There are some discussions around the royals I can get properly stuck into – Meghan and Harry of course, or Andrew and the other ones with issues that make my flesh crawl. Although the calendars for the public featuring their children – “free with every copy of the Mail while stocks last!” – can we pause for a moment and mention the creepiness of that? Thank you. I’m glad we agree.
But when the discussion turns to calls for a UK republic with people saying we should abolish the monarchy altogether, then I whistle nonchalantly to myself and quietly shuffle off.
Some people are surprised that I’m not an anti-monarchist. Some might read this and think: “You’re building up your part love, no one cares if you’re a royalist or not. We don’t care about any of your opinions. Who do you think you are? Laurence bleeding Fox?” Point taken.
But given so many of my other sensibilities reveal me to be the most gigantic woke, lefty snowflake of all time, you’d be forgiven for thinking I was militantly against a hereditary head of state. But what can I say? I’m only human.
I love the pomp and ceremony, I love the stuffiness, the weird way they are not allowed to show any emotions. I love the hats, the palaces and the fact that everything they do, everything that happens in that family will become part of the canon of British history.
In 400 years time there will be school pupils, about to hover into an exam (we’ll be electric hover-boarding by then, I’m sure of it), fretting because they can’t remember Meghan Markle’s father’s name and they might have to answer a question like: “Discuss the events of 2020 when Britain, led by celebrated moralist Piers Morgan, entirely took leave of its senses, making the immigration of minor royals the biggest talking point since fictional character JR was shot.”
(If you’re reading this in 400 years time, I’m not telling you who JR is. You should have revised better.)
Don’t get me wrong: there’s plenty that’s awful about them (Andrew), they should definitely be paid less, and the Order of the British Empire is odd and outdated given what Britain did to people in order to get an Empire in the first place. Yet, all of that said, I still like the crowns, I like the Queen, and I think Diana raised her boys right, so I like them too.
Perhaps it’s because I’m not originally from this country that I have more affection for them. If you’re born here, you can have your British passport, no question. I, however, had to go and pay a solicitor and pledge an oath to the Queen. That whole ritual underlined the fact that I was an outsider; perhaps there will always be a part of me that’s a tourist when it comes to the royal family. Maybe I’d have been ambivalent about the Queen had I been born here.
When I was 14 and still only had a blue refugee travel document, I went to stay with a family friend in Nice. I was beside myself with excitement, I was to stay with a very cool younger friend of my parents and she was going to look after me and that holiday in France was to be my first step into independence. I wore bright pink ski-pants for the journey, fizzed with excitement on the plane as I looked down at the French riviera from high in the sky.
I stood in the queue at immigration. Everyone around me had smart UK passports, I clutched my travel document. The official took one look at my shabby, stateless booklet and I was whisked away by the French authorities, taken to be interviewed by the police. I had no idea what was going on.
I hadn’t yet passed my French GCSE. I sat on a chair while police surrounded me, utterly bewildered until finally I was put, hiccoughing with sobs, on the very plane I had landed on and sent back to England. When I arrived back at Heathrow, having cried the whole way home, I retrieved my suitcase which now had a huge “REFUGEE” sticker placed on it.
This utterly humiliating experience, being booted out of France wearing pink ski-pants at 14 years old, was the very thing that made me pledge my oath to “the Queen and her heirs” without a shred of cynicism. I was like: “Seriously Liz, whatever you want, I’ll do it. Just gimme the passport. Don’t let me go through that again.”
Now, I know the class system sucks, and I believe sending your kids to boarding school when they still believe in Santa to be abuse – but dammit, I love the part in my passport that says: “Her Britannic Majesty’s Secretary of State requests and requires in the name of her Majesty ... to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance, and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary.”
If you have never read that part, it’s because you have never needed to. I envy this privilege. It means you have never felt vulnerable and unprotected by your state. For people like me, refugees, those words mean everything.
They are an acknowledgement that you belong – that the Queen will kick ass (metaphorically) if you are 14, wearing bright pink and being shouted at in a police station in a language you don’t understand.