I recently had the pleasure of watching The Queen, the 2006 film starring Helen Mirren, which had been very kindly sent to us by Amazon as part of their film rental service (which is hideously unpredictable, but that’s another story). In concept it is dangerously true to life, showing those awesome and awful events surrounding the death of Princess Diana. The danger is that not only were those events so dear to the public’s heart and such a tragedy for so many people who had never met her, but that the film revolved around real people, most of whom are still alive today. To represent these real people in a way that is revealing, convincing, yet not overly comical, is a challenge few would take on. Needless to say, I thoroughly approved of the film, its concept, and its delivery, and if we hadn’t had to post the DVD back to Amazon I would have enjoyed watching it again.
However, this was not supposed to be a film review, so I’ll move on. My point was more along the lines of the interaction between famous people and us ‘normal’ people. The film got me thinking about who the Queen actually is. It may just be my warped perspective on life, but I seem to recall having always thought of such people as people, not just celebrities. The Queen may be the Queen, but she’s also an old woman called Elizabeth, and while I’m not too fussed about meeting a monarch (as good as that may be for my ego), I would be intrigued to meet the lady behind the title. What would it be like to have Elizabeth round for dinner? For the sake of argument I’ll ignore the fact that she wouldn’t be allowed out without hoards of security guards, as they would no doubt get in the way of pleasant conversation. In fact I think it would be quite delightful (and I don’t mean that in a posh, toffee-nosed way) to have tea with someone so different from me – that, after all, was why I got on so well with my friend Andy C, who played hiphop music at dangerously loud volumes and considered a mug to be clean if it had been briefly rinsed with cold water beforehand. Elizabeth and I come from two very different worlds, and I suspect we would have much to chat about, finding out about how the other lives, what they find amusing, and how they prefer their tea. Does the Queen prefer Earl Grey or PG Tips? And does she take sugar? These are the important details I’d love to find out.
I have to admit, I would probably be the sort of person who would, if possible, completely ignore the other person’s level of fame. The way I see it, famous people are always famous, whether or not they are actually doing anything, or even if they are on the whole ‘good’ or ‘bad’ (Hilter was just as well-known as Churchill, after all). Although I am in no way famous, I would hazard a guess that many famous people would actually savour a ‘normal’ conversation that didn’t involve reference to their best work yet, asking for an autograph or posing for a cheesy photograph. A such, I wouldn’t be making a special effort to make the house spotless for the arrival of the Queen. Sure, I’d nip round with the hoover, maybe tidy some of the junk in the lounge, but that’s about it. After all, if someone like that is coming to see me, they’ll be wanting to see me, not an unusually prim version putting on a show for their benefit. I would serve Elizabeth tea in a mug, since we don’t actually own any dainty china cups, and although I can offer a choice of PG or Earl Grey I wouldn’t be ashamed to offer orange squash as well. Maybe that’s just me.
It reminded me actually of the time Rolf Harris went to Buckinham Palace to paint the Queen’s portrait. I remember thinking at the time what a wonderful idea that was, mixing someone who was traditionally portrayed as serious and austere with someone wild, wacky, and downright hilarious. I can just imagine their conversations. At first, when Rolf was introduced, he would have bowed awkwardly and been very polite, and Elizabeth would have expressed how intrigued she was to have someone like himself paint her, trying to hide her nervousness at the prospect of what the resultant painting would look like. Eventually Rolf would be set up and the painting would begin, and conversation would come and go, often revolving around Rolf’s work, the Queen mentioning how she loved his TV shows, and Rolf getting embarrassed at realising she had been watching him making a fool of himself. In the end they would both end up laughing and giggling together, the painting would take a little longer to finish than expected due to Rolf’s sidetracking and drawing little cartoons which Elizabeth would giggle at and keep for a rainy day. The result would be a painting full of life, zest, and humanity. Yes, she was smiling in the painting. Good for her.
Of course all that is pure conjecture, I have no idea how it went because I wasn’t there, but I can dream. But when it comes down to it, the fantasy revolves around these iconic figures being normal people with emotions, nerves, feelings, hormones, pet hates and cute idiosyncrasies. They are not another breed, they are not special, they are just well-known. In fact, Alex recently posted a link to Stephen Fry’s blog (very sensibly also using WordPress – good man), in which he writes a blog essay (or ‘blessay’, as he puts it) about the nature of fame, which I found to be a fascinating insight into that most public of lifestyles. If you have a moment or several, do have a read. Be warned though, it may be lighthearted and witty in Fry’s usual tone, but it’s not exactly succinct. It nevertheless brings to light exactly the point I have been making, that the famous are in fact real people, and often would quite like to be treated as such. Maybe not all the time, otherwise there would be no benefit to fame whatsoever, but just ever so often it would be nice to be treated with respect, shown some kindness and possibly even affection.
I would love to sit down and listen to a Goon Show with the Queen. I’m sure she’d love that. It would also be rather nice to have Stephen Fry come round for a cup of tea at some point. If anyone happens to know either of them, feel free to point them in my direction, I’ll put the kettle on…