On losing the Royal touch

How do you map a monarchy? Depict the location of its palaces and other places of residence? Display the extent of its  material  wealth or  its  kinship connections ? Create a genealogical tree or a psycho-geography of members of the royal household? Or devise a cartogram showing  their  personal popularity or  lack of it with different groups of  ‘subjects’?

A wealth map  would be an obvious starting point, but understandably members of the  Royal Family are a bit touchy about the extent of their personal  and collective wealth . Some of this information is publicly available .   For example  the Crown Estate’s annual report for 2019/20 put the   value of the British royal family’s  land portfolio  at £13.4 billion .The exact personal wealth of the Queen is unknown , although guesstimates put it somewhere between 300 and 400 million and she receives an additional 30 million a year from the Civil list to help with her running costs. The royal  art collection  of old Masters has been valued at more than the whole of its other assets put together.

So far so predictable. But so what? Hands up anyone who  thinks the future of the British monarchy depends on its manifest wealth?  It would perhaps be more interesting to do a network map showing   the social connections of the Windsors  with other royal families and members of the hereditary aristocracy , as well as with what used to be called High Society . This latter  has now expanded to include a global celebrity culture made up of the  super rich and the super stars of sport, entertainment , fashion and the creative industries.  Debutantes may no longer be presented to the Queen , and nowadays  it  is the glitterati  who give audiences and hold court, but the Season still continues , with Royal Ascot, Wimbledon,  Henley Regatta, Oxbridge May Balls,  and the Queen’s Summer Garden parties its hotspots. A social network map would thus    show just how closely integrated the new and old aristocracies are , not only in terms of inter-marriage, but through shared  interests and life styles.

At the same time the  British Royal Family , or what is sometimes called ‘the firm’ is a very peculiar kind of  business, exerting behind -the- scenes influence  on the political culture  while maintaining  scrupulous formal distance from  the operations of government;. The fact that Britain is a constitutional monarchy but has no written constitution  has allowed   a  grey area to emerge in which an informal and largely invisible network of patronage and  preferment meshes in seamlessly with other hierarchies of pubic prestige, most evidently  in  the public honours  system.

If you are reading this , the chances are that, like me, you are not that  interested in following the detailed doings of this elite  and indeed  you may feel indifferent or even hostile  towards their existence. This antipathy is quite widely shared but is still a minority view. The gossip columns  are as alive as ever with the news of  the  Great and Not so Good , their comings and goings on  , with social media making it possible for everyone nowadays to be their own gossip columnist. Royal watching is now part of a more general fascination with the Spectacle of wealth and power;  it   may be driven by voyeuristic identification or envy , a desire to emulate or to see the high and mighty taking a fall; whatever the motivation, this form of star gazing  shows no signs of decreasing  in popularity and seems quite compatible with holding political views which are diametrically opposed to the existence of self- perpetuating elites.

Scandal and rumour are grist to this particular mill. It could be argued that celebs are only getting what they  ask for, if not what they always deserve. After all these are people who live in and for the public gaze  and  who  often operate a carefully crafted public persona designed to excite  this attention. Although they may, at the same time,  go to great lengths to ensure that their private lives are safe from media scrutiny, they  inevitably become the focus of intense  curiosity. This tension between  public face and private life is the fulcrum  around which the culture of celebrity  revolves; the secret of  its  attraction lies in  the secrets which the apparatus of  fame  both conceals and potentially reveals. Enchantment and disenchantment are  two complimentary sides to the frenzy of renown.

The British Royal Family are at once highly dependant on the media which sustains celebrity culture and continue to attempt to occupy a special position of inaccessibility in relation to it. The Royal Nemo project. It is that contradiction which is tearing this monarchy apart, even and especially when it is denied or displaced;  when it is dramatically acted out , as it was in the case of Lady Di and  now with Harry and Meghan, the arranged  marriage between monarchical and celeb culture falls apart.

