Magazine article The Spectator

Life Goes On

Magazine article The Spectator

Life Goes On

Article excerpt

The most startling image of the funeral was the sight of the Queen Mother, walking smartly down the aisle of Westminster Abbey supported only by a stick. What an astonishing tribute this was to the recuperative powers of gin.

This stately hobble was even more impressive than Elton John's performance. I am not being sarcastic. There was something deeply moving about the sight of a plump, red-nosed gay in a ginger wig performing at a royal occasion of any kind. Since we are likely to hear `Candle In The Wind' performed 8,479 times in the course of the next week alone, we may as well get used to it. Most people I spoke to found it lachrymose and sentimental, but there are times when only lachrymose sentimentality will do, and the funeral was one of them. (The news of Mother Teresa's death could easily have evoked another song by Elton: `They're Overbooked In Heaven Tonight', perhaps.)

The point about the Queen Mum was that this was all meant to be for her. It was for this that the BBC had been practising for decades now, preparing to turn over all the nation's airwaves to our grief, making television a kind of Thames flood barrier against the great surge of our emotions.

Except that they can't now. After this, all royal funerals - the Queen Mother, the Duke of Edinburgh, even the Queen herself - will be a cruel anti-climax. Given the state of the public mood, a decision to cancel normal programming would seem to be just another insult from the Windsors, not unlike those old Soviet news bulletins on Vremna, recording the people's spontaneous grief at the death of one more Kremlin hack.

This may sound harsh, but life goes on. Even the BBC realised by Sunday evening of the day Diana died that something else was required, even if only to take our minds off the news for a few moments. They ran the first episode of Michael Palin's Full Circle over on BBC 2, and this would be a good precedent for when the Queen Mother dies: keep the martial music, the black-tied news readers, the church services and the obituaries on BBC 1, and let the rest of us watch reruns of Keeping Up Appearances and cookery shows.

(This sense of normality in the midst of sorrow was missing from most of the coverage. Since I used to live in the United States, I received quite a few calls from American broadcasters last week, and many began with some expression of regret for `your national tragedy'. They tended to speak to me in hushed and sombre tones, as if it was I who had lost a cherished relative, and talked of 'a nation plunged into grief and mourning'. …

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