Why I won’t be watching the royal funeral
More often than not it’s been to my detriment that I happen to have been born with a personality that naively tends to question everything. Rather like that little boy in the Hans Christian Anderson story who refuses to deny the evidence of his own eyes, I tend to blurt things out without thinking if they don’t make sense to me.
I got myself into trouble in junior school, for example, when one morning in school assembly I refused to close my eyes and say the Lord’s Prayer. This was not through obstinacy or childish petulance or a desire to make any kind of stand. Young as I was I had recently begun questioning the existence of God. It had occurred to me that I had yet to see any concrete evidence that such an entity existed. In my innocence, it seemed a little unnecessary and pointless to be saying thank-you to someone or something that was not real.
Prior to this epiphany, like everyone else at my school I had been swept along with the ceremony that accompanied religion. Upon instruction I had dutifully placed my hands together and closed my eyes and prayed to this mighty invisible deity whom everyone seemed completely convinced was a real actual thing. Despite the fact that nobody had ever seen him.
Similarly, I would regularly press my hands together and whisper thanks for the meal that I was just about to eat – even though I was pretty sure that God had made no contribution to the preparation of the food in question. It was usually my mum or my grandma or the man in the chip shop or one of those frightening looking school dinner ladies who cheerlessly served up dribbles of slop and square pieces of pie filled with some kind of meat. If you’re going to be thanking anybody for what you’re about to receive surely it made more sense to be thanking these people?
My punishment for that morning’s premature existential crisis was to be swiftly hauled out of the school assembly hall by a tutting Deputy Head and locked alone in an office with the threat of the cane hanging over me. I was probably about nine years old and the injustice of my predicament did not escape me. In very clear terms I as being told that it was wrong to question. That it was a crime to reach a logical conclusion based on the evidence of one’s own eyes. That there apparently existed certain things which one was forced to believe in no matter how illogical they might appear. Furthermore, any refusal to toe the party line was not to be met with intellectual discourse and debate but with violence.
In other words, believe in the existence of some sort of great invisible deity who happened to be very old, white and male; who was everywhere at the same time; who created and destroyed everything in the entire universe; who governed every decision, large or small, that we made throughout every single day of our lives; who provided us with every meal that we ever ate without ever once making an appearance in the kitchen; who killed innocent children for no reason whatsoever; who made the flowers bloom and the bees sting; who gave you cancer; who caused thunder and lightning and plague and pestilence and war and peace. Believe in an entity that did everything at all times for all people, all animals, every insect that ever crawled in the dirt. Believe that this creature exists or the Headmaster – not God this time, mind you, but the Headmaster – is going to pull down your pants and whack you on the bare bottom with a piece of wooden cane that has been manufactured for the sole purpose of torturing children.
Believe that the emperor who stands before you completely naked with his tiny little cock swinging in the breeze is actually fully dressed in a suit of the finest ermine or we will beat that belief into you. Amen. Praise the Lord.
Fast forward twenty-odd years and that little boy is now a grown man working as a boxing writer and sitting under dazzling ringside lights at the Royal Albert Hall. He is there to report on a world title fight. And just as it was all those years ago there is the sound of tutting in the air. This is because the National Anthem is currently being played and I am refusing to leave my seat.
I’ve been fairly quiet in the days since Queen Elizabeth II died and the country has become gripped by some sort of mass monarchy mourning madness. A period in which every other problem in the world, be it major, minor or catastrophic seems to have been relegated to the foot of the National League while our late monarch sits thirty points clear at the the top of the Premiership. When every second of every minute of every hour broadcast on our mainstream television stations is devoted exclusively to the Queen, the Queen’s family, people who have met the Queen, people who have never met the Queen and people who are willing to queue for 24-hours in order to walk past a box containing the lifeless body of the Queen.
On just two occasions I have bitten the bullet and Tweeted an Angry From Tunbridge Wells type of rant that has earned me a handful of likes and comments. Even so, I’ve tried to be careful. Grief, it goes without saying, is a powerful thing. Most of us have experienced personal grief and it is something that cannot be taken lightly. But on this occasion personal grief seems to have been transmuted into a form of mass public mourning that we have probably not experienced since the death of Diana Spencer some 30 years ago, as it happens another member of the royal family.
But what are we grieving for? Who are we grieving for? While it is true that the late Queen certainly managed to put herself about a bit during her well-travelled 70-year reign, it’s probably safe to say that most people in this country never got closer than 100 yards or so to the royal presence. Moreover, even if they did somehow manage to get within touching distance of the old lady they were lucky if they got so much as a handshake. And yet from the reactions that we are witnessing in the media it is almost as if thousands and thousands of people have lost an actual member of their family. As phenomenons go, this is certainly a puzzling one.
