

When the situation in the Middle East seems one of such unrelenting despair, it's a comfort to dwell upon the activities of the exquisite Queen Rania of Jordan. Palestinian by birth, and a friend of Bono, she is more political than many royals and has taken up causes such as child abuse and honour killings, which, as an Arab woman, is regarded as outspoken and courageous.

I want her to go on being outspoken and courageous but, all the same, the remit of modern royals is to give us an alternative to politics. She's often seen with her very pretty co-queen, Letizia of Spain, who has been well instructed never to utter a political word, since (a) Spain could be torn apart by regional factionalism and (b) there's a strong republican tradition and the royals only survive by being beautifully behaved, utterly courteous and suitably humble.

Letizia can't be best pleased with her Basque brother-in-law Inaki Urdangarin, who's doing a spell in chokey for fraud and corruption. Still, no one's perfect, and all families have their dysfunctional elements, but royals know their heads are on the block if their standards fall. In a funny way, the Euro-royals provide almost a parallel world of feminism, since the focus is so often on the women - Rania, Letizia, Mathilde, Maxima, the Australian-born Crown Princess Mary in Denmark, Victoria in Sweden and in Britain, Elizabeth, now venerable with years and the longevity of her reign.

'Princess feminism' is hardly the barricades of equality and liberation, but it's an undeniable fact that the monarchical system often favours women and allows them to show symbolic leadership and emblematic visibility.

It's amusing, too, how opposition to certain politicians has fuelled an appreciation of the dignity a successful royal can represent.

Two million people in Britain signed a petition to 'dis-invite' President Donald Trump, and the collective cry went up from these lefty radicals: "We can't subject the Queen to this awful man!"

It's droll that she's now the goodie, while the elected leader is seen as the baddie.

It's the frocks, the tiaras, the history and the family stories that provide the escapism in this world of royals: and sometimes a dry sense of humour emerges too. An old colleague of mine who died recently, Chris Buckland, was attending a European summit and sneaked out of doors to smoke a cigar. Spotting a fellow smoker having a fag in the shadows, he thought her face was familiar and said: "So, what are you doing these days?"

"I'm still the Queen of Denmark," came the reply.

Margarethe, soon 77, may abdicate (or retire) before Harry's nuptials, though she's still slipping out for the odd gasper.

We all need an escape from reality. For sure.

Belfast Telegraph


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