Don’t cancel Queen

Another week, another whitewash. The latest chunk of culture to be painted out of existence is ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’, Queen’s 1978 hit. Don’t misunderstand me. I’ve never liked the song. I think it’s crude, patronising and misogynistic. It was pretty dated even on the day Queen recorded it. But that’s my problem. Millions loved it. That’s why it was track four on the band’s 1981 Greatest Hits album. But as Universal Records re-release Queen’s classic collection, FBG is track nothing. Track gone. Track ghosted. We’ve got to stop doing this neopuritanical cultural censorship, whether it be with songs, books (Enid Blyton’s PC-filtered Famous Five or P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves), fairy stories

Stamped out: Royal Mail’s plan to shrink Queen Elizabeth’s head

As King Charles’s stamps begin landing on our doormats more frequently, we’ll be saying goodbye to the familiar Arnold Machin silhouette of Queen Elizabeth II that has appeared on our envelopes for 55 years. But what is less familiar is the story of how that silhouette almost changed dramatically two decades ago.  Early in this millennium, the Royal Mail’s design director, Barry Robinson, led a secret initiative to design a new set of ‘definitive’ stamps – the everyday 1st and 2nd class ones. The aim was to make it easier for visually impaired or partially sighted people to see the class of stamp by making the ‘1’ or ‘2’ much

Where would we be without our dogs?

Is a dog man’s best friend? Or is man a dog’s best friend? There is no relationship quite like that between dog and human. My husband loves me, but if I locked him in a cupboard for ten minutes, he would be furious. If I locked my dog up for an hour, she would be nothing but overjoyed to see me when I let her out. There is something profoundly moving about two friends who have such a complete, unquestioning trust in each other. Our dog, Budgie, has become a firm fixture in our lives – she accompanies me everywhere. Last week she wasn’t allowed in the Post Office and

America’s touching tributes to the Queen (1901)

The United States hasn’t always reacted rather snidely to the death of the British monarch. Below is The Spectator’s lead piece following the funeral of Queen Victoria in 1901, available on our fully-digitised archive. Nothing has been more striking, nothing more moving to the British as a nation, than the way in which the Queen has been mourned and her memory reverenced in the United States. The English-speaking people of America almost with one voice have joined the English-speaking people of the British Empire in their expressions of affection for the Queen. The outside world has wondered at the spectacle, and has asked how it comes about that a people

Her Majesty’s enduring love of dogs and horses

In 1995, Her Majesty was heard to remark that the worst aspect of the Parker Bowles divorce was that she had got Danny back. Danny was a corgi given to Camilla and me by the Queen in the early 1990s. She had previously given us a corgi called Windsor Flame who was wonderful, intelligent and brave. Danny had none of these qualities. He was short in looks, legs and temper. After the divorce he returned to Windsor, where he spent the rest of his life, very happy, in the care of Mrs Nancy Fenwick, who was unofficially the keeper of the Queen’s dogs. I came to realise how much the

Lionel Shriver

Not all Americans are so crass

In the face of American snark about the Queen’s death, many a British newspaper reader was disgusted. With bad tidings imminent on Thursday last week, an academic at Carnegie Mellon tweeted: ‘I heard the chief monarch of a thieving raping genocidal empire is finally dying. May her pain be excruciating.’ An assistant professor in Rhode Island tweeted that she would ‘dance on the graves of every member of the royal family, especially hers’. Once the bleak news was in, a co-host of the popular US television show The View imagined this the ideal time to observe: ‘If you really think about what the monarchy was built on, it was built

Sam Leith

Charles III will reign in an age where feeling trumps duty

Charles III’s first address to the nation as King began by speaking of sorrow – and went on to speak of love. He used ‘love’ or its cognates eight times in that short speech. He spoke of his ‘darling Mama’ and ‘dear late Papa’, of love for Harry and Meghan, love for his people and for tradition, and the loving support of his ‘darling wife’. He spoke, too, of grief and consolation. In setting out his stall as King – if that’s not too vulgar an expression for what he has been doing over the past few days – Charles III has done so in terms of feeling. He has

Elizabeth II’s devotion to the Commonwealth

It’s a question which would inevitably surface during any serious discussion of Queen Elizabeth II: who was her favourite prime minister? Unlike her grandfather, George V, who was clear that he favoured Ramsay MacDonald (and told him so), or George VI, for whom Winston Churchill was the clear winner, Elizabeth II always kept us guessing. Was she, too, a Churchill devotee? Some say she harboured a greater fondness for her first Labour PM, Harold Wilson, and not just because he was good company and shielded her from the republican wrath of his own MPs. He did not, unlike Churchill, outstay his welcome but timed his resignation to divert attention from

Dear Mary: How do I confront my husband without telling him I hacked his emails?

