I am obsessed with the British royal family. Obsessed to the point that they should probably not let me back in the country. February 2nd was the 60th Anniversary of the Queen’s ascension to the throne but since any celebration that happens even partially outdoors in England needs to happen in the summer, the official celebrations are only just starting to rev up. You’ll probably be seeing more about it on the news. Here’s some fun facts to impress your friends.
1. The Royal Family Actually has a Point
The question I always get asked is, “But Kathy, what exactly does the royal family dooooooo?” There are a lot of answers to this. They promote charities (and the numbers show they do it very effectively.) They may increase tourism. But for me, the most important thing is that the Queen acts as Head of State while the Prime Minister is head of government. That sounds boring, but bear with me. Remember when George W. Bush danced to those Africa drums and looked like an idiot? Presidents have to do things like that all the time, because they are both head of state and head of government. But in the UK, when the “dancing around to tribal drums” assignment comes up, the Queen, or more likely Prince Harry in this instance, goes and looks adorable. The Prime Minster, the guy with his finger on the button, continues to look important and taken seriously. Not a bad deal for 62p per subject per year.
2. Prince Philip is the Greatest Thing Ever
If you have a slightly racist grandfather, like I do, you understand what Prince Philip is like. Except when my grandfather makes a comment about Asians having “slity eyes,” it isn’t repeated in all the papers the next day. Here’s some of the Duke of Edinburgh’s funniest quotes (and there are dozens):
To the President of Nigeria, who was in national dress, 2003: “You look like you’re ready for bed!”
On the Duke of York’s house, 1986: “It looks like a tart’s bedroom.”
“We go into the red next year… I shall have to give up polo.”
On the new £18million British Embassy in Berlin in 2000: “It’s a vast waste of space.”
“We didn’t have counsellors rushing around every time somebody let off a gun. You just got on with it!”
To a Scottish driving instructor, 1995: “How do you keep the natives off the booze long enough to pass the test?”
At a Bangladeshi youth club in 2002: “So who’s on drugs here?… HE looks as if he’s on drugs.”
3. The Queen is Very Smart
The royal family isn’t know for their brains, and the only empirical evidence we have, exams, were never given to the Queen. But she had the best teachers, including some from Eton, and was taught religion by the Archbishop of Canterbury himself. During WWII she trained as a mechanic. The Queen also speaks fluent French and uses it often when speaking to dignitaries from French speaking countries. The dumbest royal, at least when it comes to book-smarts, appears to be Prince Harry, who only passed two final exams in high school (with a B and a D) and there is strong evidence his teacher helped him cheat on one of them.
4. Her Marriage was Controversial
She got her way in the end, but Elizabeth was fighting an uphill battle to marry the man she had fallen in love with when she was just 13. Prince Philip is ostensibly a member of the Greek royal family, but ethnically he is German. Very German. He fought in the Royal Navy during WWII, but his sisters married high ranking Nazi officers. When Elizabeth announced that she wanted to marry her cousin, it was deemed too soon after the end of the war to be appropriate (being closely related was obviously not a problem.) The couple was forced to wait two years. Philip’s sisters were not invited to the wedding.
5. Speaking of Being German…
Despite the controversy over Philip’s background, the entire royal family is decidedly German. Most of the royal consorts over the past 300 years have come from Germany, and the ones that didn’t had German ancestry themselves. During WWI the family changed it’s name from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Windsor in order to sound less like the enemy. If naming traditions had continued the Queen would currently be the head of the house of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg.
6. 60 Years is a Long Time
Last year Queen Elizabeth became the second longest reigning British monarch, surpassing George III’s 59 years. The first Queen Elizabeth was only on the throne 44 years. If the Queen lives just over three more years she will have reigned longer than Queen Victoria and…
7. It Could Happen
The Queen is in amazing shape for her age (86). Two decades after most people have retired she still works five days a week, and is often forced to be on her feet for long periods, always in heels.
8. The Queen Gets to Break All the Rules
Her Majesty is the only person in the UK who can legally drive even though she doesn’t have a drivers licence. And it isn’t theoretical, the Queen does drive herself over shorter distances. She also doesn’t have a passport despite having visited dozens of foreign countries. Presumably she is not subjected to a pat down either. Contrary to what Helen Mirren said in The Queen, she can vote, although she never has. She also has a bank account.
9. She Loves the Ponies
The entire royal family is obsessed with horses, and race days are the one time their normally stoic faces show some animation.
Prince Philip once said of Princess Anne, “If it doesn’t fart or eat hay, she isn’t interested.” Anne rode in the Olympics, and her daughter Zara is expected to as well this year. One of the biggest problems with Kate Middleton marrying into the family is that she is allergic to horses. But perhaps no one is more obsessed than the Queen. She has bred her own racehorses for decades and attends the bigger races when her schedule allows. During an official visit to the US in 2008, she made sure to have a day off so she could attend the Kentucky Derby.
10. The Queen is an Institution
So far in her reign she has outlasted nine Prime Minsters (her first was Winston Churchill), six Archbishops of Canterbury, five popes, and eleven US Presidents. The majority of the population of Britain has never known another monarch. Many republicans hope that when the Queen dies the monarchy will be abolished, but this almost certainly won’t happen. There has always been a group calling to end it, and in the 1890s Queen Victoria was sure the monarchy wouldn’t outlive her. Chances are there will be a King Charles III and eventually a King William V.