When showing visitors around London I would often get asked: Have you met the Queen? As I have done nothing in my life that would warrant a royal introduction I am always taken aback by the question.
But it’s fair to say that I have often ‘seen’ the royals while guiding in London. Usually, it’s a glimpse of someone behind a car window. Occasionally, like on this video, I spot an excited crowd, sneak through to a convenient position, pass the scrutiny of the private detectives and get a glimpse – in the distance – of the King himself. I experienced a frisson of excitement.
I welcomed in the New Year on the Thames riverside about 6 miles to the east. Not quite as impressive but armed with a hip flask of whisky and my loved one it felt much more personal. And didn’t involve the late night scrum getting home on the Tube.
The BBC posted an impressive image of Big Ben ringing in the New Year. It was accompanied by fireworks and a message informing us that we should all feel welcome in London.
Besides, the excitement of fireworks is beginning to wane.
As a child in the 1960s fireworks were very exciting. There was a two weeks build up to 5 November ’fireworks night’. This was where the nation celebrated the failed attempt of a man called Guy Fawkes to blow up Parliament on 5 November 1605. Children would make a big ugly rag doll made of stuffing scraps of material into old stockings. They would drag this doll to street corners and then accost passers-by begging them for a ‘Penny for the Guy’. On 5 November firework parties were held in back gardens across the country. And the old ‘Guy’ would be chucked on the bonfire. By today’s standards the fireworks were pathetic. Little ‘rockets on a stick’ stuck in a bottle with a sad little ‘whoosh’.
The streets would be littered with debris the following day.
There were some public bonfire displays but that was usually it for the year.
New Year’s Eve then created another excuse for big fireworks displays. Now we have Diwali and Chinese New Year.
Fireworks are available to all. Winter nights are punctuated by random firework displays. So many take pleasure in setting fire to their income. The sparks, the bangs, the explosions no longer thrill. And if I had a dog I’d be beside myself with rage at the terror engendered. Thankfully, my cats manage to sleep through it all.
To be honest, we’re spoilt for viewing platforms in London. And the view from the Post Building is dwarfed by many taller spectacular rooftops. But most of them are in the City of London. This one is further west. It’s just around the corner from the British Museum and Oxford Shopping Street. It’s the best one in the area.
I’m looking forward to watching King Charles and Queen Camilla getting crowned at Westminster Abbey on 6 May. And it would feel excruciating if something went wrong at their coronation. Such as Charles doing a prat fall; or Camilla’s crown slipping off.
But I still feast on stories of massive coronation fails in history. The more awkward or embarrassing the story the more I love it.
So here’s my film relating the stories of 9 total coronation cock-ups of the past.
I cover a range of topics under the broad umbrella of London with a slant towards London’s history and people.
So far, my playlists include: London Stories, Dead London, Scandalicious London, and Secret London. The list will probably keep growing. The most successful film so far has been the Duchess and the Headless Man – a sex scandal.
Why did Ziggy Stardust Have to Die? is continuing to get views and likes.
In the meantime, do check out my channel directly!
I cried when I heard the news. Roman, also tearful, stood up and left the room. He knew what had to be done. Returning with two glasses full to the brim of gin and Dubonnet we toasted the Queen with her favourite tipple.
If my younger self had watched this little scenario she would have stuck a finger down her throat and made ready to puke.
In June 1977 Britain celebrated the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. A day off work to celebrate 25 years of her reign. Hurray! Let’s go on a pub crawl along the King’s Road.
Sex PistolsGod Save the Queen –Punk fashion
Teenagers paraded their vividly dyed Mohican haircuts, safety-pinned-noses, ripped fishnet, and bin liners scarred with zips, spikes, and angry-motto badges.
Screeching from the pub speakers we heard the BBC-banned Sex Pistols’ chart topping hit:
God Save the Queen
The fascist regime
They made you a moron.
In truth, I didn’t much care for Johnny Rotten’s discordant rantings, but anarchy was in the air; I was young, exhilarated and full to the brim with beer.
A few years later, a Royal Engagement was announced. My finger became glued to my epiglottis. You couldn’t go into a shop without stumbling over piles of plates and mugs depicting Drippy Di and her jug-eared Prince.
How Buckingham Palace became my second ‘home’
Things changed after I became a London tourist guide. Rare was the visiting tour group or family who didn’t want a photo outside Buckingham palace. It became literally my business to apprise myself of the royal comings and goings.
Each year, inbound UK tourism adds millions to the nation’s coffers (approx 9% of GDP). Anyone could see that much of this was boosted by interest in our royal family.
