Queen Elizabeth was in Winnipeg earlier this month for just over six hours, but no one can say they were not spent productively. She came, she waved, she stood by the Sals on Esplanade Riel for a photo-op while the local news ran live coverage of her accepting flowers from small children. Given how breathlessly the anchors gave their play-by-plays at the scene, it would seem that we, as a city, are easy to impress and she wouldn’t need to do anything else to stay in our favour.
But she is an overachiever if there ever was one. She later toured the site of the Museum for Human Rights, gave a speech at the Forks and then sat outside in ridiculously humid conditions while performers on stage tried not to let her see them sweat. It was a good show all around. Admirable effort. Maybe next time we’ll spring for a “nip” just to watch her eat it in rapt attention. Seeing all the other mundane things she’s done while touring the country, she would probably be game. Or too polite to turn down the offer. Either way, it seems, she would have our adoration.
It’s true — on the rare occasion that the Queen graces this city with a visit, thousands of citizens show up to see her, without fail. Or they, like me, sit in air-conditioned living rooms watching the news instead of being outside in the heat. But why do we find her so interesting? Any day of the week we can see well-dressed, older ladies touring the Forks, but because she is royalty we treat her with a fascination usually reserved for visiting B-list movie stars. But therein lies the answer; we act star-stuck around her because, to us, she is essentially a celebrity, just like those movie stars.
The argument has been made that the monarchy should be abolished for various reasons, among them that it’s ridiculous for taxpayers to support their luxurious lifestyles with money that could instead be going to support vital services used by the public. A good reason, but one with a little less gravity once one realizes that the per-person cost to each British citizen is only the equivalent of 97 Canadian cents per year, as of 2008-09. Still, for that reason and many others, anti-monarchy groups will not rest until the Queen and her family are cut loose and their positions eliminated.
At this point however, as evidenced by our reaction during her visit, it would do little good. Go ahead and abolish the monarchy, but not without first abolishing the concept of celebrity. Financially supported or not, the royal family is still famous, and famous people do not let themselves go broke and disappear from public view. If magazines have taught me anything, quiet dignity gets thrown aside all too quickly when prominent people have to promote themselves to stay afloat. It would be a shame to drive the Queen’s family to actively seek out publicity alongside the ranks of reality TV personalities. Her adoring public would not stand for that.
Let’s face it. If the monarchy were to be cut-off, we would see even more of them. Like any star whose fame is in danger of waning, there are other avenues to pursue for cash. When savings and investments are not enough, endorsements are a perfect opportunity for a quick payday and to keep one’s face recognizable. When Sarah Ferguson divorced Prince Andrew and received a less than enormous settlement, she became a spokesperson for Weight Watchers International. Would the Queen’s pride allow for her face to be plastered on boxes of Tetley tea in supermarkets shelves? Pardon my language, but not bloody likely. Perhaps instead she would follow in the footsteps of other celebrity designers and market her own line of hats?
Besides, at the moment, the royal family does, in a way, legitimately work for their money. Touring Canada and foreign countries is no different than stars going on press junkets to support a movie. Except actors and actresses are paid by movie studios, who in turn make their money from the entertainment-hungry public buying tickets. In both cases, the money comes from the same source — the people — and with the monarchy, there are fewer middlemen. And of course, movie tickets cost more than 97 cents per person.
If given the choice between supporting the monarchy or having them grasp at relevance like other celebrities, I would choose the former. Sure, they’re arguably powerless figureheads. And yes, there are countless ways to better spend the money allocated to support them. But when the Queen waves her hand and deems us worthy of hosting her, people in Winnipeg can’t help but stare and mumble well-wishes. It’s a small price to pay for the quick thrill of watching someone with so much wealth and prestige sit through a sweltering concert in fancy dress, all for our amusement. It’s an obligation on her part, but she needs the support of her loyal fans. As long as she keeps touring, we’ll keep showing up. Long live the Queen, and let’s do our part to keep her off the magazine racks.
Meredith Holigroski is the Design Editor at the Manitoban.