If I were the King of Spain

As king, I would live modestly, employing pomp only when my subjects insisted
Image of Susie Boyt

When I heard of the abdication of King Juan Carlos, I couldn’t help thinking that I’d make a brilliant king of Spain. Perhaps you thought the same thing. Of course, it is unlikely they’ll ask me but people often do ask me far-fetched things.

My qualifications, apart from an intermittently stately manner and a great interest in and fondness for strangers, aren’t negligible. My Spanish is limited but the little I know is regal: lo cortés no quita lo valiente – courtesy does not detract from valour. I would put my name to that sentiment, any day of the week. The actual coat of arms of Spain reads “plus ultra”, and that sits very nicely with how I like to see things. Did the priest at my wedding not quote Robert Browning: “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp or what’s a heaven for?” I try to have high standards.

The handover itself I would handle sensitively. One of my favourite texts is King Lear and it’s taught me quite a bit about how not to do these things. I know how to be tender and respectful to the magnificent elderly in their fading years. I would treat the old king with the correct levels of courtesy. I would make him feel that deep down and on every level he was still the main man. For example, if Juan Carlos in moments of regret should ever say to me, “I gave you all,” I would not dream of replying: “And in good time you gave it.”

No, no, no, no, no.

Also, having recently visited the royal palace in Madrid, where the family entertains, I must confess that I found it much more liveable than Versailles. I would not go so far as to describe it as cosy but, when the dining room is set up for a medium-sized party so that there is also room for dancing, it is a sympathetic space. Some find the porcelain room at the palace claustrophobic, all the walls being lined in china, but as I spend much of my free time hankering after 18th-century pink-and-gold botanical dessert services, this is only a natural step up. I found the room peaceful, like sitting inside the world’s most beautiful teapot, perhaps.

I could throw in here my great fondness for the Madrid Ritz. It is the carpets, bursting with pink and red roses, that make it so festive, as though Christmas has landed unexpectedly in June. Sitting in the lounge, eking out a drink for so many hours that it begins to resemble a great bargain, listening to the pianist while relaxing into a red-and-gold throne-like chair, with a good book, you really don’t feel too shabby. A high tolerance for gold furniture upholstered in red damask is a pre-requisite for happiness in any European monarchy setting but it’s a look with which I feel curiously at home.

To these qualifications, I could possibly add my love of Velázquez paintings, a certain formality in my dealings with others and a great fidelity to jamón ibérico, said to be the world’s sweetest and most complex ham. Years ago, Madonna said that the best combination of personality for a woman was “tough and sweet”. Well, I would like to suggest “complex and sweet”.

According to its website: “The story of jamón ibérico ham is steeped in mystery and romance. The ancient oak pastures of Spain, the noble black ibérico pig, the mountain air which caresses each ham as it is magically transformed into one of the world’s most exquisite foods – all play a part in this uniquely Spanish phenomenon. Without each ingredient, the recipe is disturbed.”

It’s all very, very delicate.

Another thing: I look good in medals. Like a noble blue pine, I suit decorations. I tried some on once a few years ago when I was attempting to get into the mindset of the Tin Man, the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion at the point when they are honoured by the Wizard of Oz at the end of the film. Although, I couldn’t help feeling a little unworthy with a bodice clanking with metal, I did feel more myself.

As king, above all, I would listen to my people. Times being hard, I would live modestly, employing pomp only when my subjects insisted. I would darn old robes and, when off duty, sport old servants’ outfits, scavenged from the attic. I’d walk everywhere, or cycle, or drive a second-hand Nissan Leaf. I’d steer clear of elephants for all eternity. Above all I would be flexible. As Juan Carlos achieved a transition from dictatorship to democratic constitutional monarchy, I would, if the people wished it, even try to ease the transition from constitutional monarchy to republic.

If I could bear to . . .

susie.boyt@ft.com, Twitter: @SusieBoyt

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