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Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Let the Will and Kate show begin!

Admittedly, they are a winsome twosome who brought back excitement and glamour to the British royal family. But why the blazes are we so dazzled by the likes of them? 

TOMORROW, the most famous and glamorous royal pair in the world comes to town: Prince William and Princess Catherine a.k.a. the Duke and Duchess of Cam­bridge.

What a mouthful but, boy, don’t we just love the sound of it – so posh, so noble and yes, sooooo romantic.

It’s a tad ironic that many nations in the last couple of centuries dumped their monarchs in revulsion over their feudalistic, despotic ways, yet royalty’s power to excite the imagination has not dimmed.

For example, South Korea is stoutly republic but that hasn’t stopped its TV stations producing many popular K-dramas based on a fictional royal family set in modern times.

The ones I’ve seen usually have storylines of a long-lost princess or prince being discovered or the royal family battling conspiracies and winning the love and support of the Korean citizenry.

British royalty, however, has lasted – “as old as the hills”, as one wit described it on an online site – and is arguably “first among equals” where royal houses are concerned.

Despite its lineage, by the latter half of the 20th century, Queen Elizabeth II and her family had settled into stodgy respectability and were admired in a rather detached way.

After all, it was hard to go gaga over them when they were rather dull and not particularly good-looking or trendy. Princess Margaret was slightly scandalous but she seemed more desperate than daring.

Enter Diana and British royalty was turned on its head.

No one could and still can’t beat her combination of beauty, glamour, charity and blue blood.

I was in London the day she died on Aug 31, 1997. When I came back, I lamented her passing in a long column in the Sept 11, 1997, issue of Clove.

In it, I mentioned how I missed the opportunity to see her in person because she died a few weeks before she was due to attend an AIDS charity gala in Singapore.

If I had met Diana, I would be able to boast of a hattrick of sorts – seeing in the flesh three generations of British royalty. That’s because I had tea with Queen E when she came to KL for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 1989 and I am attending the British-Malaysian Chamber of Commerce lunch on Friday where William will give a speech with Kate in tow.

Queen Elizabeth in person looked exactly like her photos and she spoke in a tinkly, girlish voice. And what did we talk about? The weather. The Malaysian weather, to be exact.

And she was funny. During her 1989 visit, she made a trip to Ipoh at the invitation of Sultan Azlan Shah. It had rained before her plane touched down.

As I recall, Queen E shared that when Sultan Azlan escorted her from the plane, he wanted to guide her down the red carpet that had been rolled out. But the rain had soaked the carpet and she said she didn’t want to walk on it, probably because she didn’t want to ruin her shoes.

She painted an amusing picture of two royal persons ever so courteously jostling each other on the red carpet without batting a protocol eyelid.

I have kept the invitation card embossed with her crest which states: The Master of the Household is commanded by Her Majesty to invite Ms June H.L. Wong to a Reception to be given by The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh at Carcosa Seri Negara on Tuesday, 17th October, 1989, at 5.00p.m.

I never found out who the Master of the Household was and why I was invited but I am eternally grateful for the experience.

But why should this piece of cardboard be precious enough for me to keep?

After all, as a Malaysian, I have royals aplenty of my own, all nine households. So why am I quite thrilled by Will and Kate’s visit? I am not the only one: all the 1,100 seats at the BMCC lunch were snapped up a month ago.

That’s a question a UK TV station wants to ask The Star editors – Why are Malaysians interested in British royals so removed from their life? – as part of its coverage of the visit. I am still mulling over my answers to that and other questions.

I can say it’s because we were a former colony and/or protectorate and being part of the Commonwealth, we never completely severed our ties with Old Blighty.

My 85-year-old dad can still sing God Save The King which he learnt as a schoolboy!

I can say it’s because many Malaysians speak English as a first language, earned their degrees in the UK and there is such a familiarity with Britain that London is sardonically described as a second home to rich Malaysians.

And yes, I must add that Malaysians are crazy English football fans.

I should point out we aren’t interested in all British royals though – just the queen, these two and Harry.

And that possibly because we were so enamoured of Diana that we are merely continuing that obsession through her sons and daughter-in-law who are – fortunately or unfortunately – young, good-looking and trendy, vital factors in today’s visual-fuelled world.

And who doesn’t love a real-life story of a commoner who wins the heart of a prince and becomes a nation’s future queen?

But I honestly believe that if Kate was plain, we wouldn’t be so interested. That’s why Sarah Ferguson and Sophie (Prince Edward’s wife lah!) never wowed us the way Diana did.

In time to come when William loses more hair, he may also lose his shine, the way his dad did. How Kate holds up and evolves in her role as princess remains to be seen and, therefore, her longevity on the popularity scale.

But for now, they are the It Royal Couple. Welcome to Malaysia, Your Highnesses.

> If you can offer other reasons why we are interested in British royals and what it is you like to read about the Duke and Duchess, let the writer know so that the better she can answer the UK TV station people. Ta and toodle pip!

So Aunty, So What? By JUNE H.L. WONG

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