Q. The Queen had the knack of making you feel that you were the only person in the room. At parties I find a few friends are listening to other people’s conversations as they listen to you, and give themselves away by interjecting a sudden response to the other conversation. Mary, what could I say that is more tactful than: ‘Am I boring you?!’ – A.S., Petersfield A. As an equalising strategy quip: ‘I must admit I was tempted to chip in to that conversation myself. I suppose we must have been boring each other!’ Q. I plan to travel from Gloucestershire to pay my respects to Queen Elizabeth, and

Augustus and a lesson in self-publicity

The death of Her Majesty raises the question of a commemoration of her extraordinary years of service. Augustus ruled the Roman empire from 27 bc to ad 14 and was the longest serving of the roughly 70 emperors of the western empire (which ended technically in ad 476). He may have cracked a joke on his deathbed, asking those around him to applaud if he had played his part well in the comedy of life, but he was in deadly earnest about documenting in the first person a selective record of his own achievements (res gestae) for posting across the empire in both Greek and Latin. For example, he tells

Portrait of the week: The death of Queen Elizabeth II – and the accession of King Charles III

Home The body of Queen Elizabeth lay in state at Westminster Hall, in a coffin draped in the royal standard on which were placed the orb and sceptre, before her funeral in Westminster Abbey on 19 September, declared a bank holiday. She had died at Balmoral on the afternoon of 8 September, two days after appointing Liz Truss Prime Minister there. The new King took the name Charles III. In a televised address the next day, he said: ‘As the Queen herself did with such unswerving devotion, I too now solemnly pledge myself, throughout the remaining time God grants me, to uphold the constitutional principles at the heart of our

Martin Vander Weyer

Let’s see some energy policy action

At His Majesty’s Treasury, it’s all looking a bit like Year Zero in revolutionary Cambodia. Kwasi Kwarteng’s first act was to sack the respected but ‘orthodox’ permanent secretary Sir Tom Scholar. Now the FT reports the Chancellor ordering underlings to focus ‘entirely on growth’, presumably at the expense of financial discipline. I’m picturing a locked basement of fearful officials labouring under Kwarteng’s lash to translate his forthcoming ‘fiscal event’ – tax cuts on top of massive spending to cap energy bills and unlimited borrowing to pay for it – into the sort of Whitehall language that might make it sound reasonable. Meanwhile, businesses large and small remain completely in the

Matthew Parris

Must Charles change?

When something starts to be said with such frequency that it fast becomes the conventional wisdom, one should pause, step back and give it a second thought. In almost every ‘Advice to King Charles’ column I’ve read, and in broadcast commentary too, the same piece of wisdom is being repeated: the new King must now distance himself from his own strong opinions on a range of subjects, and assume an air of neutrality on anything remotely controversial or ‘political’. He must forget, and we must forget, that he once had beliefs. ‘You can do it, Charles,’ we’ve been saying. ‘You can wipe your personal software of all that clutter, empty

Charles Moore

The night the Queen refused to read my book

‘So it is come at last, the distinguished thing!’ exclaimed Henry James on his deathbed. Such a thought is reflected in funerals – always more powerful than a memorial service or ‘celebration’ – because the person’s body is present. When it comes at last to Elizabeth II on Monday, it will be the most distinguished of all the ceremonies. The Household Division is in charge. It is always and only the Grenadier Guards who make up the bearer party. By then, all serving Guards officers will have stood watch over the coffin for the lying-in-state. The Guards are so called because they must guard the Sovereign in life. Their last,

Recollections of a Queen’s piper

In 2015 I was lucky enough to become the Queen’s Piper. I played the bagpipes every morning for about 15 minutes under the window of Her Majesty, normally while she was eating breakfast. The Piper to the Sovereign is part of the household so I travelled with Her Majesty to her royal residencies, including Buckingham Palace, Windsor Castle, Balmoral Castle and the Palace of Holyrood house. The appointment also involved welcoming guests and visitors to the households for audiences with foreign and domestic dignitaries such as ambassadors and heads of state – and also British citizens receiving OBEs or CBEs and so on. For these occasions my role consisted mainly

The chronic misuse of ‘dire’

‘Dire?’ said my husband. ‘It’s something chronic.’ He was putting on his idea of an Estuary accent, in a manner that might soon be unacceptable. But it is true that everything has been called dire lately, and that’s no small claim. ‘Dreadful, dismal, mournful, horrible, terrible, evil in a great degree,’ was the semantic landscape sketched for the word by Samuel Johnson in his Dictionary. Johnson illustrated its usage by quoting Milton: ‘Hydras, and gorgons, and chimæras dire.’ As a matter of fact, in the first published edition of Paradise Lost, the line (Book II, line 628) is ‘Gorgons and Hydra’s, and Chimera’s dire’, with apostrophes that might put us

A lifelong friendship: the Elizabeth I knew

On 29 January 1947, the Queen and Princess Elizabeth came to St Mark’s in Mayfair to attend my marriage to Eric Penn. On the following day they set sail on HMS Vanguard for South Africa where King George VI and the Queen, accompanied by their two daughters, were to make a historic tour of the region at a pivotal moment not just in the history of the union of South Africa, but of the British Empire itself. Princess Elizabeth and I were both born in 1926 within three months of one another, but our paths did not cross until I became engaged to Eric. He was comptroller of the Lord

A toast to absent friends

There have been few more momentous weeks in British history, or indeed in world history. This commentator must plead guilty. To draw on George Bush Jr, I mis-underestimated Liz Truss and appear to have made the same mistake about Ukraine. That said, we should all be relieved when the war is over on favourable terms, and tactical nukes have remained an item in Russian military doctrine, without becoming part of military practice. Another mis-underestimation has now been corrected, one hopes permanently. Though I was never guilty, the former Prince of Wales had not received the respect that was his due. That is not true of King Charles III. Throughout the