A Year with the Queen

It is, apparently, a small world after all. Leafing through the glossy pages of Robert Hardman’s chronicle of queenhood, I found myself — as an expatriate Brit — unexpectedly in sympathy with that hardy caricature, the booming and childlike American who imagines that everyone in little old Europe knows everybody else. On its peculiar global mission of diplomacy, trade, dress-up, and brand consolidation, the British monarchy is really an extraordinarily democratic institution: it is estimated that half a million persons, from every possible walk of life, will bump up against one of the Royals in the course of an average year. Surely somewhere in this wry and perceptive book (companion to the BBC-TV series), with all of its photographs and on-the-spot descriptions, I will encounter someone I know? From town to town and nation to nation goes Elizabeth II, her voice trapped forever — like a princess in a tower — at the upper end of its range, speaking to all the peoples of the world with her special gift for the inconsequential. Hardman is a fine writer, particularly adept at capturing the complex mixture of ceremony and domesticity that defines the Royals’ interactions with their own subjects. “Been shot at?” enquires the Duke of Edinburgh of some British servicemen, on a visit to Basra, Iraq. “We were engaged last week in an urban area,” replies Major Jamie Howard. “Thankfully, one of the sentries returned fire and killed the insurgent.” “Oh good,” says the Duke. –