I remember Charles’ first wedding.
At that time I’d gone what some people might call a little crazy, and was trying to start a new movement called ‘the International Front’. There was a short manifesto with ten demands aimed to make life freer and better for everybody –one of them being the abolition of the monarchy.
The idea was simple. To show that you agreed with the demands, you merely had to sport a little badge with the word ‘if’ on it. When the majority of the population of Britain was wearing them – the government would have to meet the demands.
To publicize the movement I handcuffed myself to the altar rail in St. Paul’s Cathedral. But although that incident was mentioned in ‘Time Out’ magazine, and I managed to briefly explain the aims on a popular radio phone-in programme, feeling the idea wasn’t catching on fast enough I revved up the campaign by putting myself forward as candidate for President of Britain and announcing that I was the Second Coming, which resulted in a tapped phone and being suspiciously shadowed in the streets. Eventually, to protect my safety and sanity, I abandoned the project and left the country.
But I remember Charles’ first wedding clearly, because my feverish revolutionary plot was at its peak at that time back then in ’81…
On the eve of the wedding I’m sitting in my bed-sit wondering what to do. The next day will be the ceremony, with the whole world looking on. Wouldn’t this be a perfect time to perform an action that would outshadow the marriage and bring global attention to the existence of the ‘International Front’?
Stuck on my wardrobe door is the picture of a Negro youth, his face painted in a black and white tribal design. Using watercolors, I paint the pattern onto my own face. Finished, I look in the mirror and compare. My face is broken in black and white fragments, just like my warrior hero. Satisfied, I don a straw hat which seems to fit the image, pin an ‘if’ badge to my shirt, and go out into the night.
I feel conspicuous walking to the underground, but there is dark between the streetlamps and not many people about. In the bright light of the station and the tube it’s a different matter; my bizarre makeup draws many a second curious glance, but they’re mostly tired commuters on their way home, and I seem well behaved enough, not raving or gesticulating.
I get off at Fleet Street. It’s a warm night and the pavements are crowded. People have come early to get a place to watch the Royal Party as they pass to and from St. Paul’s on the morrow. Many carry little plastic union jacks to wave at the carriage. Metal fences have been erected against the side of the road. This time my face gets more attention, especially from those standing outside pubs with drinks in their hands. But reaction is generally mild: muttered “Look at that!” or “Oh my God!”, widening of eyes and nudges, although one man calls out: “He’s asking for trouble, that one!”
The crowd in front of St. Paul’s is denser. Some at the front are even camped on the ground in sleeping bags, determined to be able to tell their grandchildren that they actually witnessed Princess Diana in her wedding gown on that special day.
The cathedral front is lit up with floodlights, and policemen and women stand silhouetted in various poses on the steps. A bright red carpet leading up from the street to the main entrance is being secured with heavy blows by a worker with a hammer. The pounding echoes around the square, putting me in mind of the nails being driven into the hands and feet of Christ, and the scene reminds me of a kind of Nazi Rally – the police, the people, the flags, the open space.
“Are you a New Romantic?” asks a wide-eyed teenage girl, arm draped round the shoulder of her boyfriend.
“In a way, I suppose,” I reply.
I do nothing.
I walk back home, trying to exorcise the horror of it all. As I pass a petrol station a black man filling his tank notices my painted face and calls out:
Next morning it’s the actual royal wedding. The family where I’m cleaning (I worked as a domestic at that time) have the television on full blast for the event, although no one is watching it. I’m hoovering in the living room when there’s a ring at the front door. It’s an old woman from across the road, asking them to turn the sound down or close the windows. Her son works nights and is trying to sleep, she says, and “it’s impossible with that awful racket the commentator is making!” I’m impressed that here in middle-class Highgate on this joyful royal day at least one anti-monarchist has crawled out of the woodwork to voice their disapproval.
In the late afternoon I put on the tribal makeup again and take the tube to Brixton, where I’ve learned there’s a reggae concert to be held in a playground in Railton Road as an alternative to the Royal Wedding. I have badges and leaflets with me. It could be a rich recruitment area.
I queue at the wooden gate to pay the two pound admission, but when I hand over a fiver to one of the guys collecting the money, he doesn’t give me any change. I try to explain, but he curls his lip and waves me in, avoiding my eyes, saying I’d given the correct amount. There’s a crowd waiting behind me; causing a scene doesn’t seem to be a good idea, so I enter the playground, uncomfortably aware that I am now completely broke and will have to walk all the way back home.
In the compound everybody’s black, mostly Rastafarians, just standing around smoking spliffs and listening to the music from a reggae band. Parking myself next to a man in a red, green, and gold beret, I offer him a leaflet and a badge. He declines the leaflet but accepts the badge and hands it to the tiny daughter by his side. Noticing the free gift, other children approach with outstretched hands. I give them all badges. They’re fascinated by my black and white makeup and ask what I’m supposed to be. While I’m bending down trying to explain, a little girl reaches out and rubs at my face.
Delighted at her daring, several other little friends join in with giggling gusto, leaving my masterpiece smudged and my nose sore. I escape to the top of a playground slide to watch and listen to the music, but I realize that I am a misfit here. I’m not one of these cool, together, reggae blacks. I’m just a sad white loser. My mind’s in a turmoil, no matter how I try to control it. As far as they’re concerned I’m Bozo the Clown, only not as funny.