So to that interview.   After the long campaign of vilification in the Tory Gutter Press , Meghan and Harry  get their chance to dish the dirt on ‘the firm’ and the TGP media. Washing  dirty linen in pubic evokes a homely image of ordinary folk living cheek by growl in back to backs, in fear of the prying eyes of nosey neighbours. But applied to a family sequestered  in castles and stately homes, guarded from the madding crowd of paparazzi by an army of security guards , it takes on a hallucinatory quality: all those skeletons in the Royal family closet suddenly emerging blinking into the glare of the TV cameras.

I did a straw poll  of close friends and colleagues, most of whom are very much on the Left politically  with  quite a few admitting to being republicans. They almost all watched  the  Oprah Winfrey interview , s did your correspondent.  Some claimed it was in the line of professional duty , other admitted to ‘curiosity’. I asked them if their attitudes to the Monarchy had been changed as a result of watching  the  interview. A few said they now felt more sympathetic to Harry and especially Meghan, for  having to put up  with such an up -tight and  racist establishment . The majority said it confirmed their view that the Queen and other members of the Royal Family were simply out of touch with the modern world and ordinary people, and that  the institution itself was well past  its sell by date. Some thought it could be  modernised, although unclear how this might be done. Interestingly those who were most sceptical about the possibilities of reform, were also reluctant to propose abolition. The  historical association of republicanism with regicide still leaves a bad taste in many British mouths. Protector Cromwell’s democratic reputation has not exactly improved over the past three hundred and fifty years.

The Royal Touch

What struck me in these responses was the constant  refrain that that the ‘establishment’ of which the Royal  Family are still a conspicuous part, were seen to be ‘out of touch’ , not just  with the people, but with their own feelings. The stiff upper lip sense of public duty which the Queen is still seen to embody has come to represent not an ideal , but  a  socially distanced and emotionally remote stance on the part of a privileged elite. In contrast Lady Di, the ‘People’s Princess’,  was  seen  as someone who wore her heart on her sleeve, in a series of interviews  she made no secret of her emotional turmoil . She also  went in for a lot of  hugging , including  patients with AIDS. As a result she was widely seen as having  ‘the common touch’ even if she was a Sloane Ranger .

Of course we are living in a period of touchy-feely identity politics .  Remember  David Cameron when prime minster  urging his fellow Tories  to ‘hug a hoody’ ? No doubt to console  these   young people for the fact that his government’s  policies had ensured that they had no jobs and no  youth centres to hang around in while waiting for one. In fact,  touching  is not a new instrument of the body politic. The royal touch and its supposed healing powers was  an intrinsic part of the monarchy’s equipment  from the middle ages onwards. In the age of   Feudal   absolutism , the laying   on of royal hands was a sign of possessing God’s gift to cure all classes of people  of particular diseases . The practice was thus  a means of claiming and legitimating –  we might even say performing-  a divine right to rule. English monarchs made use of  this device  right up until the  end of the 17th century.

Although the application  of the  royal touch fell into abeyance, the notion that the monarch’s body possessed  special powers continued. This derived from the idea that the monarch had two bodies, a physical body that ages, gets ill and dies like any other human’s and a spiritual body that was immortal and transmitted  its hereditary powers from  generation to generation. This distinction  became the cornerstone of a  political theology of king and queenship whose traces can be found in the more modern distinction between the sacred and profane aspects of the monarchy as an institution. The two are brought together in the bio-political concept of breeding which is central to the aristocratic model of society. Within this frame, as Hilary Mantel has reminded us, the Royals are essentially carriers of a bloodline and  as such a collection of organs.

