As astute King Edward VI student Alan Everett wrote in Youth View in February, most young Brits are a smidgen anti-royalist, questioning how our queen has hung on to her job when most European noble families have gradually lost their privileges or their heads (or both) since the French Revolution made regicide trendy.
True. As a government, our monarchy is strictly for show. But in other ways, it’s a goldmine. My brush with royalty came when I was invited to a garden party hosted by Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.
After accepting the fancy invite, I had to consent to the traditional etiquette surrounding hob-knobbing with sovereigns. For instance, one must never speak unless spoken to; men must bow and women curtsey if the queen approaches; and never use a flash if the queen consents to having her photo taken.
Such fuss over meeting an elderly woman, even if she is the senior member of the royal family! As an American, I’m ‘anti-royalist’ like young Alan and his generation. Indignantly, I tossed the instructions aside never looking at them again.
However, on the big day there in the stately assembly room of London’s Commonwealth Institute, I found myself eager for a glimpse of the queen.
Standing amid a sea of dazzling Ascot hats and balding heads, I munched a cucumber sandwich, jaw-jawing with a fellow American parked next to me. Certain I wasn’t actually going to meet the queen, I consoled myself that I could at least frame my invitation to the royal knees up and show my friends.
Just as I stuffed another sarnie, four guards with clinking swords at their sides approached me and my new pal. ‘Gentlemen, prepare to meet Her Royal Highness, Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.’
Suddenly my dry places got wet and my wet places got dry.
What were those instructions again? Never bow unless taking a picture? Curtsey if the queen speaks? Too late. I was face to face with a sovereign. I fought off a crazy urge to prostrate myself at her feet, managing a short bow from the waist instead.
Shyly I peeped at Elizabeth while she chatted amiably with my companion. Although she was in her 80s at the time, she seemed full of youth. Having no camera, I froze the moment in my mind. Her gown was a soft shade somewhere between green and violet. She wore a jade satin sash, and on her head perched a hat the size of a minor basilica. On an American it would look utterly ridiculous; on her it was magnificent.
Extending her gloveless hand, the queen mother turned her china-blue eyes on me and beamed, asking my name and where I was from, making me feel as if she was the one meeting a dignitary.
I squawked my reply, praying I didn’t have cucumber stuck in my teeth.
After more pleasantries, someone asked if he may take a photograph. The queen mother never batted an eye at the flash, then moved on to meet her other guests, leaving me thinking, ‘Gee, the Old Girl’s okay after all.’
While reading Alan’s column last month, I couldn’t help thinking if most youngsters ever met a member of the royal family in person, appreciating their famous low-key character, especially the charming way they put people at ease – dukes, presidents, even an anti-royalist Yank like me – perhaps they’d change their minds about the queen.
My attitude toward our crowned heads remains ambivalent at best, but I must admit that my feeling for one particular royal has been seasoned by the delicacy of cucumber sandwiches and the warmth of a monarch’s smile.