Melanie McDonagh

What was the Queen meant to say about the Chinese officials?

What was the Queen meant to say about the Chinese officials?
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A retired diplomat I know had no doubt about where the blame lay for the Queen’s Very Rude episode. 'Sounds as though the officials let her down badly - twice - in filming private conversations and then not vetting them,' he observed acidly.

And certainly it does seem as though the broadcasters’ cameraman at large – representing the BBC, ITV et al -  may have to have his right-to-roam licence revoked for any social gathering involving HM. The reason, I’d have thought, why he was let loose at cocktail and garden parties was that the Palace thought he, or rather his bosses, could be trusted with the content. More fool them.

The notion that you’ve got an all-seeing, all-hearing camera following you around is fine if you know that someone with a bit of nous is going to be filtering the content, though it would still cramp my style. The notion that he’s got journalistic licence to record whatever exchanges he likes and then serve up the most embarrassing bits for public consumption is downright odd. (Though obviously unlicensed print journalists hovering at these gatherings to pick up stories are quite another thing).

It’s always a bit of a joke, isn’t it, how anodyne the Queen sounds in conversation? The 'did you come far?' routine is the epitome, the quintessence, of the inoffensive, the bland. And now we know why.  The minute the unfortunate 90-year-old opens her trap to say anything that gives away that she has opinions, we’re on her case.

Actually, the tenor of the conversation was set not by the Queen but by the Lord Chamberlain or whoever it was introducing the police officer, Commander Lucy D’Orsi, who was complaining about being given a hard time by the Chinese officials during President Xi’s state visit. 'Tell her your story,' he prompted her. 'She was seriously, seriously undermined.' After that, if the Queen hadn’t said anything at all, or had observed that it’s all part of the job, love, then her interlocutors would have found it a bit odd and unsympathetic. The weirdness of the story isn’t the Queen’s sentiments, but in the fact that we’re getting to hear about them.

How bland do we need the Queen to be? Perhaps in future, if she just smiles and nods, we’ll all be happy. Though how any sentient human being can carry on in this vein forever is beyond me. You want the Queen to live to be 100, don’t you? Well it would help if we’d occasionally let her say what she thinks, within reason. And saying the Chinese can be 'very rude' is, like the observation that Afghanistan is corrupt, in the realm of the incontrovertible and obvious.