I’ve had one brush with British royalty. The Fabulous Wife and I took a trip to Great Britain in May 2014. We spent nearly a week in Edinburgh, Scotland, staying at a hotel on the Royal Mile across the street from St. Giles Cathedral. On a Sunday morning we got up late, around 9 a.m. Within fifteen minutes a horde of bagpipes and clattering drums started playing, and they didn’t stop. Thinking it a parade, I grabbed my camera and ran outside.
The Royal Mile was blocked off and crawling with security, but not for a parade. The band had gone silent and was standing at attention at the west end of the cathedral courtyard. In front of the band and to its right, dozens of blue-shirted, black-pantsed adolescent boys waited expectantly in long rows. I joined a crowd three-deep behind metal stanchions, hoping to catch a better glimpse of what was going on. Thanks to the idiot tourists in front of me who figured the show was over because the band had finished playing, I soon got to the front. From there I could see that the security detail and assorted bigwigs by the cathedral door (some of them literally wearing big wigs) were sticking around. That meant we were still waiting for the main event, whatever it might be.
Just before 10 a.m., a single police motorcycle chugged up from nearby Bank Street, wheeled around, and stopped, lights flashing. Whoever or whatever we were waiting for was getting closer. By now The Fabulous Wife had joined me. Finally, a phalanx of motorcycle cops and a limousine arrived. The pipers and drummers broke into God Save the Queen, and out from the limo popped —
No, not the Queen, but Prince Edward, the youngest of her four children.
I didn’t know who he was. I just knew he was who everyone had been waiting for, so I filmed the scene and the sound, which included an affecting version of Highland Cathedral. The conspicuously bald prince inspected the lines of boys, strode over to the bagpipe corps and shook a few hands, then made his way into the cathedral. We learned later that the Queen had appointed Edward her ambassador to the Church of Scotland’s annual conclave and he was staying at nearby Holyrood Palace.
I have to confess: for a confirmed democrat and anti-monarchist, I loved it! The ridiculous pomp, the inflated sense of importance, the straight faces, the whole deal. And even though it affects my life exactly zero percent, I’m avidly following the unfolding saga of Queen Elizabeth’s passing and King Charles’s succession. It’s an indefensible lapse on my part. But for now I’ll rationalize it with this somber sentiment from former British subject Andrew Sullivan:
Part of the hard-to-explain grief I feel today is related to how staggeringly rare [Queen Elizabeth’s] level of self-restraint is today. Narcissism is everywhere. Every feeling we have is bound to be expressed. Self-revelation, transparency, authenticity — these are our values. The idea that we are firstly humans with duties to others that will require and demand the suppression of our own needs and feelings seems archaic. Elizabeth kept it alive simply by example.
With her death, it’s hard not to fear that so much she exemplified — restraint, duty, grace, reticence, persistence — are disappearing from the world.