Did you stay up last night to watch the Super Bowl? Well, I wouldn’t ordinarily except for the promise that Madonna would perform at half time. The closest England has to such an occasion is asking the soprano de nos jours to exercise her larynx at the Last Night of the Proms warbling Rule Britannia. There are many occasions on which the British excel. Stadium concerts are not one of them. It is a given that Madonna always puts on a good show. But even she excelled herself being borne through the stadium on a winged chariot pulled by a legion of Roman soldiers in homage to Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra.
Now it is much easier to criticise than to praise and t’Internet has been abuzz with divisive comments about Madonna53 as she is now universally know in the newspapers. Did she temporarily totter on her six inch stiletto boots? Did she actually do her own singing? Was it ever so slightly cheesy to throw in a cheerleading set? Did she need cameo acts by younger performers? No, I don’t think it was Madonna’s finest fifteen minutes but with an audience of 100 million, a new album to promote and her W.E. film being released in the US the morning after the Super Bowl the performance was very much mission accomplished.
Then again, one has to put a performer like Madonna into perspective. The fact that she could sustain such a high-energy performance for 15-minutes and make the world’s tongues wag (or fingers type as the case may be) is admirable if slightly unnerving. One wonders how many Twitter hits or so forth Madonna got in the past 24-hours compared with The Queen. The 6th of February marked the beginning of The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations. It was the day that Her Majesty’s father George VI died and the 25-year old Princess became Queen Elizabeth II. For sixty years the Queen has captained the national ship as a constitutional monarch with quiet dignity, integrity and a rigid sense of duty.
Comparisons are inevitably made with Queen Victoria, Her Majesty’s great-great grandmother, who is the only other British monarch to have reached her Diamond Jubilee in England’s history. The Queen herself referred to her illustrious ancestor in the official Diamond Jubilee portrait by wearing the 161-carat diamond collet necklace and earrings set for Queen Victoria and worn by both women at their Coronations and in their Diamond Jubilee portraits. But the present Queen’s achievement is arguably the greater. When Victoria’s beloved consort Prince Albert died in 1861, the ‘widow of Windsor’ retreated behind the walls of Osborne House, Balmoral and Windsor Castle and was rarely seen again by her subjects.
The Queen, by contrast, has lived through the Technological revolution – much more profound than the Victorian Industrial Revolution – and the changing face of the nation into a multicultural society. Imagine the sad irony of her late sister Princess Margaret giving up the man she loved because divorce was unacceptable in the 1950s only for The Queen to see three of her children divorce. The Queen was born into an era of reverence and has somehow manages to retain dignity and distance in the era of phone tapping, paparazzi and the Internet age. After the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1997 the Queen weathered a constitutional crisis as severe and dangerous to the monarchy as the abdication of her uncle King Edward VIII.
In short, The Queen celebrating 60-years on the throne deserves rather more attention than Madonna’s 15-minutes at the Super Bowl. But perhaps this is the secret to HMs continued success and survival. The Queen knows how to adapt to circumstances and is perhaps grateful to the fame monster that is our contemporary celebrity culture because it deflects unwelcome attention from the royal family. Celebrities – and I do not include Madonna in this tier of fame – are media cannon fodder. The rabid attention on the famous with feet of clay such as Demi Moore, Lindsey Lohan and the late Amy Winehouse is a sideshow that allows The Queen to retain a dignified silence and distance from the public eye.
A Palace employee once told me that The Queen was adept at taking time away from the public eye – be that at Balmoral, Windsor Castle or Sandringham – that made public duties more palatable. I was very interested to read The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Message. The vocabulary was very much of the 21st century but the message remained one of life-long duty to the people of Britain and the Commonwealth. There is no question of abdication and for this the British public owe The Queen an immense debt of gratitude. At 85 it seems Her Majesty has found a place in the hearts and minds of the British that arguably no other monarch before or since achieved or ever will achieve.
How did I celebrate the first day of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations? I was asked to comment on the momentous occasion on This Morning with Philip Schofield and Holly Willoughby. Both are charming and professional. The item turned out rather less so. In their infinite wisdom, the producers had called in the biggest load of old tourist tat memorabilia made for the Diamond and expected us to describe it with all the zest, awe and perkiness of QVC presenters. Needless to say, this wasn’t exactly my finest hour on the box. But I did my best to turn chicken s**** into chicken salad.