Monday, May 07, 2007

Long Live the Queen

The Bush White House is hosting the first white tie dinner of its administration tonight in honor of Queen Elizabeth. One hundred thirty-four guests will dine with Her Majesty and Prince Phillip. Among them, Elisabeth Hasselback of “The View.”

This, oh ye Keeper of the White House Guest List, is the best America can do? I mean, I know Republican celebrities are in short supply. But. Elisabeth Hasselback?

The woman shot to fame on the reality show “Survivor,” and not even as winner but as the “contestant who lost so much weight her hair started falling out.” She went on to score a coveted co-hosting gig on “The View,” where during Star Jones’ diva era, the Hasselback uttered not a word. She’s supposed to represent for the twenty- and thirty-something demographics, but what with her conservative leanings on just about every issue, she sounds more like my grandmother than Barbara Walters.

And now she gets to meet and eat with the Queen. I know it’s a little last-minute, but let me suggest an alternate guest: Me. Why? Because I was toting around a copy of Robert Lacey’s “Majesty” before the Hasselback could even read.

I am quite certain that I was meant to be British or at least a plucky heroine in a Jane Austen novel. My sophomore year in high school, I handed in a report on the history of the Tudor monarchs. To which my teacher replied, “Are you actually interested in this stuff?”

Yes I was. Yes I am.

I find royalty fascinating. Not the least because even with all that money, they still can’t seem to afford trendy eyeglasses or a really good haircut and blow dry. And by royalty, I mostly mean the British Royal Family, though I do pay passing attention to lesser European houses, especially if a wedding is involved. Like when the Crown Prince of Denmark married a commoner from Australia, a woman named Mary who he met in a bar. Riveting stuff.

A lot of people think royals are utterly superfluous. That the whole business of monarchs ought to be done away with completely, though granted not in an off-with-their-heads kind of way.

Personally I rather enjoy the pomp and pageantry. The horse-drawn carriages and the crown jewels. The palaces and the castles. The world has become so profoundly prosaic, so utterly devoid of magic. We’re fed a steady diet of war and Anna Nicole Smith, what’s wrong with wanting a little fairytale?

Yes, there’s something inherently distasteful about undeserving people being born into obscene wealth and power. Don’t kid yourselves, it happens in America every day. That’s why Disney invented “Cinderella.” At least we lower-class gals can entertain the prospect of marrying into obscene wealth and power (apparently as long as we frequent the right pubs). My own Prince Charming of choice would have been Edward, Queen Elizabeth’s youngest son. I pictured him visiting Chicago, incognito of course, where he would single me out on the sidewalk, as people are wont to do, and ask for directions to the Tube. And because I’ve read nothing but British novels and watched nothing but British films for the past 15 years (personal motto: If it’s not British, it’s crap.), I would laugh and point him to the subway. Actually, I would say, “I’m headed that way. Follow me.” On the train, I would dazzle him with my knowledge of the Tudors and…next stop, Buckingham Palace where we’d live Happily Ever After.

Eventually I got tired of hanging out on the sidewalk waiting for Edward, who wound up marrying a woman who didn’t even want the title of Princess, which, next to the tiaras, is pretty much the only reason to marry a prince in the first place. In the meantime, Charles and Diana ruined happily ever after for an entire generation of daydreamers. Suddenly royals were “just like us.” They went through messy divorces. Their children misbehaved in public. Their houses caught fire.

To which I can only say, royals are not just like us. If you’ve never had to pay the cashier at Walgreens, you are not like us. If you’ve never had popcorn for dinner because a peanut butter sandwich seemed like too much work, you are not like us. If you’ve never had to pump your own gas, well that would make you Oprah, who, again, is not just like us.

In the end, I guess that’s what I like about the royals, and especially old guard members like the Queen. She’s almost a completely different species, a sort of museum oddity, who, thanks to a random act of DNA and birth order, does not have to walk among the rest of us mortals.

Americans are raised on the Horatio Alger, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps myth. We’re not supposed to like the Queen because she, in effect, cut to the head of the line. Which is precisely what I love about her. I look around and I see successful people who have worked their way to the top and they make me feel lazy. I see high achievers and they make me feel undisciplined and unmotivated. I read The New Yorker and I’m jealous of each and every contributor, including the cartoonists. I see immigrants working two to three jobs struggling to make a better life for themselves and their children and I feel guilty for sitting on the couch and watching “Dancing with the Stars.” I see Elisabeth Hasselback and I feel…Rosie, please don’t leave me.

But the Queen. Well, nothing to aspire to there. Nothing to make me feel like I’ve led a life less worthy. Nothing to make me feel like I’m not talented enough or smart enough or ambitious enough. You’re either born to the job or you’re not. So despite the utter superiority of her fortune and position, Elizabeth II is actually that rare person who doesn’t make me feel inferior.

I’d love to thank her for this in person, or just pass through a receiving line, lock eyes and convey my appreciation telepathically. But my white tie invite seems to have been lost in the mail, along with the last two issues of Entertainment Weekly.

If the Queen wants to chat, she’ll know where to find me. Hanging out on the sidewalk, waiting to give her directions to the Tube.


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