For my part I’ve never met the Queen. I caught a glimpse of Prince Edward and his minder in Soho one evening in the nineties but that’s as close as I’ve ever gotten to sharing oxygen with a member of the Royal Family. I’ve walked past Buckingham Palace on more than a few occasions but never taken a look inside. And although I lived in London for over 30 years I was never once tempted to take my place in the crowd and watch the Changing Of The Guard or any other ceremony which might involve an appearance by our monarch. It never occurred to me to do so. I was always doing something else.
Naturally, I am not unaware of the Queen’s presence in my life. Like everyone, before the advent of contactless I carried pictures of her in my pocket for years and years. Not to mention disks made of copper or silver alloy or aluminium engraved with her likeness. Furthermore, I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve licked the back of her head. Although these days it has to be said that she comes in sticker form, which is more practical but somehow not as satisfying.
Yet even though in the course of my life I’ve probably owned or handled more pictures of this woman than those of my own mother I’ve never been interested in watching her say something to me on the television on Christmas Day. Moreover, I’ve never tuned into any of her special, custom televised speeches that have been commissioned in times of need. Although I did accidentally catch the edited highlights on the News of the ‘annus horribilis’ speech in 1992 after the aforementioned Diana died in a car crash. And in the week since the Queen’s sudden death I’ve also heard recordings of her saying ‘we’ll meet again’ on the TV about 4,000 times. This, we are told in reverential tones by sombre faced TV presenters and studio guests, ‘helped the country get through the pandemic’. Surely Vera Lynn and the Pfizer corporation might have something to say about this? For myself, however, I can only reiterate that I haven’t met her and as such there’s certainly no chance that I’m going to meet her again.
So why haven’t I met her? And why haven’t I wanted to meet her? And why does it set my teeth on edge when I think of her, and her children – he with the angry pen face. And the other one – the one who recently paid £millions to stop an American woman from going on about how he fucked her at a party hosted by a convicted paedophile while she was underage and didn’t really want him to fuck her. Or the youngest, a filmmaker or something, isn’t he? Or the daughter, the one who rides horses. Why does it bother me that members of the public are compelled to bow and curtsy or take the knee in the presence of this plummy-voiced version of the Sopranos?
Don’t get me wrong. I am not unaffected by her death. It is undeniably sad when anybody dies. And it doesn’t matter how rich or posh or privileged you are it hurts to lose a loved one. Grief is real and is not to be mocked. It is not, therefore, my intention to add to another’s grief, be it friend or foe. When one suffers a loss everybody should be allowed to cry it out. Never forget, for example, that some people cried when Adolf Hitler shot himself and his new bride in that Berlin bunker after, one assumes, spectacularly unsuccessful nuptials back in 1945.
(Confession: when the Queen’s death was announced on that damp Friday afternoon for a few moments I found myself welling up. This was because I had previously placed a substantial bet with Ladbrokes that she would live to be 100. (That last sentence is not true. I didn’t do that. It was a tasteless joke thrown in for the purpose of bathos. In truth, I literally have no idea at all why I was on the verge of tears. Discovering the reason for this is, perhaps, partly my purpose for writing this article.))
Although I am not unaffected by her death I am most assuredly affected by her life, as are we all. I am equally affected by the lives of her progeny and the lives of her ancestors. What those lives are and what they represent to what we do and what we achieve in our own lives is important to every single one of us.
Let me try to clarify this by telling you what the Royal Family is not: in common with that God entity thing I was talking about earlier these people are not supernatural. They might tell you that their blood is blue but it is just as red as the blood that flows through your own veins. They are not godly. They are not divine. They cannot walk on water or perform miracles. Their accents may be so posh that they have actually claimed our language as their own (the ‘Queen’s English’ or ‘King’s English’ as I guess it is now known.) but they still have to sit on the toilet and take a shit. And sometimes that shit is runny and probably smells really, really bad with some of the things they have to eat while on tour in some of the less enlightened parts of the Commonwealth. They piss. They fart. They puke. At one point or another most of them have probably left skiddies in their underpants. And I’m sure that they masturbate. They must do. Although perhaps they have someone to do that for them. (“If I might be so bold, your Highness, I believe it’s time for your evening wank…”)
In other words, they’re a fairly unremarkable example of where the Homo Sapien species stands in 2022 after approximately 300,000 years of evolution. Admittedly, their average height is taller than a lot of their contemporaries, on account of generations of hearty banqueting. This advantage, however, is offset by the fact that they’ve all got the baldness gene, perhaps, after all, the proof I had been looking for that there is a God. You can cover them in as much gold and jewels and fur as you like but underneath they are all just like Andersen’s emperor: a little flabby, a little pale, stretch marks, a few liver spots here and there. Quite ordinary really.
