by Cicely Podmore
With the Queen turning 90 today and her birthday celebrations looming, it is natural to be astounded by the longevity of her popularity in an age where trends and celebrities only have transient appeal. In a 2015 YouGov poll, it was shown that 68% of adult Britons believe that the monarchy is beneficial to the country. It is unlikely that such a distinctly positive result would come from conducting a survey about any other celebrated figure.
Of course, she is not the typical personality; neither famous for her talent, sex appeal or intelligence. So for what reason does she inspire such admiration and respect in strangers? One could argue that it is the Queen herself. Unlike most figures in the public eye, she has avoided scandal and remains a figure of morality and self control. Perhaps it is also her mysterious life which entices us. The lack of documentation of her private activities on social media means that our hunger for mundane information regarding her television preferences and favourite foods will never be satiated. This guardedness and consequent anonymity is appealing to our curiosity. Indeed, she is a rather sombre, emotionless figure in public, almost superhuman in her persistent duty, her stamina and her astounding mental and physical capability when many of her peers are incapacitated.
Certainly there is also an argument that it is merely her Royal blood and Windsor title which attracts people, and the fact that she stands for a bygone age; a living relic of past feudal systems and hierarchy. She is a direct link to history who maintains the legacy of famous monarchs such as Henry VIII and Elizabeth I who have been characterised to such an extent that they would otherwise seem unreal.
One must address whether the Queen's popularity comes from the idea that she is one of the last of her kind and people are fascinated by her, not for her individual identity, but just as people might flock to catch a glimpse of the endangered Asian elephant before its extinction.
The Royal family are also the glue of patriotism, the quintessence of Britishness. During Royal events, many people retrieve long lost Union Jack paraphernalia and a wild frenzy of national pride ensues. For example, her birthday this week has produced a host of branded party poppers, novelty cake stands and teapots and there is even a special edition shortbread tin. It all seems very bizarre, and yet many Britons will invariably end up with some such frivolous item of memorabilia.
One would not expect modern Britain to remain under monarchical reign. It seems strange that a rich, unelected white family is the figurehead for a multicultural, democratic country of diminished class divides. And yet, although the Royal Family should logically be redundant, there is every sign of their continued popularity with the front pages of recent newspapers dominated by pictures of Will and Kate having a nice time in India. Certainly it is more pleasant to look at Will and Kate feeding baby elephants than to read about terrorism and natural disasters and perhaps this is the crux of the matter; the Royal Family is a form of escapism for the everyday Briton. Escapism into the past and into a luxurious, almost romantic view of family life that is not representative of typical British homes.
Can we afford to maintain the Royal Family if only for our indulgences? Over the years, the Royal Family's levels of responsibility have dwindled to the extent that they are now essentially useless apart from minor matters of diplomacy. Brand Finance estimated that the Royal Family's net contribution to the UK economy was around £1.155 billion in 2015. Aside from tourism, there is the merchandise: the commemorative royal wedding mug in the cupboard, the diamond jubilee tea towel... And then there is the so-called 'Kate effect', with items of clothing worn by Kate selling out almost immediately in both high street and designer shops. Only last week in India, Kate wore a Topshop dress in Assam which is no longer available. Overall, Kate's power over sales is estimated by Newsweek to be worth £1bn. At the same time, a substantial portion of this money goes back into the Royal Family, sustaining their grand and extravagant lifestyles. Consider the palatial maintenance fees, the living costs, holidays, state visits, security... The list could continue. The money brought in by the Royal Family is more or less equivalent to the money which supports them. To some, this may be a demonstration of the Royal Family's harmlessness, but, even if the Royal Family did end their reign, tourism would certainly still be attracted by Royal artefacts, just without the added expenditure of keeping the Royals' opulent customs.
To conclude, on Thursday, the majority of Britons will be celebrating alongside the Queen. Public interest in the birthday celebrations has been shown by the fact that the 25,000 tickets for a dedicatory extravaganza in May sold out instantaneously. Many would justify this level of celebration (also including, amongst other things, the lighting of 1000 global beacons) for a monarch of her high repute and for reaching such an impressive age, and yet there are those who question whether she is deserving of such acclaim.
I certainly like the Queen, but her role is too ceremonial to justify the vast sums (and often adoration) which she receives. As for the future, I believe that the 62% of adult Britons who predict that the monarchy will remain in 100 years time are idealists, not realists. Tourism could still be attracted to view remnants of the monarchy, simply without the Royal presence. We should acknowledge that the monarchy is dying, however painful this separation from tradition.