SAINTS PRESERVE US
Queen Elizabeth II, 1926 - 2022
“I’m the best thing England’s got, me and the Queen.” – Mick Jagger, circa 1977
Canada’s parliamentary democracy is based on the Westminster System. Protocol necessarily involves ritual and tradition. When the House of Commons sits, each day’s session begins with the placing of a mace on the table before the speaker of the House. The same ceremony plays out in the Senate and in provincial and territorial legislative assemblies. The stylized weapon symbolizes the authority of the British Crown while crucially conceding that its power has been ceded to the people.
I like living under a constitutional monarchy. The reigning sovereign as represented by their vice-regal surrogate, our Governor-General, is our head of state. Our prime minister heads the government. I took journalism in university. Thought maybe I’d be a newshound. I ended up a news junkie in advertising. In recent years I’ve read about democracies, some established, some nascent, unraveling. I’ve come to appreciate Canada’s creaky colonial model. That subtle layer between entities, the nature of the state versus the nature of its executive is a crucial buffer. There is decorum and stability up here north of 49, imperfect as any human construct, surely, but in Canada, it’s impossible for an “elected” head of “state” to actively sabotage the peaceful transfer of power.
The Crown is similar to a kitchen wall calendar, a little old fashioned but unfailingly reliable. For the past 70 years (eight years longer then I’ve been alive) the face of this Canadian calm carrying on was Queen Elizabeth II. I’ve devoted more thought to this archaic and dubious institution, its lasting impact, importance, meaning and place in history, then I have to the throne’s lottery winners and members of the Royal Family. They are separate yet the same. Still, I believe the late Queen recognized the blind luck of her birth and possessed the fortitude to make the best of an unwanted gift of fate.
When I picture the late Queen, it’s her classic, primary portrait, young, attractive and defaced by the Sex Pistols. I wonder if that “God Save the Queen” sleeve was another “Oh, fuck!” moment, a coughed regal giggle behind a daintily clenched fist. An icon to iconoclasts. Canadian pop artist Charles Pachter had already lampooned her in his painting “Queen on Moose.” Warhol had rendered her hipper than thou, Marilyn and Mao. After the Stones had her bravely shouting “What the hell is going on?” in “Jigsaw Puzzle” she was the subject of a lovelorn, throwaway Beatles ditty.
I took for granted that Queen Elizabeth II would outlive me. Maybe there was something in the water of the River Thames or perhaps she shared some sort of alien genetic material with Keith Richards. The Queen wasn’t just the Monarch, she was the entire monarchy, existing for centuries past, weirdly immortal.
Seventy years of human history from an elevated perch. Witness to and part-time player in change and turmoil, triumph and tragedy in the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth, Europe and the rest of the world. She spent some time in the dock too, a complicit figurehead for every single crime ever committed in the name of the British Empire. Closer to home, “Buck House” or Balmoral, the hot mic wit and wisdom of her toff husband the antics of her own family, her idiotic children and grandchildren, and their insufferable partners. I wonder if Her Majesty ever contemplated writing her memoirs. I’m somewhat charmed by an irrational fantasy, my hope her working title might’ve been something like Oh, Fuck! What Now?
meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of breathless Royals coverage since 2013. The novella Of Course You Did is my latest book. Visit www.megeoff.com for links to purchase it in your preferred format.