When it comes to real life soap operas, there is nothing to beat The Royal Family. The ee-bah-gummery of Coronation Street, or the gor blimey antics of Eastenders, even the sex ‘n’ scalpel passions of Holby City — well, none can compete with the lives of Those Who Would Wear the Crown.
I say “lives” because this week morbid details have emerged of what will happen when the Queen takes residence in that Great Palace In The Sky. Although she as a reputation for being a practical person, it must be depressing for HM to peruse the details of what is planned for her mortal remains when the dreaded moment comes.
It cannot make pleasant reading — particularly the four word code that has been chosen to inform of her passing. It is “London Bridge Is Down”. Hardly gentle or poetic, is it? Calling the much-loved monarch “London Bridge”, an unattractive fixture spanning the Thames, is insensitive, even cruel.
There will be nine days of mourning and details have been worked out so precisely that it is known it will take exactly 28 minus to slow march the coffin from St James’s to Westminster Hall for the lying-in-state. Oh — and there will be a special three inch high rim built onto the coffin’s false lid to accommodate the Crown Jewels. All rather depressing reading for a 90-year-old lady who is not, like the rest of us, looking forward to her date with the Grim Reaper.
Her death means that Prince Charles will become King. But King Who? We have not been told what name has been chosen — he could be “King George VII” or even “King Charles III” (my money’s on this). But there are rumbles in the court about what his wife, presently known as the Duchess of Cornwall, will be called.
Word has it that Princes Charles is determined she will be called “Queen Camilla”. He wants her to get what he considers to have ultimate recognition, complete with 15 gun salute that goes with the title as well as the right to wear her very own crown.
But there is a strong force of opinion against this. It is twenty years ago since Princess Diana was killed in Paris — haven’t those years flown by? — and the turmoil caused by Prince Charles’s affair with the then Camilla Parker Bowles is still a sensitive issue in certain influential royal circles.
Some courtiers are determined that Camilla will never acquire the title of “Queen” because to do so would suggest that adultery doesn’t matter in the long run. They consider that she should be called “The Princess Consort”, less grand, perhaps, for royal enough.
She has come a long way and faced a difficult journey to gain public approval. She is more popular now and long gone are the times when she was pelted with bread rolls, by furious Diana-adoring middle class women, in a Cirencester super market.
In person, I have found her to be a very pleasant woman, with a fine sense of humour and a certain warmth. She likes a drink or two and, when photographers are not around, she will light a Benson and Hedges with a certain relish.
Personally, I do not consider whether or not she should be called “Queen Camilla” as one of the major issues facing the country. There are greater challenges to cope with — handling the fallout from our stupid decision to leave the EU being one of them.
So if we must continue to have a monarchy — and the majority of the British people seem to want that — let’s not only have a King when the times comes, but let him have his Queen as well.
I learn, with great sadness, the death at 88 of one of my great heroes — Jimmy Breslin, the New York columnist, writer, great character, whose journalistic style — much copied and always envied — brought that teeming city so alive that his words leapt from the page.
He was a great bear of a man, with masses of dark, uncontrollable hair, with a voice and accent so loud that he could have been born intact to patrol the street with a notebook and pen.
I met him many times, and in various bars (although he had given up booze) around New York in the years I worked there. Sometimes he was funny, even displaying a hint of charm, but others less so. He would growl, tell you that English journalists were empty-minded mother-fuckers who couldn’t write a sentence without — as he once tenderly pointed out to me — it sounding as if I “had two pokers stuck up my ass”.
He wrote about the streets, the ordinary Joe, the blue collar guys and they loved him for it. He had no time for the button-down Ivy Leaguers, the smooth liberals of Park Avenue. Breslin came from the hard streets and wrote about them.
His journalism shone with originality. Such as the time he was sent to Washington to cover the funeral ofPresident Kennedy. “When I arrived,” he said, “the city was filled with journalists all interviewing each other.”
So, being Breslin, he took off to Arlington National Cemetery, where America lays down its heroes, and interviewed Clifton Pollard, a 42 year old World War Two veteran. He was an “equipment operator” at the cemetery and was grade ten — which meant he was paid @3.01 an hour for digging the graves.
“Polly”, as his fellow diggers called, was an ordinary guy until that day. He entered American Presidential history because he dug the grave where JFK would rest for eternity.
And it was Jimmy Breslin who found him that cold November morning in 1963 and immortalised a working stiff with words of solemn beauty.