My Love Affair With The Royals (And Nearly Anything Else That's British)
In "Love... Actually", Hugh Grant describes Great Britain as follows:
Britain. We may be a small country, but we're a great one, too. The country of Shakespeare, Churchill, the Beatles, Sean Connery, Harry Potter. David Beckham's right foot. David Beckham's left foot, come to that.
Had the film taken place in Germany, the speech would probably go like this:
Germany. We're an average sized country, and overall we're ok... we think. The country of Goethe, Angela Merkel, Scooter, Til Schweiger, Biene Maja. Thomas Müller's right foot. Thomas Müller's left foot, come to that.
Yes, Germany is an OK country and in football, car manufacturing and the beer brewing department we're even doing exceptionally well. Nevertheless, we're lacking one thing: the Glam Factor. One might actually argue that our most glamorous asset at the moment is Helene Fischer. Oh, the horror!
So, when I set foot on UK soil for the first time in 2002, I instantly fell in love with the country because to me it had exactly that Glam Factor that Germany lacked. Metaphorically speaking, coming to the UK was like stepping from my bleak German bedroom through the closet and right into the colourful (yet rainy) world of Narnia: Britain had pop culture icons such as Twiggy, Monty Python and the Gallagher brothers, alluring historical figures like Henry VIII or Elizabeth I and some of the most accomplished writers and artists in history ranging from Geoffrey Chaucer over Damien Hirst to J. K. Rowling. I instantly knew that I wanted to be part of that culture! So I bought a family pack of PG Tips, moved to London for a year, got a degree in Shakespeare Studies, got myself a Scottish boyfriend and named my cats after a character from Downton Abbey and a British pantry staple.
Hold on! I nearly forgot to mention one of the most important things: I became a "fan" of the royal family.
I think my obsession with the royal family didn't start with the royal family itself but with cultural appropriations of it. The image of the Queen was simply everywhere, in Andy Warhol's art, on Sex Pistols album covers and – thanks to the ever-flourishing UK souvenir industry – on any household article imaginable. So, every time I went to the UK I got my mum a new mug picturing a member of the royal family. What started out as a little in-joke between my mum and me, quickly turned into sincere curiosity. I wanted to know who these people really were and so I binge-watched documentaries, films and TV shows about the royals.
This was when I started to develop actual admiration for (parts of) the royal family and the Queen in particular. I admired her for stepping up to the challenging task of accepting the crown at the age of 25 and for having stood her ground ever since. I also admired her for having transformed a somewhat derelict monarchy to something that was all of a sudden slightly cool again. After all, who can't remember the Queen opening the 2012 Olympics alongside James Bond and her corgis pretending to jump out of a helicopter?
I am fully aware that the history of the royal family is far from flawless (cheers Nic for reminding me again and again!) and that monarchy as an institution is probably – as much as it pains me to type this – superfluous. However, I also think that it can be an asset in a symbolic way as cultural capital.
On 19 May 2018 people all over Europe will be glued to their TVs watching Prince Harry marry the American actress Meghan Markle. Some will watch it out of curiosity, some out of boredom, some out of envy and some because a prince falling in love with a middle-class girl is still the ultimate fairy tale to them. But whatever reason they watch it for – on a symbolic level it will also be a celebration of the UK along with its culture and traditions. I mean, when has Germany ever been internationally celebrated for anything like that?
Me personally, I won't be glued to the TV. I decided to treat myself! I ordered a cheap fascinator on amazon and booked a Ryanair flight to the UK. After all, I was there when William and Kate exchanged their vows and I wanted to be there when Harry and Meghan do. You might call me a phony, a fraud or – in the words of the Spice Girls – a wannabe but I will be happy to wave a small Union Jack and to fully live out my adopted Britishness. Even if it's only for a day.