Robert Hardman

Diary - 21 April 2016

Also in Robert Hardman’s diary: the future of royal walkabouts, and the return of the airship

Diary - 21 April 2016
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The Queen’s 90th birthday celebrations start this week with the real thing and barely stop until her official birthday in June. What should a grateful nation give Her Majesty? It’s said what she really wants is a thing that has eluded every reigning monarch bar Edward VII: a Derby winner. If the government cannot arrange that, then it can do this. In this midst of this birthday ‘season’, on 18 May, is the state opening of Parliament. I’m told Westminster is considering changes to make the ritual easier for the main player. Politicians could start by excising their jargon from the Queen’s Speech. Last year, people winced at her talk of ‘psychoactive drugs’ and ‘metro mayors’. It was worse under the previous regime, as Tony Blair has admitted. ‘The poor Queen was reading out New Labour twaddle,’ he told me in an interview. ‘It was so embarrassing listening to that “New Labour, New Britain” stuff.’ Indeed it was. Just imagine having to recite it.

The Queen has had a daily reminder of this birthday for almost a year: a documentary crew trailing her for the ITV film Our Queen at Ninety. As its writer, I have been struck by how little the royal pace has slowed over the years. But the crowds are only getting bigger and HM does not want to disappoint. So the Palace has come up with a solution. When long walkabouts became impractical for the late Queen Mother, her chauffeur procured a golf buggy. She loathed it until someone had the idea of painting it in her racing colours. While that was very ‘her’, it’s out of the question for the Queen. Ditto a Popemobile. Too sedentary. She hates to sit while others stand. Hence the latest addition to the Royal Mews wheeled out this week. Range Rover has created a new open-top ‘State Review’ vehicle. It’s designed for standing up and has an electric motor, so it can move silently and very slowly through crowds without belching fumes over them, and can thus go indoors (it made its debut recently inside the Millennium Stadium). Wisely, it has been painted in the same royal claret livery as the State Bentley.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s successful trip to India has been hailed for drawing a line under that image of a solo Princess of Wales at the Taj Mahal in 1992. For British diplomats, it also helps to draw a line under the last state visit to India in 1997. Shortly before the Queen’s arrival, the Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, had said in Pakistan that Britain stood ready to resolve the issue of Kashmir — intolerable meddling in the eyes of the Indian government. The Queen landed in Delhi, accompanied by Mr Cook, to be greeted by one snub after another. The tour swiftly became toxic and the British High Commissioner left the Foreign Office soon afterwards. Mr Cook tried to blame everyone but himself. Only later did it emerge that he had abandoned the Queen midway through the tour to nip home and see his mistress.

The royal birthday has eclipsed another anniversary a fortnight later. Despite trade unionists’ pledges to mount a ‘militant and imaginative’ campaign in honour of the 1926 general strike, the only event arranged so far seems to be a fancy-dress TUC rally in Swindon. Maybe someone is planning a surprise.

The luvvies of Hampstead are petitioning against yet another supermarket. Last year, Emma Thompson and the gang saw off plans for a Tesco. Now locals are fighting a new Sainsbury’s. But to get what they really want, they should adopt the Hyacinth Bucket strategy used elsewhere in the capital. It was in 2012 that angry residents in Sidcup created an action group and a petition against plans to not open a Waitrose. The Sidcup branch is now booming.

We are obsessed with faster trains — HS2, Crossrail and so on. So why is aviation going in the other direction? It’s more than a decade since we scrapped Concorde (I was on its last flight, wedged between Piers Morgan and Jeremy Clarkson as they threw food, drink and insults at each other across the Atlantic). Nothing since has come close. The new Airbus is no faster than the Boeing 747 (born 1969). Now an enterprising company in Bedfordshire is regressing one step further with the largest aircraft in the world — a luxury airship which will cruise at just 90mph. It is an astonishing sight. And being filled with fire-retardant helium, the ‘Airlander 10’ will never go the way of the Hindenburg. Its main challenge, PR-wise, is its bulbous shape, which causes endless comparisons with a celebrity’s fundament. Fed up with the ‘Kim Kardashian’s bum’ tag, the company has now tried to raise the tone by naming the vessel ‘Martha Gwyn’, after the chairman’s wife. Mrs Gwyn says that she is ‘both shocked and delighted by this honour’.

Robert Hardman writes for the Daily Mail and is author of Our Queen.