In the cult of Gloriana , for example , the virgin queen’s body, and especially her vagina , this ‘precious jewel’ as Shakespeare called it , had to be  protected from the laying on of foreign hands, so that the physical integrity of  this ‘earth of majesty ‘ would remain intact along  with the Queen’s  own thaumaturgical power. This fascination with royal genitalia  and  their procreative capacities has remained, albeit more out of prurient curiosity that as an agency of  statecraft. In a documentary made about Prince Harry’ s tour of duty with the British army in Afghanistan, he was asked by a group of young fellow officers what colour his  pubic hair was. Fast forward a decade and he finds himself interrogated by a member of his own family as to the  likely skin colour of his new baby.

Nowadays the  therapeutic laying on of hands is  left to the Clergy, masseurs and  Reichian psycho-analysts, but the aura of the royal presence  continues to exercise a metaphysical power  The continued legitimacy of ‘regality ’   has increasingly  come to depend on maintaining this aura in the secular form of ‘pomp and circumstance’  via  elaborate public ceremonials – for example the trooping of the Colour on the Queen’s birthday. The royal handshake not longer claims any miraculous healing  power, but it does affirm a certain ritual contact between a ‘majestic presence’ and its subjects  which conjures up a  harmonious social order in which each has their appointed place.

One site where the royal touch continues to exercise a quasi mystical power is  through the award of the  Royal warrant to everyday items of household consumption. The magic  words ‘As Supplied to Her Majesty the Queen’ whether applied to tubes of toothpaste, jars of marmalade,  light bulbs, umbrellas, or bars of soap  transforms  these mundane things from being mere fungible commodities into singular  objects invested with a special haptic aura.  Not only can those who purchase tthem  entertain the fantasy that they are handling  the  self-same objects as Her Majesty,  or at least one of her flunkey’s , but the royal seal of approval guarantees ‘quality’ and by association  confers the mark of regal  ‘good taste’or ‘refinement’ on the proud holder. In an episode of the popular TV sit com ‘Keeping up Appearances’(sic)  which satirises the social pretensions of the lower middle class in Thatcher’s property owning democracy,  Hyacinth decides to order a three piece suite . She phones up  the manager of a well known  furniture store and the following conversation ensues:

Now, you remember that I  opted for a very superior suite which you assured me was an exact replica of one at Sandringham House. And you promised delivery today. I’m ringing to ascertain the precise time that you intend to deliver, and will it be in one of your vans with the royal warrant on?…Alll your vans have the royal warrant? That’s good. On both sides? Because if it’s only on the one side I shall want you to park facing town.

Thanks to the royal touch , an archaic form of  sovereignty, embodied in the Monarch,has been imbricated with an entirely modern form of sovereignty embodied in the consumer. That is what ’the firm’ is today  all about. And it is all exceeding good for business .

Invented Traditions

Another possible reason for the continued public support for monarchy is a pervasive  desire for some version of social harmony  that transcends or at least magically suspends  bitter divisions based on structural inequalities .  Even though the  institutional existence of  the Royal Family embodies these very inequalities, its members, and especially the Queen, are still often regarded as somehow being ‘above them’. However given the increasingly disunited state of the ‘United ‘ Kingdom, with the rise of determined  regional nationalisms in Scotland and Wales, and the  imminent advent of a demographic majority in Northern Ireland in favour of unification with the republic  in the South, it is likely that in the foreseeable future the Monarchy’s writ will be confined to what has always been its bastion,, namely England.

Invented Traditions

There is clearly a danger that a monarchy still wrapping itself in the Union Jack  will be adopted as a symbol of a last ditch unionism  or even of a resurgent little Englander nationalism promoted by the populist and xenophobic Right with its dog whistle messages about white supremacy. In principle the Monarch as the titular head of the Commonwealth is officially committed to multiculturalism but given the current move by many of these ex-colonies to secede and embrace republicanism as the final   stage of the  decolonisation process, it is looking more and more unlikely that King Charles III will be able to play this particular card with any conviction.