Which brings us to what the Royal Family is: Let’s begin by addressing the elephant in the room. Money. Loot. The Royal family is, of course, very rich. Very, very rich indeed. Let’s not dwell on individuals (although King Charles’ net worth apparently stands just short of £600 million – and he’s never even been in a boy band or kicked a football in anger) but it is estimated that the royal family currently holds some £24billion in assets. That’s a lot of assets. Assets mainly in the form of property and treasure. They even own the ground that we walk on. Freeholders be warned – you don’t really own the land that you purchased; in reality your land is sitting on top of land that is owned by the royal family. So now you know how us leaseholders feel.
And where did all these billions come from? While it is undoubtedly true that a decent chunk of that £24billion has been accrued as a result of legitimate business dealings conducted over the last century or so there is no getting away from the fact that most of it has been stolen. We’re talking here about more than 1,000 years of robbing and stealing and pillaging on an industrial scale. Stealing from other countries. Stealing from other countries whose version of God didn’t quite tally with whoever was on the throne at the time. Stealing from their own countrymen. Stealing from God. (Short of cash at the moment? Need a new wife? Why not invent a whole new sub-genre of Christianity? You can call it The Church Of England. That way you get to loot all the monasteries – you can keep all the gold and the property for yourself. Henry VIII: ‘Splendid idea. But now forsooth I believe it is time for my evening wank my liege…’)
History tells us in no uncertain terms that the royal family is a dynasty built upon a bedrock of misery, of torture, of pain, of exploitation, of blood and unprecedented brutality. Detractors’ intestines cut from their stomachs and their limbs pulled apart by horses. Public burnings. Beheadings. People boiled alive in the royal court as the king casually looked on. If Netflix ever decided to film an accurate version of The Royals the level of violence would render it unwatchable.
But stop. You can’t blame The Queen for all of this. We’re talking about her ancestors. Different times. Different people. The Queen, her subjects will rightly tell you, was never anything but nice and kind and cuddly. She loved to laugh. She had a sarcastic side. She was dutiful. She liked dogs and horses. Why, she once let Michelle Obama touch her. She pledged her life to her people. You can’t blame Charles either. He talks to plants. He cares about the environment. He believes in reincarnation and hopes to return as a Tampon. (Woe betide you, however, if you don’t move that pen in time.)
No doubt all of this is true but it doesn’t stop my nervous tick whenever I see a line of people standing to attention waiting to meet a member of the royal family. Because this one act of subservience means so little but so much. For just like the little boy who all those years ago refused to recite The Lord’s Prayer in assembly I find myself asking questions which need to be answered.
Why are you bowing to that person in the jewels? What has that individual achieved in life that they should demand such respect from you? Why do you feel the need to kowtow to this person? If you were to somehow find yourself alone on a desert island with this person what could he/she bring to the table that you could not?
Scrape beneath the surface and there is really only one answer to all of those questions. And it’s an answer which both defines and condemns the society in which we live: Position.
We bow and we kneel and we curtsy because they are up there and we are down here. That is the simple truth. As an institution the royal family is the ultimate embodiment of cultural nepotism. Or as it is otherwise known, the class system. A system which has evolved over time to ensure that the powerful remain powerful and the weak remain weak. And it’s a system that’s working very well, thank you very much ma’am. It’s a system that is potent enough to induce the kind of mass hypnosis that we are currently witnessing. In which a whole population is looking at the monarchy and seeing what the establishment wants it to see. It is the mirror opposite of a meritocracy. And if our society is not a meritocracy how can we ever hope for it to progress?
So I am still that little boy waiting for the cane. But I maintain that I have nothing personal against any member of the royal family. I don’t know that much about them to be honest and cannot see myself ever being interested in what they have for their dinner or how many grouse they have shot that afternoon. Proponents of the monarchy will argue, of course, that the royal family easily earn its keep in revenue generated by attracting tourists, etc. That it holds the country together. That it helps a lot of underprivileged kids. Arguments such as these are regularly trotted out on demand. But I don’t see France exactly being ignored by tourists. Or other countries falling to pieces for lack of a billionaire figurehead. Similarly, there are still plenty of underprivileged kids to be found in the streets in every corner of the UK.
As this rambling monologue reaches its conclusion I once more stress that this is not a personal attack on any member of the royal family. After all, we are reminded, it’s not as if any of them applied for the job that they find themselves doing. They are born into the establishment and perpetuate it, just as by permitting its continued existence we ourselves perpetuate it. Nothing short of revolution is ever going to put a stop to this patently unjust system.
And for that to happen it’s going to take more than one little boy waving his finger at the emperor’s naked bellybutton. It’s going to take a whole population of people who cried because they thought that Queen Elizabeth II was actually a member of their own family to dry their tears and start polishing their spectacles. More importantly, the emperor himself is going to have to take a long hard look in the mirror and realise that the time for returning those things that were stolen from others is long overdue.