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Allan Fotheringham: Tired of waiting for the throne (Toby Melville/Reuters)
Allan Fotheringham: Tired of waiting for the throne (Toby Melville/Reuters)

ALLAN FOTHERINGHAM

Tired of waiting for the throne Add to ...

July was a horrific month – a disaster in a small Quebec town, mass carnage in a Spanish train wreck – but it was all saved by the birth of a baby boy.

One can sense, even across the ocean, the delight and joy the English are having now that their Queen will be followed by three kings: Prince Charles, Prince William and the babe, Prince George Alexander Louis.

There is the misconception, unfortunate, that Good Queen Bess is stubbornly sticking to her crown and selfishly won’t give it up to the resolutely underemployed Charles. I am here to disabuse you of that theory.

In 1981, your agent, for his sins, was ordered to cover the Cinderella wedding of the virgin Di and the chap with long ears. I sat some 50 feet from the fairy-tale ceremonies in St. Paul’s Cathedral and was struck most of all by one overriding image: the glum and sorrowful look on the face of the mother of the bridegroom.

One would have thought – all London aflame with a party passion understandable in a people who lead such dreary lives – that the Queen would be beaming with pride. She wasn’t. She looked unhappy.

We have shared a glass or two at off-the-record press receptions on the former Royal Yacht Britannia and, at the time, your blushing republican was struck by her daintiness, the fact she is more attractive in person than in pictures and her understated wit, which bordered on withering.

Implicit in that was good humour. It had disappeared by the time of St. Paul’s, and she has never really smiled since. Why? Because, as she gazed at the fairy-tale proceedings, she knew that her son would probably be an old, tired, discouraged man before he ever acceded to the throne she would have liked to give up.

She would still like to, but has decided she can’t. Because of the past and the conduct of her offspring, she has been advised by her Buckingham advisers that she has to stay, for the survival of the monarchy.

The past, of course, was her selfish uncle, Edward, who abandoned the throne for the conniving and much-married Wallis Simpson (an American!) and spent the rest of his life wandering in exile, a pitiful figure.

Good Queen Bess could never forgive Edward for that. The abdication forced her shy father, who didn’t want the job, to become king – a task that killed him and ruined the youth of a 25-year-old bride who had to accept a heavy crown.

If Edward could junk the job for love, can Elizabeth now do it because she’s old? And wants her long-impatient son (65 in November) to have it? Nope. The dangerous precedent can’t be repeated. It’s too fragile a myth as it is. The crown isn’t something you can abandon, willy-nilly, as the coinage would be debased. It’s not a job, it’s a calling – a lifetime one.

Little wonder the moody Charles was reduced to talking to flowers and wandering the Scottish woods in his kilt while his wife who upstaged him flew off to the disco with Sarah Ferguson. His mother is 87 and certainly isn’t infirm. The genes are in the family. The Queen Mum went past 100 and was still going strong with the pearls, the corgis and the gin.

The Brits are used to longevity. George III stuck it out nearly 60 years on the throne. Victoria did better, lasting almost 64. The incumbent may beat that. No wonder she looks so glum. And no wonder Prince Charles is reduced to complaining about architecture.

The Economist, the most serious magazine in Britain, recently devoted a long piece to the “problem” of having an old lady who still is in good health. It concludes with these words:

“As is often the case, the solution to Britain’s royal problems lies in Europe. In the past, when Britain was short of royals, it used to import a continental prince. Now it has a surplus of them, it needs to import a continental practice. The Netherlands’ Queen Beatrix (aged 75) and Belgium’s King Albert (79) recently announced their abdications. Even Pope Benedict (85) quit. Britain’s monarchs need a way to start doing the same.

Might a sliding scale combine royal dignity with management theory? When the Queen (61 years on the throne) is 90, she will have beaten the previous record-holder, Queen Victoria (63 years). At that point, she should bow out. Prince Charles should do so at 80, Prince William at 70. At some point, the falling royal retirement age will meet the rising national pensionable age, monarch and subjects will be in sync and George Alexander Louis will claim his crown before his bus pass.”

One suspects the royals have a lot of thinking to do.

Allan Fotheringham’s latest book is Boy From Nowhere: A Life in Ninety-One Countries.

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