The sparkle's all there
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The sparkle's all there

There's a telling, if apocryphal, story about former King Farouk of Egypt. Karan Thapar writes.

columns Updated: Jun 09, 2012 21:44 IST
Karan Thapar,England,Queen Elizabeth

There's a telling, if apocryphal, story about former King Farouk of Egypt. When he was deposed in 1952, he's alleged to have prophetically said: "One day there will be just five Kings left in the world. The King of Hearts, the King of Spades, the King of Diamonds, the King of Clubs and the King of England."

Now, no doubt the emperor of Japan and an assortment of Scandinavian monarchies will wonder why their end was so blithely anticipated - and who could have predicted the restoration of the Borbon-y-Borbons in Spain? - but Farouk's real point is indisputable. The British monarchy is not just special, the whole world readily accepts this.

That, surely, is the point Queen Elizabeth's Diamond Jubilee celebration proves. Even CNN, an American channel, couldn't get enough of it. Despite the fact they revolted against George III, his heirs and descendants, now called the Windsors, but soon to be renamed Mountbatten-Windsors, remain almost as popular in the US as they are at home. And you can comfortably and confidently say that of most, if not all, European countries as well.

India is no exception. Even if Sunday's Thames pageant didn't quite capture our imagination, remember last year's royal wedding? Every channel tuned in and stayed hooked right through the day. And who can forget Diana's death? And we can all anticipate what will inevitably happen when Kate and William produce an heir.

Yet, the amazing thing is Britain hasn't been an unbroken monarchy. In 1649 Oliver Cromwell deposed and beheaded Charles I and created a republic called the Commonwealth. For the next 11 years he and his son, Richard, ruled as Lord Protectors. In 1688, when James II's Catholicism became unbearable, he was removed in the 'Glorious Revolution' and replaced by his daughter and son-in-law, William of Orange, the Dutch King. When that line ran out the Elector of Hanover was brought in from Germany and his family, despite changes in name, has ruled ever since. Of course, one of them was 'forced' to abdicate in 1936.

So what has made this monarchy so popular? Abroad, it's a reflection of the fact that Britain once ruled almost a third of the globe. Even today Elizabeth II is queen of 15 countries other than her Britain. But it's also a result of the incredible reach of Britain's literature, its media and, of course, its language. And, don't forget, the House of Commons is for many the 'Mother of all Parliaments'.

Quite frankly, despite America's power and Hollywood, the world still knows more about Britain than any other country. We set our watches by Greenwich, invest in The City and London is, usually, most people's first holiday destination.

But it's what makes the British monarchy popular at home that is the real riddle. They're not 'ordinary' like their Scandinavian counterparts; in fact, they're quite grand. They don't marry commoners; Kate was the first after Anne Hyde in 1660. And they don't share their lives with their subjects; actually, they fiercely protect their privacy.

British comedians imitate their accent, their mannerisms and, even, their sartorial style. In pubs across the realm folks poke fun at 'the royals'. But I'd say this is why they're also loved.

The monarchy is both a magnet for pride in everything British and a ready focus for laughing it off. It's the epitome of the grandeur of British style and history but also the primary butt of the country's subversive sense of humour. It wins both ways!

Views expressed by the author are personal

First Published: Jun 09, 2012 21:41 IST