American readers with any familiarity with Britain may now be somewhat startled by the effect the death of the Duke of Edinburgh has had on British media, if not on British life. However, the first important thing to realise is that, just as women are not men, and men are not women, Britain is not the United States. Having been drawn into a brief Twitter spat with a fellow Catholic journalist (American), I have been trying to imagine who, in the USA, has played the role of Prince Philip of Greece in public life.
Oh golly. It has just hit me that it might have been Jackie Kennedy Onassis. Surely not? American Royalty is just not very royal, for there is usually too much party politics involved, which is why "senior statesmen" like the grubby Edward Kennedy (may he rest in peace) don't fit this bill. Also, the Royal Family is about continuity from one century to another, providing reassuring tradition and stability in a crazy, rapidly changing world.
Anyway, after the Duke's death was announced, the BBC newscasters (at very least) changed into black, and so did I, just in case anyone wanted me to opine onscreen on his passing. (So far, nobody has.) During work prayers, I asked for prayers for the repose of the Duke's soul and the sparking of a "national conversation about the truths of the Resurrection." As a matter of fact, the Archbishop of Canterbury has been very good in this regard, as the Duke of Edinburgh was a committed or at least a believing Christian.
Meanwhile, the British (or BBC) TV and radio schedules were wiped clean of anything non-Philip. It was non-stop news bulletins about the passing of the Duke of Edinburgh all day, and I shall certainly take a photo of the newspapers at Tesco this morning, for they will certainly have "RIP PRINCE PHILIP"or "DUKE DEAD AT 99" all over them. The Queen has gone into mourning for eight days, and possibly government offices will, too. The thing is, bewildered American readers, the Royal Family are not (or not just) celebrities but part of the historic fabric of British life.
A Senior Royal has not died since 2002, so I have never been around to witness/participate in the national mourning from the ground, so this is very interesting. Of course, it is also sad because I first became acquainted, as it were, with the Duke of Edinburgh as a very small child waiting in the school entrance for the school bus to take me home: there were two portraits on the walls for me to look at: the Queen (circa 1953) looking very pretty, and her husband, looking very handsome indeed. At home we had a softcover book of all the Kings and Queens of England, right down to a photo of the Queen's third child, Prince Andrew's christening (1961). Not having much of a sense of time, I was under the impression that the Royal children were all still children, like me. This illusion was, naturally, dispelled by the hoopla around the Prince of Wales' engagement to Lady Diana Spencer.
Speaking of the late Princess of Wales, one thing nobody ever tells you is that by the night of her sad and sudden death, she was a bit of a national laughing stock. Her numerous affairs and overly-painted eyelashes had made her a tabloid joke by 1996, as I witnessed, having been in England that summer. But then she died, and suddenly she was Saint Diana. Britain cried, and in the small Canadian city where I was then living, flowers were heaped around the statue of Queen Victoria as the most logical place to put them. The inscription on Queen V's monument was "A model wife and mother," which I thought very funny, having emerged my deep sorrow the day the news broke.
Ten years ago, people disapproved of the Duke of Edinburgh for his "outdated" remarks and certainly the worst 1 or 2 of the approximate 1 billion jokes he has made over the years have been repeated over and over again and sound rather worse as the years go on. However, yesterday was (and today and tomorrow and the rest of the week will be) rather different, for his antiquity was seen as a rather good thing: married to the Queen for 73 years, a war hero, a naval officer, a last link with the Greatest Generation, a manly man of the old school, a Stoic who just got on with it, et alia.
I rather like the last identity, for the "celebrity" type of fame implies comfort and luxury, whereas the Royal Family sort implies pulling on rubber boots and going outdoors to be cold and wet in the pursuit of fish, fowl or game, or to ride horses or walk dogs, or to survey gardens and perhaps do some digging, and that's just when on holiday. Normally it's up at 6 to go out and be interested in what strangers have to say all day long, and write and give speeches, and spread comfort and cheer at hospitals. It is not looking fetching in a headscarf with your yoga-toned arms full of orphans, a la Angelina Jolie.
My small note has become long, so I'll stop and cram some Polish in my head so I can speak reasonably fluently to my tutor in an hour. I'll just note that I will always associated the Duke of Edinburgh with my "practise" Duke of Edinburgh Award hike, and so I will forever associate him with gruelling (thus heroic) adventures in the outdoors, as well as with the handsome man in uniform smiling down from the school wall.