This issue was dramatised for me by  a 12 year old   boy  from an ex-dockers family and  an Irish background  with whom I worked as part of an anti-racist project in East London schools. He was vociferous in his fear that the   growing presence of BAME communities in this part of London would complete the destruction of its traditional working class culture which started with the closure of the docks.  At one point in the discussion he turned to me and said ‘Come off it, sir, you can’t imagine Britain with a  black queen , can you’? I replied’ Well may be not, but you clearly can!’. We have just witnessed a situation in which the arrival of a Black baby  in the royal family was too much for the  TGP and called forth a wide range of negative reactions directed at its parents, and especially its mother .

If the first Elizabethan age marked the birth pangs of island race-ism and its colonial adventure story, the second has surely seen its death throes. The story of the Royal yacht encapsulates this trajectory. Launched in 1954 as a symbol of Gloriana 2.0 , HMS Britannia was initially used to convey the royal entourage around various outposts of Empire and the re-branded Commonwealth of Nations. But the Royals increasingly flew to their engagements abroad  and the now ageing vessel . Fittingly its last active tour of duty  was to convey the now ex-Governor  away from Hong Kong as it was handed over to the tender mercies of the Chinese Communist Party. This particular ship of state  was finally  decommissioned in 1997. The election that year saw the ship make headline news as it’s future ( as a proxy for that of the monarchy itself ?) became a bone of political contention. The Tories promised to restore the yacht to its former glory or fund a replacement, while New Labour refused to make any such commitment and eventually consigned it to its current role as a floating museum to ta Second Elizabethan Age that never happened.  New Labour subsequently embarked on a failed attempt to resuscitate ‘Britannia’ as a cool digital  platform on which to stage global dominance over waves that no  longer break on any shore, meanwhile keeping as many immigrants as possible from landing on them. A policy which successive Tory led governments have faithfully followed.

More recently the Brexit revival of  the anglo-ilish ‘peculiarity’ has meant that the tainted legacy of Empire  is once again at the epicentre of the culture war . Nevertheless y we have moved on from the kind of  history I was taught at school, whose principles of periodisation were nothing if not regal ; we did the Plantagenets, then the Tudors and Stuarts and European history ended abruptly in 1789 with  Louis  XVI’s head in the guillotine.  Yet we have not entirely abandoned the monarchy as an epochal structure: we still  talk of Regency furniture, Georgian  architecture and poetry, Victorian values , and the Teddy Boys who were working class kids dressed after the fashion of the Edwardian gentleman.

In this context it is perhaps worth remembering that the ‘Windsors’  are flying a flag of convenience. In 1917 during the First World War,  at the height of anti-German feeling  they anglicised  the family name from Battenberg  to Mountbatten,  and  adopted their favourite castle as their patronym in order to lay claim to home- grown patriotic roots, and  to dissociate themselves from their German ancestry.  Perhaps what keeps the British monarchy alive, if not well, is that it is so conspicuously an invented tradition, a historical anachronism which is a reminder of a once- upon- a- time when Britain felt itself Great. Nevertheless  exchanging a rather delicious marzipan cake ( a Battenberg)  for a  greasy brown Windsor soup seems in retrospect like the wrong choice of culinary traditions….

The monarchy may well lose its institutional  raison d’etre in a de-colonial Britain, especially if a devolved country has a new written constitution  even further marginalising its already limited power of social harmonics. But this does not  necessarily  mean that its function  as a  natural symbol of traditional authority will vanish. To understand   why we have to grasp what  Majesty unconsciously represents about the terms and conditions of the Royal Family’s anchorage in the body politic.

A  Right Royal Family Romance

At this point I make no apology for abandoning the royal We and turning the argument  first person singular.  As a child I was told by my mother, an enthusiastic monarchist , that I was named after the Queen’s husband, Prince Philip.  In response my father who was  a staunch republican, informed me that in fact I was named after his father who was a an Russian Jewish  immigrant  and a follower of  the Russian anarchist, Prince Kropotkin. Family arguments, which mostly took place around the dinner table, thus frequently took the form of a replay of Royalists versus Roundheads. I generally took the side of the Roundheads, ganging up with my dad. But in my  secret fantasy life it was a very different  story.

