Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Noblesse oblige

In 1976, when Boston celebrated the country’s bicentennial, I caught a glimpse of Queen Elizabeth, giving the royal wave (to me, personally, congratulating me, personally, on 200 years of the American way of life) through the closed window of her limo.

A few years later, in that brief interlude between B-school and job-starts-here, I watched QE’s son Charles marry Lady Di on the telly.

A few years after that, my husband and I were taking a walk one evening in London, when we came across a crowd forming outside Prince Albert Hall. What’s going on, we asked one of the fluttering, middle aged, Barbara Pym ladies standing about.

Royalty, we were told, would be arriving shortly.

Sure enough, a black Rolls Royce with some type of crown on top rolled up.

Expecting to see The Queen. Or the Queen Mum. Or Prince Phillip. Or Charles. Or Anne. Or someone that we’d recognize – even Princess Michael of Kent, whom we knew from watching Wimbledon.

Alas, the couple emerging from the limo drew a blank for us.

Who-dat? We politely inquired.

Why the Duke of Gloucester, of course.

Of course.

Naturally, I would have preferred the Duke of Windsor, but he was dead by that point. Or even the Duchess of Windsor, although I don’t think she spent a whole lot of time hanging around England hoping that ga-ga crowds would fawn over her. (I suspect there were more than a few grudge-holders among the group oohing and aahing over Gloucester.)

Other than viewing the occasional trash-ography about Charles and Di, and watching the excellent movie, The Queen, when it comes to The Royal Family, that’s about the sum of it.

It will get more interesting to me when the Brits decide they’ve had enough of The Royal We. This will likely happen after the current incumbent passes on to the great Balmoral in the sky. But I can’t help but believe that the current contretemps involving Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York and ex-wife of Prince Andrew,  may accelerate England’s (inevitable) decision to back-bench The Royal Family a bit.

I’ve always had a certain amount (say, a scintilla) of sympathy, perhaps even affection, for Fergie.

I don’t imagine that The Royals were all that much fun to marry into, even if you do come from some kind of quasi royalty (as in, descended on the bastard side from kings of yore) on your own.

I liked that she was zaftig, mouthy, and a bit blowsy – despite the posh background, more Eliza Doolittle than Eliza Regina.

And I liked the fact that she set off on her own, regularly coming to the States and making her living shilling for Weight Watchers.

Alas, poor Sarah never learned much about money management, and all those millions she made talking weight loss have, apparently, poured out of her coffers. It’s hard to keep up royal appearances on alimony of £15,000 a year, even if a lot of your expenses are taken care of for you.

Now, as she confessed on camera,

"Do you understand that I absolutely have not a pot to piss in?"

That was part of what was caught during a tawdry exchange with an undercover “journalist” parading as a businessman willing to give Fergie a lot more than £15,000 for arranging to have him meet Prince Andrew.

This was all part of a sting operation by a muckraking news outlet (owned by Rupert Murdoch, also owner of the WSJ) during which Fergie is shown scooping up the £40,000 down payment, and negotiating for an overall payout of £500,000.

Shaking hands, she says in the video: "That opens up everything you would ever wish for. And I can open any door you want." (Source: Wall Street Journal.)

Not clear exactly what Sarah Ferguson was offering up.

At one point, as I recall from having seen the video replayed on the news a couple of times, she is heard saying that Andrew had advised her to ask for the £500K in exchange for the introduction. Later, however, she claims that Andrew is completed above board, “whiter than white.” Andrew has some sort of role as an international trade ambassador, swanning around the world making nice for British business and trying to attract investment to the home shores. Could he possibly have been in cahoots with Fergie here? By all reports, they’ve remained chummy, and he may well have been counseling her on how she could make a buck or two. (Beats paying alimony.) And if he wasn’t actually going to do anything other than shake hands and make small talk, he well may have been thinking, what the heck. (I don’t imagine he’s any more of a great thinker than Fergie is.)

Fergie has apologized for her “’serious lapse in judgment.’” (I’ll say.) And has chalked it up to her strained finances.

She [also] said her former husband "was not aware or involved in any of the discussions that occurred."

Needless to say, “we” are not amused:

Buckingham Palace said the prince "categorically denies any knowledge of any meeting or any conversation between the Duchess of York and the News of the World journalist."

"Since 2001 he has carried out his role as special representative in complete and absolute propriety and integrity," the palace added.

It will no doubt come out whether Fergie was purely set up here, or whether she had put word out on the street that access was for sale.

I don’t know exactly what she thought access would get anyone.

Sure, some folks just like to rub elbows with royalty, but five-hundred thousand pounds is a lot of elbow rubbing. Do The Royals have much influence in Britain’s business affairs? It’s hard to imagine 10 Downing greasing contract skids on the behest of Buckingham Palace.

Anyway, I’m feeling a bit bad for Sarah Ferguson. Raised to be a nice posh girl who’ll marry well and happily ever after, it’s likely been a challenge for her to figure out how to make a living.

And naive, greedy, silly, and frivolous as she may well be, I don’t imagine that she imagined this sort of outcome when she strolled down the aisle of Westminster Abbey.

I’m sure that the Queen didn’t either.

Wouldn’t mind having been a flea on the back of one of her Corgis when an aide stepped in to brief her and Prince Philip on the latest royal outrage.

No comments: