The Queen, the Dalai Lama and the American Constitution

My poor body is so confused today. Is it Monday? Tuesday? Wednesday? And why for the first time in five days, am I not holding a glass of champagne/prosecco/cava?

As you might gather I have been jubilant all weekend and on into the bank holidays, celebrating 60 years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II by singing Tom Jones very loudly, eating too many crisps, and standing outside in the rain. This is because I am British, and at moments like these, once every 25 years or so, that it is our collective duty to feel proud of our nation.

The monarchy is an odd thing. Prince Charles mentioning those who live in extreme hardship during these austere times on Monday night while standing on a platform built at great cost, surrounded by some of the wealthiest people in the world, felt a bit at odds with reality.

And yet, I can’t help but love a bit of pomp and ceremony, royal-style.

In her own right, I’m sure the Queen is a lovely woman. But she’s more a symbol at these events than a person. Her character doesn’t matter so much as her existence. She is the physical embodiment of our nationhood, in the same way as perhaps the Dalai Lama is to Tibetans and the Constitution is to Americans. A constant, and ever-present reminder of what it means to be British.

What it means to be British is to be part of more than a thousand years of history – the flotilla on the Thames, recreating Canaletto’s painting, celebrated our modern achievements alongside the Little Boats of Dunkirk and restored barges from when waterways were our prime mode of transport. These are nothing to do with royalty, but represent our history, and the monarch is the focal point of that.

The ruling monarch defines the age. Last week I read two articles about the New Elizabethans – who are we and what do we represent? Have we got over the hang ups of our Victorian and Edwardian forbears as we renovate our Georgian houses and help our children with their homework on the Tudors and Stuarts? Our history is split into periods based entirely on who was on the throne, a neat reference point that takes us back through time to Edward the Confessor and beyond.

The monarchy gives us a sense of our place in the world as well as in history. Patronising as all the performances of ‘traditional’ dances from Ghana, New Zealand, Uganda and other former outposts of Empire felt, they remind us of our legacy and our responsibility to one another. For such a tiny little island, we punch above our weight, a double-sided coin to our sense of nationhood, that makes us at once arrogant towards the world and curious to discover it.

Look at the Dalai Lama and you instantly see something of what it means to be Tibetan – Buddhist, peaceable, learned, gentle, mountainous, small but mighty. The American Constitution tells us that US citizens value their freedoms and have fought to maintain and reframe them. The Queen tells the world we are polite, ancient and proud, craftsmen and workmen, brave and true.

And if you’re a complete republican, the Queen tells you to enjoy your days off, eat too many crisps and drink champagne. Why would you disobey a command like that?

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