I am walking through London on a brisk winter’s night, past pubs that still boast outdoor drinkers in sub-zero temperatures.
This is what makes Britain great! A total disregard for personal comfort so long as it’s soothed by beer.
I wander through the heart of the city and on, past Trafalgar Square, when suddenly there is a loud and piercing whistle followed by manly shouting. Both piercing whistles and manly shouting spell one thing to me: trouble. Real trouble. The kind of trouble that says “You! Get out of the pool! The shallow end is for minors only!”
Nevertheless, whistles and shouting are also exciting. Because it is during moments like this that I Iike to imagine I become some kind of highly sensitised James Bond figure. And by sensitised, I mean in tune with whatever is going on around me. I do not mean I’m the kind of James Bond figure who, sensing danger, immediately tries to start a hugging workshop in a community centre.
“Stop! STOP!” yells a police officer in leather trousers, leaping from his motorbike. Who’s he talking to? Surely not me? I adopt a subtle action stance, in case I need to pounce or duck for cover. So who’s the culprit? Don’t worry, officer – I’ve got your back. Everyone has stopped in their tracks. I study my environment. There’s a Pret opposite. Hopefully Olly Murs isn’t in there, hiding behind a till on his phone.
A moment or two creak by, and it is eerie. Every car, every moped, every pedestrian is still. We all stand waiting and staring at a man in leather trousers. Which I suppose is why men wear leather trousers in the first place. And simultaneously, why they shouldn’t.
The policeman/bellow-fellow is just sort of aggressively pacing now, and finally another police motorcycle comes into view… followed by a long, posh car.
The car gently glides past me.
And in it sits the Queen.
“The Queeeen!” squeals a woman to my left, and her little group bursts into excitement, and a bunch of tourists to my right have to confer and decide that yes, they have come to London, and yes, they have seen the Queen!
“Whoa,” I say, involuntarily, and I start smiling.
I guess this would be like going to Peckham and seeing Del Boy. Or taking a train to Wales and realising you’re sitting next to the GoCompare opera singer.
I’m no die-hard royalist, but even so… the Queen! It’s a Christmas miracle! Seeing the most famous woman in the world in the city she’s most famous for living in feels like it should happen every time you’re there.
But a second later, as soon as she’s out of sight, the mopeds roar off, the buses start again, and people walk away. It’s all done. Like the Queen is a kind of one-woman flashmob. Gone in 60 seconds, everything back to normal.
I wonder what it looked like from her point of view. She must have a wonderful view of Britain. No traffic jams, no bustle, no road rage. You just get in your car and go somewhere, quickly, without stopping. And whenever you look out of your window, it must please you to see the peasants and serfs, simply standing around, aimlessly staring. Like that’s all we do, all day.
But that also seems like a life without excitement. Like the excitement, for example, of unexpectedly seeing the Queen.
I wonder what might happen if the Queen sees someone she recognises. Like, what if she was driving somewhere and looks out – and there’s Nick Knowles? I hope that seeing Nick Knowles may very well have the same effect on the Queen that seeing the Queen has on the people who see her.
Because the sad fact is, the Queen has been robbed of the excitement of seeing the Queen. She literally sees the Queen every day. She can’t get away from her. And yet the excitement of seeing someone really famous like that plays to something fundamental within us. So how can the Queen plug that gap, to maintain her humanity? I would argue by getting excited by Nick Knowles.
It doesn’t have to be Nick Knowles, of course. It might be Monty Don. Perhaps it’s Nick Grimshaw. I don’t think it’s Noel Fielding, because I think she’s still getting used to his knockabout sense of humour. But there’s every chance it’s Toksvig.
As I walk away, I find myself keen to tell strangers I’ve just seen the Queen, but then I remember it’s a brisk winter’s night, and everyone just wants to get home or to the pub, and if I started approaching people and saying I’ve seen the Queen there’s every chance they’d think I was unstable.
So I keep walking, past Downing Street, past Big Ben, but eventually end up at a pub myself, where I stand outside and grip a freezing cold pint glass tightly.
Because it’s Christmas, and I’ve just seen the Queen, and this is Britain.
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