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The International Writers Magazine

James Skinner in Spain

So the handsome Prince and the real Princess were married, and the tiny pea was carefully placed on a red velvet cushion in the royal museum so that its story would never be forgotten’. This is the end of one of the many bedtime fables about princes and princesses dreamed up by an old time favourite storyteller of years gone by, Hans Christian Anderson.

A thoroughly modern Princess Letizia

I suppose most mums today have never even heard of him, never mind their offspring, who are probably too busy turning off their Playstations or sending their ‘goodnight’ message on mobile chat phones before turning in for the night. Pity. Yet somehow, the world continues to produce real live princes and princesses. Such was the case of the ‘old’ continent. For a few brief moments, Europeans had forgotten about the horrors of the Middle East, the increase in the price of housing or the recently joined members of the Union and enjoyed non other than two royal weddings. Denmark and Spain have actually created a couple of new Barbie-style princesses. The Danish writer would be proud.

On the 14th of May, Prince Frederick of Denmark married Mary Donaldson from Tasmania and a week later, on the 22nd Letizia Ortiz became the bride of Prince Felipe of Spain. And we all cried of joy. The pomp and circumstance surrounding both weddings was screened across the world. Royalty and personalities crawled out of the woodwork dressed and adorned for the occasions. Although Madrid’s check list of guests outnumbered that of Copenhagen, the colourful scenarios that flashed across the television screens of pre-wedding opera attendances, dinner parties and then the parades of the elite at the entrance and exit of the ceremonies could not have been imitated by any Spielberg-type movie director. The cities, its gardens, its boulevards and not to forget the religious shrines where the nuptial knot tying took place were exuding opulence and splendour. These were true demonstrations that paved the way for the happy endings of fairy tale realities.

For weeks, the media had been gearing up for the celebrations. Photographs, interviews, flashbacks and naturally, curriculum vitas of each and all of the participants were stirred up, carefully prepared in every sort of culinary press ingredient and presented as a prelude to the events. Opinion polls, wacky journalists and even political analysers were churning out enough bumph to outpace previous historical recordings of past royal ceremonies. From the size of Letizia’s wedding shoes to the length of the nuptial carpet outside the church, from the national security budget to the number of chartered aircraft entering the capitals, from weather forecasts to the effect on the US November elections, nothing was left out. By the time it was all over, Europeans were punch drunk by both royalty and paparazzi alike. But several questions remain in the balance at the end of the day. Was it all worth it? Can taxpayers afford all this unquestionable pomposity and public expenditure? Do we really need to maintain a human showpiece of such calibre and magnitude in today’s modern world? The fact remains that the survival of monarchies has been questioned and challenged for years.

Kings and queens have been loved and hated for centuries. Anti-monarchists masquerading as republicans have always questioned the outright authority of royalty chosen through inheritance and not through public suffrage. Oliver Cromwell did away with Charles I in the XVII century and created a British state known as the Commonwealth. The French revolution brought Napoleon to power two centuries later and turned France into a republic. Moving to the XX century, and continuing across the continent, the ousting of King Alphonse XIII in Spain in the mid thirties and King Constantine of Greece a few years later proved how uncertain and vulnerable future European royal houses were. Yet Cromwell’s vision did not last very long. British royalty was soon back in swing. Queen Victoria proved she wasn’t such a bad queen after all. Although General Franco eventually slaughtered the republicans and imposed a forty year dictatorship in Spain he did re-instate the monarchy in Prince Juan Carlos who took over as King and head of state as soon as Franco passed away. By the mid-20th century, however, the authority once held by Europe’s monarchs began to fade away. Their role as rulers was gradually substituted for that of ‘puppets on a string’ to be paraded around the world as human treasures of bygone days.

So what future lies ahead for our modern day aristocratic pop artists?

When Prince Charles married Diana the world lit up and welcomed a new and modern fairy tale royal marriage. Two sons were born and the glamour magazines couldn’t stop boasting about the proud new heirs to the British throne. Everything was cool and dandy until Camilla Parker-Bowles came onto the scene. Charles had a long term mistress! Royal infidelity and adultery were exposed like never before. Not that royals didn’t indulge in hanky panky. It just wasn’t brought out in public. Their marriage turned into a nightmare. The subsequent scandals surrounding the private lives of the House of Windsor popularised by the British gutter press and flaunted by their European counterparts shook royalty houses across the continent. The tabloids were having a field day bursting out with all sorts of screwy stories on drugs booze and rock-and-role involving several of the younger members of the royal European jet set.

But when Princess Diana was killed in Paris in a dramatic automobile accident a new era of royal appreciation began. These mosaics posing as superior beings were human after all and similar blood flowed through their veins.

Letizia, Mary and Diana had one thing in common. They were just that, commoners, not of royal blood. But then neither was Grace Kelly, the Hollywood superstar of the fifties, when she married Prince Rainier of Monaco a few decades ago. And Grace certainly demonstrated to the world who ran the Palace in this millionaires paradisiacal country. Diana, on the other hand was young, barely nineteen and virginal when she entered the royal circles of Europe. Despite her eventual downfall as a wife and future Queen of England, she achieved what no other monarch had ever done in the past. She literally came down to earth and conquered the masses who inhabit this planet. She opened the eyes of the British Monarchy and showed them that royal pedestals no longer were valid in the modern world. Letizia and Mary, in essence are no different. They are young women from the new generations and with luck will enhance the need of continued reform, modernisation and add both new spark and life into the old fuddy-duddy royals of bygone days.

As Tony Blair said after Diana’s death, ‘she was the People’s Princess’. And this is what it is all about. No different to the fairy tales of old. Nobodies who rise to the top and capture the hearts of young and old. And the need for continued monarchies? Why not? Like chameleons, they can transform from diplomats to politicians, from athletes to commercial advertisers. They are and should continue to be Europe’s representatives of combined modern glamour and ancient heritage. They are the pinnacle of our Ambassadors of goodwill. Republicans, go fly a kite!
© James Skinner. June 2004
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