The girl has been chosen to present flowers to the Queen on behalf of her school during a royal visit to the borough; and with that decision two decades worth of solid republicanism has been blown away. That was all it took; a tap on the shoulder, a bunch of wilting freesias and the household’s once-firm political convictions are locked in the attic like Mr Rochester’s first wife, never to be mentioned again in company.
This is how the royals do it; they wander round the country letting people’s children give them flowers, the cunning devils. One minute you are downing merlot at a dinner party and arguing boorishly for abolition of the monarchy; the next you are standing in the rain waving a plastic union flag and shouting “gawd bless your royal highness”. We’d like to think we’ll still be republicans, but it’s quite a hard image to maintain convincingly if you have a bloody great picture of the Queen with your spawn on the wall. Of course, we’ve always had a soft spot for the Queen herself you understand. We’d certainly vote for her if she ran for president; well, unless she was up against Boris – he does makes us laugh.
But it hasn’t just knocked our politics off kilter; inevitably, the girl’s role has changed the nature of the event for us. Yes, we know it will be a fleeting moment probably preceded by two hours shivering in the rain; and that lots of other schools will be there, each with their own bouquets; but it doesn’t matter because the girl is giddy with delight. So now, instead of the Queen’s visit to the borough being one of those tiresome events that messes up the main roads (a role traditionally executed by Transport for London), it is instead the glorious morning when the monarch came to see our little girl. The whole town is getting into the spirit too. The high street is bedecked with flags, which is really lovely of the shopkeepers because most of them don’t know our daughter.
Yes, we really are that egotistical. As far as we are concerned, this is not so much a royal visit as a celebrity guest appearance in the Shrimsley show. But then making ordinary people feel special, if only for a moment, is the whole strategy. Naturally, we’re taking our own specialness to an extreme. We have strict rules and everything has to run punctually. We’ve stressed to the palace that the Queen should arrive no later than 30 minutes before the presentation and be smartly turned out. We don’t want our daughter’s big day ruined because the Queen didn’t make an effort. She must look delighted with the flowers and not pass them to a courtier until she is out of sight.
Little moments like this have been the story of the Queen’s jubilee celebrations – the quiet but firm reassertion of her place at the centre of our culture. For too long, the Royals seemed to exist as mere tabloid fodder, moving seamlessly from one PR shambles to the next. They appeared like contestants in the early rounds of Britain’s Got Talent, breezing overconfidently on to the public stage, blissfully unaware of their shortcomings, only to find the whole country mocking them once they opened their mouths. “I’m sorry Prince Edward but that’s three noes. Now toddle along, there’s a performing dog we’re waiting to see.”
But no more; some serious professionalism has taken root at Buck House. It’s been one perfect image after another, from Prince William in the Falklands and Prince Harry kidding around with Usain Bolt to the Queen dropping in on a wedding in Manchester. And in between they are crisscrossing the nation seeking out fair-weather republicans and accepting posies from their kids. The people running the royal family’s PR deserve large tracts of Cornwall for their work, or at least a lifetime’s supply of Duchy Originals.
Diehard republicans will resist the flummery, but since most people are at least mildly disposed towards the monarchy, this simple strategy should shore up the institution for a few decades. Ultimately, if you are going to have a head of state, you want someone Colin Firth or Helen Mirren can play in the movie. I can’t see either of them as Boris Johnson, and I’m fairly sure the girl wouldn’t wait in the rain to give him flowers.