Freud drew our attention to what he called the family romance, in which  children hold on to an idealised version of their parentage by inventing a  fictional genealogy in which  they are  the offspring of some exotic or noble  personage, but have  been abandoned and adopted by these strangers they are upposed to call mum and dad. . Such  foundling fantasies  are to be found in many  narrative forms , from folk tales to popular romantic fiction ,  and may be projected on to  future partners: some day my Prince, or Princess will come and rescue me  from these dreadful people who are making my life a misery by insisting I do  my homework  keep my bedroom tidy, brush my teeth  and go to bed at 8pm.  Such daydreams of exalted origins  are   part of those ‘other scenes ‘  which for  Freud  were ‘the royal road ‘ to unlocking the secrets of the Unconscious.

For my family romance I actually  had a choice between  two Princes as my make believe  ‘onlie begetter’ : the romantic Russian revolutionary  or the  dashing young  Greek naval officer who was the  consort of the  Queen. Inevitably  my choice was dictated by early images of the  ideal child. Having transitioned  from the frilly frocks of early babyhood to the sailor suits of boyhood,  I was given a model sailing boat as a  seventh birthday present.  In the early 1950’s  the regalia of maritime empire were still furnishing the identity props of middle class childhood   So the  choice between Princes was a no brainer. Clearly my real dad was the Duke of Edinburgh ; as his illegitimate son I had been sent to this weird half -Jewish family to be brought up in order to avoid public embarrassment. As Prince Charles’ unofficial half brother  I awaited the call from the Palace to tell me that I had at last been recognised as having royal blood.

Sadly the  call never came, although as a precautionary measure my mother followed in the Queen’s footsteps and invested in a  corgi, thus at a stroke affirming her Welshness and her royalism. Alas for her ambitions and mine, the   dog in question routinely pissed on the carpet, mistaking it for grass, and took against humans, especially visitors. Our brief flirtation with canine royalty  ended when ‘Binky’ sank his  teeth into the calf of a prominent Tory MP who came to tea , much to my father’s delight. My mother subsequently  attributed   the foreclosure of her career as a Tory councillor to the late Binky’s actions, as well as to her son’s in occupying the Queen Mother’s old house at !44 Piccadilly in what became known as the HippyDilly Squat.

Despite the fact that my best friend at school had a father who  was Lord Lieutenant of Sussex and as the Queen’s representative in the county lived in an appropriately  stately home where I sometimes stayed  on holiday,  I eventually grew out of my royal family romance.  Nevertheless through my teenage years  I still had the occasional dream of visiting Buckingham Palace and getting lost in its corridors  in search of  some secret treasure, or,  on hot Summer nights, Brigitte  Bardot. Then in my early twenties I had the opportunity to turn dream into reality.

I  attended a disco organised by the Gay Liberation Front and got chatted up by a burly  guy in his fifties who  had short hair, wore a blue blazer with   knife edge creases in his trousers. I felt  sorry for him as he  looked so  out of place amongst all the long haired willowy hippies   cavorting to the Grateful  Dead . It turned out he was a butler at the Palace  He told me that there were a lot of gay people employed as servants in the Royal household; they were preferred to heterosexuals  on the grounds that they were unlikely to get pregnant and have to take time off work. No ideological commitment to gay liberation then, just good old fashioned heterosexist pragmatics!

‘My’ butler let me know in quite explicit terms that he had a few other servants under him and that the position was always open to new recruits. All too  predictably he  had interpreted my friendly curiosity  as a sexual advance  but as he did not quite live up to my image of Prince Charming  I politely turned his invitation down-attractive though the prospect of getting laid in Buck House was to a budding anarchist.

