Well, thank God that’s all over: the longest Bank Holiday of my life. The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee turned out to be a good weekend for publicans, but much less so for republicans. At times during the dampened pageantry, feudal circumstance and flag-waving fever I genuinely felt quite alone. Out of step. Locked out of the love-in. It was an odd feeling. I had no interest in last year’s Royal Wedding, but it only lasted a day and was easily avoided. This loop of God Save The Queen and hip-hip-hoorays ran from Saturday to Tuesday, each day festooned with itinerary highlights and spectacles to ring round in the commemorative Radio Times. Street parties, flypasts, parades, concerts, bonfires, unpaid stewards, rosy-cheeked children, face-painted adults, those plastic Union Jack hats with elastic under the chin, Union Jack bunting unfurled, Union Jack cava uncorked … I saw a woman walking down our street with two flags attached to either side of her head, as if she was a car during the World Cup. I wished the neighbours good weather for their street jamboree – kitchen tables in the road, official roadblock, cars cleared – although I’m afraid they didn’t get it.
I don’t seek outsider status. I never felt that much like a rebel, or an outcast, growing up. Even when I had uncompromising hair in the mid-80s. Voting for Neil Kinnock in 1987 and 1992 felt nominally out of sync with the consensus – an act of rebellion in its own, NME-sponsored way. My views on certain issues have become rather entrenched and extreme in the past ten years, I admit, but we won’t go there. Politically, I was disenfranchised by New Labour and the Iraq war and it felt at the time like a pretty permanent situation. I had no idea just how repulsive a subsequent Tory government might be. But I’m hardly alone in this assessment. If the Spectator is going after Cameron and Osborne, it’s hardly storming the barricades to decry them as remote, self-serving, silver-spoon-fed buffoons.
But the Jubilee? I have been seriously overwhelmed by the apparently universal waves of approbation for the Queen. It’s as if the nation has been drugged and somehow I find myself mysteriously immune. A million people, “subjects”, subjecting themselves to the humiliation and inconvenience of attending a public event in London at a time of heightened security and threatened rain, with no guarantee that they’ll actually see the Queen? I did my level best to avoid the TV coverage, but saw the worst of it on Channel 4 News, which maintained a certain distance, but nonetheless covered all aspects of the festivities. It would be idiotic to deny that hundreds of thousands of people – and not all of them with the commonsense waiver of tourism – had a fantastic time at the boat thing and the pop concert and the Waitrose garden party and what looked a protest march up the Mall but was actually an act of self-kettlement and had no complaint. All those people walking up a pedestrianised road to watch the Royal Family on a balcony on large video screens, erected by the Greater London Assembly and thus paid for by the cash-strapped citizens of the most expensive city in Britain. I did as London Transport advised me to and avoided Central London for four days.
What got into people? I don’t mean to mock or to undermine, I merely ask the question. It’s clear that any shade of republicanism at a time of public holiday and extra drinking is unwelcome. I typed a few incendiary Tweets, but I did not take to the streets to wave a placard. I sincerely believe, as previously stated, that the Royal Family should be privatised for tourism, and that the 86-year-old Queen and the 91-year-old Duke should be allowed a peaceful retirement. Their eldest son, too. By all means call William a “King” but strip him of all constitutional powers (I heard someone on the news last night reminding us that the monarch has important political duties, to open Parliament and to choose Prime Ministers, but this is bollocks, she doesn’t, and shouldn’t anyway, have any democratic leverage) and let him generate tourist money for a PLC. If we replaced the Queen with an elected head of state, one who was re-elected every four or five years, I could live with that. This person might not be able to command a nation to wave OK!-sponsored flags and shout “Long live the Queen” from behind crash barriers to the news cameras, but it would stop this country looking like a museum exhibit. Even in the edited highlights, I grew weary of seeing grown men and women, but mostly men of course, dressed in garters and braid and wearing impractical headgear. Dressing up is fun, but these costumes smack of the Tudors, and The Tudors is a period drama on telly. How embarrassing that people still look like this on state occasions. I am a great fan of the state, but not on days like this.
Which brings me to my final moan. I am not a spoilsport. Ordinary people deserve a day off now and again. This is not about how much money it cost – although you can expect the pre-Jubilee estimates to spiral upwards as the true charges come in – but the simple equation at the heart of it: we, the people, saying “Thanks!” to a woman who had no choice but to take the job in 1952, for not jacking it in, or dying, in the meantime. At least other celebrities who have us gathered in large numbers, cheering and spending our money, give us a bit of themselves. We do not, and cannot, know this woman, or her family. She is, by definition and design, remote. Perhaps she should have our sympathy as well as our respect and admiration. Though her daily life is not enviable, she is considerably richer than even some of David Cameron’s old schoolmates. She likes horses and dogs, we know this much, but spends most of her life waving, travelling and dressing up, and not with her horses and dogs. It’s a waste of a life. And now her husband has caught an infection, which must have royally ruined her weekend, and all because he was made to stand in the rain and cold for four hours on a Saturday while some boats went past.
Meanwhile, the killing joke, unpaid “subjects” from Plymouth, Bath and Bristol who had slept under a bridge and had to change into their steward’s uniforms in the street, worse high-viz jackets so as to stop other “subjects” moving freely about public streets. Good on John Prescott for demanding an investigation in the company that hired them.
When I was an NME-reading idealist, I would have assumed that the musicians I admired would no more play for the Queen than to play Sun City. But on Sunday night, nearly all of them did, or so it seemed. Statues, in my utopian vision, were to be kicked over. Serfdom was a thing of the past. I was knocked back on Twitter for expressing my dismay that Madness would lend their talent and reputation to such an event as the Diamond Jubilee Concert, but I can’t help it. I’ve just always had them down as occupiers of the left field rather than the establishment. What I have discovered is that the battle lines have been moved. It’s now fine to support the monarchy (and by extension our attachment to the long-gone Empire and all its ceremonial trappings and honours), but still be a bit left wing. I mean, we expect those who’ve accepted a knighthood – Cliff, Elton, Macca, Tom – to bow and scrape before the monarch who tapped them on the shoulder with a sword (does she actually do that?), and even excuse the likes of Robbie and Gary, who must be angling for similar royal appointment in the future, but where do Madness fit in? Sir Suggs? Sir Woody? Sir Chas? What about Ed Sheeran? Is he, too, a royalist? (He’s 21, so perhaps he has yet to formulate any political opinions?) As for the comedians, of whom I definitely ask too much, I guess they’re in the noble tradition of Billy Connolly, Spike Milligan and Ben Elton in cosying up to the Royals, and that doing the Jubilee Concert is no worse than doing the Royal Variety Show. But I expect my satirists to stay outside the tent so that they can urinate in, and find the acceptance of orders of the British Empire antagonistic to this important position. Should I stop worrying about all this?
At one end of the scale there’s Melanie Philips in the Mail – a paper whose post-flotilla coverage even outstripped the Telegraph‘s 17 unbroken pages – claiming a tear in the eye and a lump in the throat at the flag-waving multitude on the banks of the Thames; at the other end there’s Owen Jones, a young man prepared to nail his colours to the mast and declare himself a republican on telly. I’m at the Jones end of the spectrum, but it’s lonely out here.