I leave the party early, and yes, have to walk all the way home, miles and miles and miles. Dawn is breaking by the time I get there. My feet ache and my legs are tired, but there’s the sudden trill of a blackbird, the smell of grass from the Heath, and noticing some glistening sap on still unfurling leaves on a tree illuminated by a street lamp, it suddenly feels good to be alive again.
That’s my memory of that first wedding day.
Now the Prince, otherwise known as Earl of Chester, Duke of Cornwall, Duke of Rothesay, Earl of Carrick, Baron Renfrew, Lord of the Isles and Great Steward of Scotland, Knight of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, Knight of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle, and Great Master and Principal Knight Grand Cross of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath, is getting married again, this time to a 58 year old divorcee whom Diana nicknamed ‘the Rottweiller’.
Once the ring’s on her finger she’ll be addressed as ‘Princess Consort’, but people already bow and curtsey to her.
Not, this time, a grand state occasion in St. Paul’s Cathedral, but at a humble ceremony at the Guildhall in Windsor. ‘Mummy’, Queen Elizabeth the Second, the richest woman in the world will not be present, but will attend a church blessing and reception at nearby Windsor Castle afterwards. Remember how she ruined her sister Margaret’s life by refusing to let her marry Group Captain Peter Townsend because he was divorced? She’s changed her tune a bit.
So has the Church of England.
The official reason for the abdication of Edward V111 in 1936 (putting the Queen’s dad’s bum on the throne instead) was that the church would not allow him to wed Wallis Simpson because it was forbidden to allow divorcees to remarry. (Actually it’s now more generally believed that the real reason that forced Edward to abdicate was his Nazi connections and personal friendship with Adolf Hitler.) But we can’t be sure of that until the mysterious documents in the 11 sealed ‘Monckton Boxes’ are allowed to be read in 2024.
Whatever, the Church of England changed their mind in 2002 and officially approved the remarriage of divorcees, so both Charles and Camilla got the go ahead. Can’t see why they bothered really, as they’d been live-in partners for several years, but probably as a way of increasing the loot flow from the Civil List, from which Charles is presently paid 4 million a year for ‘official duties’.
Larger earnings (over 7 million a year) come from his land in the duchy of Cornwall, of which Charles is Duke. Camilla will become Duchess.
In a country where over five million live in absolute poverty, and most of the others are counting their pennies, the Prince’s personal wealth is estimated at £346 million.
And quite right too, many say. For one mustn’t forget that in England the concept that “All Men are Created Equal” is treason. The Royal Family rules Great Britain and is head of the Church of England by Divine Right (God says they are born to reign).
“The state of monarchy is the supremest thing upon earth; for kings are not only God’s lieutenants upon earth, and sit upon God’s throne, but even by God himself are called gods”, said James I of England (and VI of Scotland). From this, he deduced that any objection to the way he ruled was blasphemy, and who are we to argue?
So the date was all set for the nuptials of the happy pair, when what should happen to put the gloomers on it? Another divinely appointed individual (the Pope) goes and dies, and wants his funeral on the same day as the wedding! One was sure to overshadow the other, and Charles worked out which. Forced to postpone the ceremony for 24 hours, he heads to Rome for the Papal interment.
For make no doubt about it, when it comes to claims of divine rights nothing can hold a candle to the Vatican.
The Roman Church is founded on a political dogma claiming that the Pope is ‘supreme ruler of the world’; superior to all kings, prime ministers and presidents, the only mediator in the salvation of God’s elect, which insists that all other Churches, including the Church of England, ‘are not Churches in the proper sense’, and since this claim is believed by millions of voting people around the world, it’s worth all these Presidents and Princes and Prime Ministers putting in an appearance with bowed heads, looking sad and soulful in magnificent surroundings around the decomposing body of the head of the richest corporation in the world – an excellent photo opportunity.
Were it not for the risk of excommunication for blasphemy I might suggest that God is spinning in his grave right now at this breathtaking display of hubris, hypocrisy and death broadcast live from St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
And so, after a few hours wearing the countenance of a sad spaniel in Italy, Charles will jet back to England and take on the role of merry marrying monarch yet again.
Were it not for fear of being arrested under the 1848 Treason Felony Act, which makes it a criminal offence, punishable by life imprisonment, to advocate abolition of the monarchy in print, even by peaceful means, I would suggest just that.
In fact I will. Is Britain a democracy? Democracy is based on the idea that we are equal, a system that gives power to the individual and the people as a whole. Monarchy is the antithesis of democracy – it has no place in a democratic society. It’s time for them to go.
In 1923 the BBC considered broadcasting the marriage of Lady Elizabeth Angela Marguerite Bowes-Lyon (later, the Queen Mother) to the Duke of York (the future George VI). Courtiers refused on the grounds that the service might be heard ‘by men in public houses’ with their caps still on. That would never do.
Times have changed. I’m sure the BBC television will be covering the Prince’s wedding extensively, just as they did the last one. And the funeral of the Pope, of course.
As for me, I can’t promise to keep my TV turned off over Friday and Saturday –such a feast of horror and comedy and tragedy can be fascinating.
But I’ll be keeping my cap on.
MICHAEL DICKINSON is a writer and artist who works as an English teacher in Istanbul, Turkey. He designed the cover art for two CounterPunch books, Serpents in the Garden and Dime’s Worth of Difference, as well as Grand Theft Pentagon, forthcoming from Common Courage Press. He can be contacted through his website of collage pictures at http://CARNIVAL_OF_CHAOS.TRIPOD.COM