This experience  did however alert me to the fact  that there is more than one way of being a  Queen. Contemporary gay culture  has entirely democratised the practice of queening around. Anyone who dresses the part can do it.  Coming out no longer means upper class girls learning how to curtsey. In fact the queering of monarchy, it’s promotion as a spectacle  of High Camp , might just possibly be its only saving grace. All that dressing up in gorgeous Ruritanian uniforms and parading about in leather boots with swords flashing, spurs jingling and horse whip in hand, how very BDSM!

There are in fact quite a few opportunities for dressing up fancy  currently on offer. Themed parties for both children and adults regularly feature a cast of Princes and Princesses , as well as popular  characters from   films, TV and sport. You can go as Lady Di or Darth Vader, play at Superman or Godzilla for a night. Prince Harry once notably attended a celeb party dressed as a Nazi – perhaps an oblique tribute to the fact that  one of his forebears, Edward VII , like many members of the British Establishment in the 1930’s,   waved the Union Jack for Hitler.

Between mimesis and masquerade: the trappings of power

The purpose of this cautionary tale is to suggest that  if royalty did not exist we would probably have to invent some version of it.  The aura of  majestic presence is a quasi permanent feature of the contemporary media Spectacle, a chronic counterpoint to that disenchantment of the world which capitalism and its instrumental rationalities has achieved. This  enables  ‘commoners’ to  practice a form of royal baptismal naming  in claiming  entitlement to public recognition for their star quality. Cue Duke Ellington, Earl Hines, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, those   Queens of Swing and the Blues, not to mention the singer formerly  known as Prince (aka Rogers Nelson) . Here at least  the social imaginaries of celeb and monarchical culture go hand in glove.

More  significantly,  the association of regality with the capacity to regale others with richly entertaining stories about one’s accomplishments  speaks to a pervasive   desire to give a local habitation and a name to  yearnings for some other possible world than the mundane one we actually inhabit.  This  imaginative  world is  already heavily populated with characters from the fairy stories we grow up with , it is full of  frogs turning into Princes at the first kiss, Princesses  meeting Paupers in rags to riches romances,  so many occasions in which a fixed quasi-Feudal social  order is magically  turned upside down and people temporarily trade places.

These make believe stories address  an  existential predicament intrinsic to our contemporary culture of competitive individualism; we are daily told we are the authors – and heroes -of our own life stories, and encouraged to become whatever we want to be, while at the same time  our actual lives  grow ever more uncertain and circumscribed  The result is to institutionalise  what Freud called the ‘narcissism of minor difference’.  From an early age we learn to big ourselves up by belittling the peers of whatever realm we happen to inhabit.  We first learn the tricks of this trade in the playground: ‘I am the King (or Queen) of the Castle, You’re a dirty wee rascal’. The same script is enacted in the factional struggles for power within our political class.

Under these conditions , the quest for some – any-form of transcendental identity can  become overwhelming. There are no shortage of fame academies, both official and unofficial, to fan the flames of personal ambition. Do -it-yourself  Royalty simply provides the vocabulary and syntax for these aspirations to become articulate. These narratives  are structured like day dreams but they are perhaps best cast in the form of an ongoing soap opera. One reason we have become so immersed in the  Harry and Meghan story is that each episode ends with the promise ‘to be continued ‘ and whatever our views on the monarchy we want to remain in touch with the story line  to find out what happens next..

The modern monarchy- that still fashionable oxymoron-  exists in a strange limbo between mimesis and masquerade. It projects itself as a model of democratic values whilst its very conditions of existence are their living negation. Its dynastic placeholders   are supposed to embody an ideal version of modern family values but  their actual family relations are as dysfunctional as they are patriarchal. So they are forced to pretend to be something they are not while  their ‘subjects’ are supposed to pretend that they are taken in by the performance of regality and in turn perform rituals of  deference in which they no longer believe.  This unwritten contract  is thus  a kind of folie a deux which we re-enact every time we sing the national anthem  imploring a God we do not believe it to save a Queen we no longer wish to rule over us in any substantive sense.   If we were not so busy dressing up in the cast -off garb of  majesty,  to conceal what we have been told are our mundane ( and hence despised) realities,  we would indeed be able to see and to say that the King or Queen has no clothes other than those with which we invest them.   But the magic of  mimesis is that it so easily slides into masquerade, simulation into dissimulation: the self made traps  created by the trappings of power.

This was brought home to me while I was watching  Harry and Meghan in conversation with Oprah Winfrey, who it turned out is  now a close neighbour in Santa Barbara . Ostensibly a conversation between billionaires about  the personal impact of  emotional poverty and family abuse , we were in fact witnessing  a carefully orchestrated transition from  majesty into commoner.  For a start Harry no longer  spoke the Queen’s English. Gone was the strangulated vowels and clipped consonants, that peculiar  mixture of languid drawl and baying which we associate with the entitled voice of the English upper class. In its place there was a transatlantic version of Estuary, no doubt heavily influenced by Meghan. We were being treated to  the spectacle of a nice young suburban couple  talking openly about a nightmare they had lived through and just about survived.  Mr and Mrs Everyone, except, of course , for the  apparatus of wealth and celebrity just  out of shot which made the whole thing possible and to which the accolade of appearing on the Oprah show to hold court in front of millions  only added further kudos.

A similar sense of unreality attended the media spectacle arranged around the death of the Duke of Edinburgh. Although his demise was widely anticipated, the ramping up of public attention was achieved by  carefully orchestrated  expressions of praise and condolence by public figures across the political spectrum, all of them carefully choosing their words  to avoid giving a hostage to fortune .A spontaneous outpouring of public affection and grief  it was not. So we got a portrait of a faithful spouse and devoted family man, a swashbuckling  sailor,  a pioneer of environmentalism, and a champion of youth. His passion for polo, horse riding, grouse shooting , and well bred ‘fillies’, provided an exotic aura of aristocratic eccentricity  as did   his famous dislike of people with slitty eyes.

When  a living anachronism dies, securing  a posthumous reputation requires special measures, over and above the pomp and circumstance of the funeral, which in any case has had to be scaled back due to Covid . So, for the purposes of his legacy,  Prince Philip has been re-invented  as a man of our time, a moderniser, even a ‘man for all seasons’ . However, given that  so much of his  life was dedicated  to the close observance of  royal protocol, and to the externalities which govern the role of the monarch’s consort, he is closer to the figure portrayed in Robert Musil’s novel ‘The Man Without Qualities’,  whose hero appears at first to be engaged in an epic  renunciation of personal ambitions, but only, we discover, as a strategy for pursuing  them by other, more indirect means.

So, yes, maybe some day my Prince -or Princess -will come again if I stay tuned to the right wavelength on social media.  In the meantime,though, for those, like me, who are more sanguine about the prospects for living happily ever after with or without a national anthem, we always have the alternative of watching  the Royle family saga unfold in endless  TV repeats. Like  Jim, Barb, Denise and Anthony we are immobilised in  front  of our screens, turning slowly into couch potatoes while the world seems to pass us by.

Yet hold on a moment, this is not quite  the  end of the story. Unlike the Royles,  we can still  dream of escape to  a Point Nemo of our own choosing . Here at last,  miraculously,  we may find all our favourite people and activities assembled in one  place, within touching distance ,  no need to Zoom.   A starting point perhaps for  building forward  to a  better, more majestically mundane post pandemic world .  ( To Be Continued)

Further Reading

Marc Bloch  The Royal Touch Routledge 1973

Leo Braudy  The Frenzy of Renown :Fame and its history Yale 1997

Phil Cohen  ‘The Perversions of Inheritance’ in H Bains and P Cohen (eds) Multi-racist Britain  Macmillan 2004

Ernst Kantorowicz The King’s Two Bodies Princeton 1957

Hilary Mantel et al Royal Bodies   London Review of Books 2018

Tom Nairn The Enchanted Glass:Britain and its Monarchy  Verso 2011