I also thought about all those nation’s leaders and presidents getting into a tizzy when meeting the Queen. It certainly supports how much of an asset she was to diplomatic and trade relations.
We are lucky to have a family willing to play the royal game. What sane person would choose that job? Endless visits to charities, schools, hospitals, manufacturing plants. Living under constant surveillance with never-ending handshakes, polite smiles and small talk. No chance of taking a sickie. And NO power and nothing to abuse.
Apparently, sustaining the Royal Family cost British people the equivalent of a Twix bar per person per year. I suspect that with the cost of living crisis this cost might have increased to a whole box of Ferrero Rocher. Whatever. It’s still a bargain.
In August this year I went to a music festival in Devon. A duo called Bob Vylan came on. Their presence was electrifying and I felt compelled to push to the front. This promised to be the highlight of the weekend.
Bob Vylan (L: drummer Bobbie R: rapper Bobby)
Comprising rapper Bobby Vylan and his drummer Bobbie Vylan their songs rage about the trials of being black in an institutionally racist country.
They’re particularly popular on the white, middle-class festival circuit.
But suddenly something changed. Bobby V commanded us to put our cameras away for the next song. And then he announced what it was. A song about an old lady who had a reign of terror for 70 years.
This country’s in dire need of a fucking spanking, mate
Look it over, get the fucking dinosaurs out
Yeah, and kill the fucking Queen
She killed Diana, we don’t love her anyway
What? Surely not? I became confused. But I did get his message. And I’m ashamed to say I still moved to his beat and left the arena covered in sweat and euphoria.
Returning home, the guilt and revulsion started to creep in.Watching Bobby Vylan on YouTube, his wrathful face distorted and ugly, I realised how deeply he despised his audiences and felt truly sick.
On 8 September 2022 Bobby Vylan got his wish.
Long live the King.
So yes, I haven’t always been a monarchist. And yeah, all those of you who think the monarchy is an anachronism, and undemocratic, and should be abolished, I get you. I really do.
But I cannot forgive Bobby Vylan for spewing up his vile, ignorant stage-vomit. For his crass and dumb notions. For his all-consuming self-regard and scorn for those who follow him.
Several weeks have now passed. I’m no longer sad about the Queen. Although I am still angry about the dim-witted rapper.
I want to say Kill Bobbie Vylan! But however obnoxious he may be he doesn’t deserve a death sentence. An enforced history lesson might be a good start, though.
Albany – the gentleman’s residence just off Piccadilly.
In 1966, Terence Stamp moved into Albany, a warren of bachelor apartments, just off Piccadilly. Stamp was a 28-year-old cockney son of a tugboat pilot. He had become famous for starring in starring in films such as Billy Budd and Modesty Blaise. He was also dating top model Jean Shrimpton. As he unpacked his boxes in his fancy new flat he knew he’d arrived.
Terence Stamp enjoys a gentleman’s lifestyle
Jean Shrimpton wasn’t overly impressed.
Albany started life in 1774 as a grand mansion on Piccadilly built for Viscount Melbourne. In 1802 it was expanded and converted into 69 apartments known as ‘sets’. They were for gentlemen only who had to adhere to a strict set of rules. Over the years they relaxed the rules and even allowed lady visitors in 1880. When Stamp arrived he willingly conformed to the rules. No whistling, no prostitutes, no noise, no pets, no children. No conversation along the passageways. He did rather flout the rule of no publicity.
He marvelled at the numerous famous people who’d lived there previously: Lord Byron with his parrot (presumably not classed as a pet), William Gladstone, Aldous Huxley, Lord Snowdon, not to mention its inclusion in fictitious works by Dickens and Oscar Wilde.
Lord Byron settled in with his parrot
Today, the Albany trustees allow women to live amongst them. As long as they’re the right sort.
Some sets are held as freehold. In 2017, one apartment went on sale with an asking price of £7m.
As for Terence Stamp, things didn’t go so well for him in the beginning. Jean Shrimpton dumped him, and his career started to pale, especially in comparison to that of his former flatmate, Michael Caine. After three years he set off to India to find the meaning of life.
Stamp squeezed his mark on her mushroom risotto
Yet he still retained his set of rooms. In the 1980s he befriended Princess Diana when her marriage to Prince Charles had foundered. Stamp enjoyed entertaining Diana at his apartment. In spite of rumours that they became lovers, he insists that he behaved like a gentleman at all times. On one occasion he cooked a mushroom risotto and squeezed out the letters HRH in black and white from two tubes of truffle paste. She was thrilled with the result.