Monday 18 June 2012

The Queen and I

A cut above the rest?
Most of you will have noticed by now that I am not on the Queen’s Birthday Honours list this year. No MBE or OBE for me, much less a KBE along with actor Kenneth Brannagh (who has played in the top role of royalty before now) and the rest of the gang.
So as you negotiate your way through the alphabetispaggetti of royal rigmarole and bow or curtsy (as appropriate) to BBC Radio Ulster’s Wendy Austin and the others, I actually breathe a sigh of relief that I have escaped the British Empire once again.
Kenneth goes from King Henry to Sir Ken
(Mind you, we’ll not mention that oath for which I lined up before Kitchener Mayor Dom Cardillo in Waterloo City Hall back in 1993 when I became a proud Canadian citizen. Let’s just say there were crossed fingers behind backs as I intoned the Lord’s Prayer – as gaeilge!)
Since that day, I like to think that Queen Elizabeth II and I have had an understanding about where we stand in our relationship with each other. It is really a question of mutual indifference. Beyond wanting to keep her portrait on a few banknotes in my wallet, I don’t particularly care what she or her family get up to. I suspect she feels the same, apart from not having my portrait in her wallet, of course.
So unlike some who avert embarrassment at times such as this by saying they are not interested in, or worthy of, such royal accolades, I have never even had to feign indifference or unworthiness.
Yet with all the hoo-ha of the Jubilee, I’ve been feeling that I should come clean and confess the true reason for the fact that each time an Honours List rolls around, I can simply ignore it in the full and certain knowledge that I will not have to bow and curtsy with the other commoners, much less bend the knee for a sword-tap on the shoulder.
So here’s the secret – I don’t get on with Buckingham Palace. In fact, I am fairly certain I am ‘persona non grata’ with the palatial apparatchiks. I say this because we have had words in the past!
(Gasp! Horror! Shriek!)
It probably meant more to her at the time, but I think that our falling-out was back in 2006 when QEII was over here for a royal walkabout. There were the usual rumours, the excited gossip, a ‘possible schedule’, nods, winks and wishful thinking.
I was editor of the Ulster Herald and its sister papers back then and we were in the loop, of course, mainly because of a Royal Garden Party at the Loughrey College campus near Cookstown. At this event, the good and the ghastly of Tyrone would be expected to line up for an audience with ‘Her Majesty’ and it was all ‘hush hush, nod, wink…’ and all that Monty Python stuff.
This is a 'VIP'
I wish I could describe how excited I felt about being invited, but that would only be a lie. Of course, I did not want to appear ungrateful, so I used the invitation for a short news item in the Tyrone Herald about the pending event. The only change was that I substituted the notification of a ‘VIP” presence for the fact that Queen Elizabeth II would be in attendance – just as the entire county of Tyrone and surrounding districts knew.
The event passed without undue attention or mishap. I was not even missed. Then a few days later, I got a call – several calls, in fact. First from the Northern Ireland Office, which assumes precedence in such matters of state business. It was a rather curt rebuke for ‘breaking protocol’ by naming the ‘VIP’.
I fear I was less than suitably contrite: I seem to remember laughing.
But that was only the beginning. Subsequently, there was a call from Buckingham Palace, a plumy voice announcing a name or title I could not decipher with my simple commoner hearing. I proffered my excuse about the ‘dogs in the street’, but to no avail. My refusal to prostrate myself in abject apology brought the royal pronouncement that the Ulster Herald group and I would be banished from the realm of garden tea parties and press statements about ‘VIP visits’ for the foreseeable future.
There was no mention of OBEs or MBEs and I thought it would only make matters worse if I put in the ‘wee word’ for a Knighthood, so the call ended in silence. And that was my Royal flush.
She’s getting on now – QEII – and I suspect that this falling-out might be rankling a bit with her. But I hold no grudges and sure, if she’s ever back in Tyrone, she’s more than welcome to drop by for a cuppa, a wee dram or just a chat … so long as it’s not about any bloody empires, of course!

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