This weekend is the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. The British monarch is marking her 60th year on the throne and London is decked out in the red, white and blue of the Union Jack There are 10,000 street parties happening nationwide, possibly in the rain. And the domestic media, most notably the gushing BBC – relentlessly regales the public with stories about the preparations.
The Queen has already had her celebratory luncheon of English asparagus and a poached egg, to which she invited fellow monarchs including Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain and Africa’s last absolute monarch, King Mswati III of Swaziland.
And now she’s preparing to board the royal barge – with all its red awnings and gold, Rococo splendour – and launch it down the Thames with a triumphant flotilla of boats. All this will be followed by a banquet.
This line-up sounds like something out of the 18th century. In fact, it could be medieval. Not much as changed here, except in times of yore the invited despots at the luncheon would probably arrive on horse-back rather than Learjet.
Which is why I can’t help wonder what it would be like if the British royals weren’t so attached to their gold, baroque trinkets and down-right atavistic ways.
What would happen if they loosened up, scaled down and jumped on the bus every now and then? Or even grabbed a bike and popped down to the shop for a pint of milk like the Scandinavian Royals? What if they thought, no, let’s not invite the despots to lunch and just have some nibbles and nice champagne.
I’m not calling for a complete utilitarian overhaul – although I’ve always thought that Buckingham Palace would make such a great old people’s home – but just a hypothetical rethink; why does Royal celebration still equal gold regalia and red velvet brocade? Why do Britons only feel capable of expressing patriotism in the form nostalgic 1940s catch-phrases and bejewelled clobber? Can’t we add a dash of breezy modernity in line with the 21st-century-ethos?
Because, let’s face it, even the young Royals who could so easily shake it all up a little look like they are continuously posing for an image on a biscuit tin lid.
We’re told the British public loves pageant, pomp and ceremony. That they are willing to eat sandwiches in the rain to see a glimpse of gilt.
It’s not just because I am a fan of clean lines and modernist functionalism. I feel the royal aesthetic costs a bomb and reduces the populace to atavistic serfs.
As it stands, to me the pageant is really a celebration of the nascent inequality that lingers in British society. A place where the prime minister, the chancellor, the mayor of London and the royal princes all come from the same school just a stone’s throw from the Queen’s main residence in Windsor Castle.
I’d like to see the British put their energy and zeal into a contemporary national day, a modern Bastille-style jamboree celebrating Britishness now. Britons need to know what their state means, it isn’t a waving lady in a crown, it is something much more profound and they should set about thinking what that is and how they can express it.