The International Herald Tribune Daily News
April 28 2011
By Philip Whitfield
Two billion will be glued to the goggle box on Friday watching Prince William Arthur Philip Louis of Wales and his fiancée Catherine Elizabeth Middleton ‘getting spliced’ as we Brits say.
Or, as William’s dad harrumphed on the dear couple’s engagement day: “They’ve been practicing for long enough.” He should know as a womanizer before, during and after his marriage to William’s mum, Princess Diana.
As with many a center-stage drama, the real plot is unraveling in the wings. Truth be told, according to the British Tourism Board, visitors to the UK declined by 15 percent in July 1981 when Charles and Diana were married and by 8 percent in July 1986 when his brother Prince Andrew married Sarah Ferguson.
Asked on the radio the other day how many VIPs would be trooping through Heathrow Airport for the wedding, Anita the Greeter told listeners it was a very manageable 20 parties. Whereas, there’d be 40 to 60 regulars getting the VIP treatment.
Why are the Royals struggling to hold their grip – beyond the couple of hours of nuptial rubber necking and the peculiarity of the tabloids’ attention?
Egyptians will recognize the answer: The Brits are fed up with the antics of society’s apparently untouchables. In recent times there’s been the disclosure of Prince Andrew’s sordid business dealings with unsavory oligarchs. His brother Prince Charles (or to give him his formal title Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, KG, KT, GCB, OM, AK, OSO, CD, SOM, GCL, PC, AdC (P) FRS (Charles Philip Arthur) has to labor under the loathing of a public that remembers Diana adoringly.
And with the singular exception of the Queen who reached 85 last week, the rest of ‘The Firm’ as the Royal Family calls itself, evokes considerable distain prancing around at gymkhanas or wobbling out of West End nightclubs at an ungodly hour when most of their subjects are safely abed.
At times such as now, it’s as if the Windsors are a unique breed, prodded by a band of livestock merchants eyeing up the potential of a new generation of frisky youngsters to morph into media freaks.
Even their handle disguises the Windsors’ provenance. Realizing the family moniker Saxe-Coburg and Gotha wouldn’t cut the mustard with British troops limping home from the trenches, King George V name-changed to Windsor eighteen months before Germany admitted defeat in World War I.
The last time an English monarch lost his head on January 30th 1649 it was chilly enough for 49-year-old Charles I to wear two vests for the short shuffle to the scaffold outside the Banqueting Hall in Whitehall. He asked a hanger-on, a bishop, to lend him a cap to keep his head warm for a minute or two before it was severed with an axe.
Charles’ unexpected last thoughts? ‘Does my hair trouble you?’ The executioner paid £100 for the two-second wallop replied in Olde English: ‘Tuck it in, your majesty.’
Charles’ crimes were to claim the divinity of kings, unbeholden to common folks, and tried as ambiguously as those such as the Mubarak gang on a charge sheet listing ‘tyrant, traitor and murderer.’
The Brits did without a monarch for 11 years, before reverting to kings and queens after deciding a monarch’s foibles were preferable to Mr. Oliver Cromwell’s dictatorship.
But, whereas Egyptians summoned up the courage to topple a perduring Pharaoh and his edacious offspring, the British are cowards when it comes to cutting the Windsors down to size.
Mostly, the Brits fear a republican-style presidency, conjuring up scary visions of ‘President’ Tony/Gordon/ Dave et al while the occupants of 10 Downing Street and the Foreign Office are reduced to parliamentary hogwash. Would a British President flip-flop partners à la mode de Sarkozy to boost his election chances?
There are more subtleties. To royal nitpickers, the current heir fell on his sword being divorced, compounding the misdemeanor by bedding and wedding a divorcée. The Supreme Governor of the Church of England, as he would expect to become if and when crowned, is supposed to be above such imperfections.
It’s suggested by some that Prince Charles should take a pass, as the hoi polloi seems to desire, and wave William and Kate through the gate into Buckingham Palace. Others suggest that would be a pity: let King Charles #3 and Camilla take the flak leaving William and Kate free to come in after the regicides have settled for clipping the royals’ wings along the lines of Scandinavian heads of state, who oftentimes take the bus or bike it into the office.
That way the Brits end up with the best of both worlds: keeping their King and Queen while pretending they’re ‘just like us’ – stopping off at their local grocery store to pick up a frozen pizza on the way home (as they do now) and joining the line at the department store when they need new pants (as Kate did the other day).
The cable from Cairo? Your loyal servants observed the Royal Wedding with bangers and mash at a street party in Maadi. Next week, they’ll obediently resume aiding natives unseat locally unelected heads of state. God Save The Queen.
Philip Whitfield is a Cairo-based writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or twittered @mohendessin.