I am a monarchist.
It is a reflection of my English heritage, which sits alongside Māoritanga in defining me as a New Zealander.
On my mother’s side I am a first-generation Kiwi. Along with her migrant parents and four sisters, she referred to Britain as ‘home’ until the day she died despite having left the grimy streets of Newcastle as a two-year-old.
My paternal heritage has longer ties with this country, which makes me a third-generation New Zealander. My great-grandfather was Devon born but Canadian-raised and came to New Zealand in the 1870s. His grandfather fought in the American War of Independence – as a British Army scout. My grandmother’s family were from Scotland and Ireland and settled in Central Otago in the 1860s.
I claim no Māori whakapapa, but I recognise that the Treaty of Waitangi binds me to rangatiratanga and tikanga Māori.
I also believe that Māoridom’s partnership with the Crown binds me to my forebears and is a valid and valuable component of my identity as a New Zealander.
I do not see Queen Elizabeth as the monarch of a country on the other side of the world, a nonagenarian representing a long-past colonial age and an archaic system of sucession. I see her as a symbol of the binary nature of our history over the past two centuries and an enduring link with the 80 per cent of New Zealanders who have some British ancestry.
The Queen’s platinum jubilee was, for me, a cause for celebration. As the festivities played out across Britain, and her attendance at events became matters for concern and conjecture, I began to reflect on my own memories of the monarchy.
I recall, as a primary school pupil, hearing of the death of King George VI and later wondering why his head was still on my penny. I recall frenetic flag-waving when a young queen drove by in a motorcade and waved to me (or at least I thought she did). And I recall the privileges derived from being a journalist. I was presented to the Queen Mother, the Queen, the Prince of Wales and Princess Ann on various Royal Tours.
Ah yes, I recall Royal Tours although I can’t remember how many I covered. I have no such memory loss when bringing to mind the sheer bloody hard work they entailed. However, I harbour no animosity toward the Royal Family. They were working even harder than I.
The Queen Mother took cocktail parties aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia in her stride and ours was the briefest of brief personal encounters. So, too, was my meeting with the Queen, although she showed a practiced interest in what I was doing. My introduction to Prince Charles was via then Prime Minister Helen Clark, who made some comment about sometimes-annoying editors. I suppose I should be grateful that he didn’t respond by saying the family had a way to deal with ‘troublesome priests’. And Princess Ann engaged in animated conversation that revealed her delightfully dry wit.
It is odd how such brief encounters left me with a sense of connection. I think it is because they were tangible links to the history that would have been more directly my own if my forebears had not migrated. It may also explain why I spent the weekend absorbing coverage of the jubilee.
There were limited celebrations in this country but the lighting of a beacon in Wellington – one of 54 across the Commonwealth – gave that sense of connection. Auckland gave its usual salute with lighting of the Skytower, although I searched in vain for an explanation of why it displayed red, orange and yellow rather than red, white and blue.
Saturday’s Stuff newspapers – with the exception of the Waikato Times which often runs with no editorial – used the jubilee “to assess the relative health and popularity of the creaky institution” and raise again the issue of a New Zealand republic. The editorial noted that almost half the Commonwealth countries that have the Queen as head of state were “on the way” to removing the institution. Noting that Australia’s new Labour government had appointed an Assistant Minister for the Republic, it finished by asking if New Zealand would be far behind in cutting ties with the Crown.
On the same day, the New Zealand Herald carried a sub-leader that stated the jubilee made it timely to consider the Queen’s place in our country. The word “republic” did not figure in the editorial which decided that, on balance, the country had been well-served by a Queen who had employed a light touch on our affairs.
Unlike me, the editor of the Sunday Star Times, Tracy Watkins, is not a monarchist. In her editorial last Sunday she said “the sight of the next generation of royals, three small children, making their way to the celebrations in a carriage and waving to the adoring crowds, seemed to perfectly illustrate the absurdity of the notion that anyone these days is born to rule”. That’s plain speaking. However, she spent the remainder of the editorial praising the Queen’s service and dedication. She ended with a nod to the Queen’s non-appearance at some jubilee events: “Elizabeth, the Queen, the grieving widow, the mum, the grandmother and the great-grandmother, has earned her time to have a cuppa and a rest.”
Yesterday, the Otago Daily Times devoted its weekly World Focus to a Platinum Jubliee Special Edition
Television, meanwhile played a game of peek-a-boo with Harry and Meghan. Would they be on the balcony, would they be in the front row, would they be restored to Royal favour. The answer to all of the foregoing proved to be “no” and I, for one, couldn’t care less. I am a little tired of journalists squeezing the last drop of disharmony out of this particular saga.
No organ is better at finding the chinks in the royal suit of armour than London’s Daily Mail. Its open disdain for the monarchy is no better illustrated than by its placement of all royal stories in the entertainment section of the website Mail Online.
Yet nothing is quite as shameless as a London tabloid and the Mail has revelled in the weekend of celebration.
Of course, it couldn’t resist ending the jubilee by revealing Harry and Meghan had made “an early exit” to the United States, thus avoiding any embarrassment over the family’s final appearance on the balcony of Buckingham Palace during the jubilee pageant. And 81-year-old Sir Cliff Richard was only “little envious” after he was finally left off the list of performers at jubilee concerts. Nonetheless, royal watcher Richard Kay enthused.
Who would have believed it? Who could have dreamt of the scenes of such unbridled joy, not just outside Buckingham Palace over this extraordinary Jubilee bank holiday, but up and down the country?
From the Union Jacks festooned across suburban streets, to the flags fluttering from poles on village greens and hanging from countless lamp posts, the outpouring of affection has surprised even the most ardent of royalists.
Not even that most familiar of curmudgeons, the British weather, could dampen the spirit and wonder of four spectacular summer days.
I shared vicariously in the celebrations, with no thought for what might happen in the future. I did, however, later retrieve an article on the implications of a New Zealand republic, written four years ago by Auckland University law professor Janet McLean. I might sum it up by saying we should be careful what we wish for. It is worth reading (https://www.auckland.ac.nz/en/news/2018/04/19/what-nz-republic-might-look-like.html) .
Amid the celebration coverage there were some amusing cockups. Like the caption on a CBS Los Angeles promo on the jubilee which read “Celebrating 70 years on the Thrown” (damn you, spellchecker!). The Guardian returned to true Grauniad form with “The Queen’s successors will not be able to create her ‘mystic’, says writer” which it later corrected to “mystique”. And, in a reversal to the usual practice of inserting an apostrophe where it is not appreciated, the Jubilee concert projected on to the façade of Buckingham Palace Elton John’s classic line “How wonderful life is while your in the world.”
And there is one mystery lingering from the coverage. Getty Images distributed a photograph of members of the Royal Family on the balcony of Buckingham Palace during Trooping the Colour. When the Otago Daily Times ran the photograph on Saturday, it dutifully named everyone. Well, almost everyone. At either end of the balcony, mysterious figures beam at the camera. Who are they? I have emailed the photographer, veteran Royal snapper Chris Jackson to ask if he knows? I will report back in due course.
Photography by Chris Jackson, Getty Images.