Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Here's what I did while Catherine Cambridge was away..

Huzzah, Catherine Cambridge has returned to royal duties! Well at least for today. This appearance was eagerly anticipated by royal correspondents, photographers, fashion bloggers and others concerned for the welfare of someone they will never meet.
Instead of fretting about her absence, I put this time to constructive use:
  • I lost 35.5 pounds
  • I circumnavigated the globe twice. 
  • I didn't read War and Peace.
  • I learnt how to play the didgeridoo (it was on my bucket list).
  • I crocheted blankets, infant hats and booties for all babies in third world countries.
  • I reviewed approximately ONE book (see valid excuses above).
  • I complained via Twitter about other royal books I have no intention of reading.
  • I googled hyperemesis gravidarum so I could cut and paste it into this article.
I regret this period of personal renewal coming to an end. From now until April my twitter feed will be filled with baby bumps, fashions, inappropriate pregnancy speculation, royal baby names, the biography of her gynecologist and therapists weighing in on the 'spare's' future psychological issues. People despairing at intrusive coverage then inadvertently contributing to it. In my case I will despair about this then (between didgeridoo performances and making nutritious lunches for my children), I will write scintillating commentary attempting to put it all into perspective.

Unfortunately there will be no escape form this coverage. Especially once April arrives and people attempt to beat the record for amount of times #royalbaby can be used on Twitter before it brings down the internet.

April can't come soon enough!
© Marilyn Braun 2014

Thank you for enjoying this article. If you use the information for research purposes, a link to credit the work I've put into writing it would be appreciated.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Royal Review: On Duty With The Queen by Dickie Arbiter


Those are some of the descriptive words used by media outlets and royal correspondent colleagues to describe On Duty with the Queen prior to its release. Having just finished reading it, I can tell you that none of those words apply.

When books written by royal insiders come out, we tend to expect shocking revelations and salacious details. On Duty with the Queen is not that type of book. Dickie's memoir recounts his life before, during and after becoming a royal press secretary. We learn that he is a man of many talents: ice-skater, actor, art historian in training, journalist and broadcaster. Although I found his royal career interesting, I would have preferred to read more about his background. In particular, more about his mother who sounds like she is quite the character!

During his 12 year career as press secretary, Dickie had a front row seat as 'annus horribilis' unfolded, yet he diplomatically steers clear of speculation and passing judgment. Instead he focuses on business, clearing up misconceptions about royal protocol and providing a fascinating behind the scenes look into the press offices, royal tour planning, as well as the role he played in organizing Diana's funeral.

The few royal anecdotes he does provide only allow us a respectful glimpse. He does have his criticisms about members of the royal family, particularly in the aftermath of Diana's death. But he doesn't come across as an apologist for either side, as books by royal insiders tend to do. One of the most moving moments is when he recounts visiting Diana's casket in the Chapel Royal. Relations between Diana and the royal family were not nearly as black and white as the media would have us believe.

If you're looking for a book that includes intrusive details from former courtiers, there are more controversial books to choose from. Instead On Duty With The Queen provides an enjoyable insight into his life and role as a press secretary for the royal family.

© Marilyn Braun 2014

Thank you for enjoying this article. If you use the information for research purposes, a link to credit the work I've put into writing it would be appreciated.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Move over Prince George, there's a new royal savior in town!

Dear Prince George,

Congratulations on your new brother or sister! (or both, depending on what tabloids you might be reading).

You may not be aware of it yet but big changes are coming. One day you will look back on these halcyon days when you were the royal baby. The mythical royal baby with pleasing features in a £55 Les Petites Abeilles romper suit, slaying republicans by doing nothing more than...nothing. You had the royal shtick down pat.

Now there's a new royal savior coming into town. Unfortunately this arrival means you will have to take a back seat on the world's stage for a while. Before  you throw a regal tantrum, remember that you will one day have all of the unearned glory that comes with being who you are. You will also have whatever is left of the kingdom if this new baby does not save it for you.

If the baby does save the union, he or she will have inestimable bragging rights to hold over you for the rest of your lives. If not, you can beat them up later. Either way, this could also lead to some uncomfortable thoughts. You may wonder...

Why didn't they recruit ME to save the kingdom? I was here ALL along?

I slayed republicans, I can handle Scotland too!

I already knew how to say NO!

Screw 'normal childhood', why didn't you politicize me more?

And once your parents get back from vacation they will have some explaining to do. They may tell you:

'you were napping,'
'the nanny didn't want to disturb you,'
'you looked so tired after slaying all of those big, bad republicans, we thought it best...'

Or they may try to blame YOU: 'we were ready to leave the house but you threw a tantrum...'

While there may be an element of truth to those answers, the simple one is this. Since time-immemorial people love babies. Their helplessness, disproportionate head to body ratio, large eyes...they are blank slates which you can project anything on to. By the time the new baby arrived, you were already your own distinct little person and therefore, less malleable and cooperative. Ultimately, nothing competes with a new baby. In other words, them's the breaks, kiddo!

So for now, enjoy being the royal baby. When your sibling arrives, they will get all of the attention, but you can take comfort in knowing you can always beat them up and pull rank when the time comes.

© Marilyn Braun 2014

Thank you for enjoying this article. If you use the information for research purposes, a link to credit the work I've put into writing it would be appreciated.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Prince George is not the savior of the monarchy, he's just a baby

Happy Birthday Prince George!

Now that you have turned a year old, it is time for you to hit more milestones if you haven't done so already. First words, self-feeding, moving to big boy bed and pants, not to mention learning  how to live up to the world's expectations for you.

Oh, your parent's didn't tell you about that?

Yes, it seems that people consider you to be the savior of the monarchy. Google it and you will find various articles to that effect. The one who has raised the monarchy up from the past, dusted it off and made everyone look shiny and good. Those in close proximity to you - people who have worked dutifully for the monarchy and are relatively well respected for that work - can't help but benefit from the effect of your arrival. Yes, you have cleaned everyone up, made them lemon scented and fresh again. And all you had to do was be born.

Thank God! What would the monarchy have done without you?

But here's the thing. And this is something that people tend to forget in all of the fawning articles proclaiming you as a future king. You are a child. A child in a remarkable position to be sure. But still a child. For all of the news reports that  your parents want you to have a 'normal childhood' (whatever that means in royal terms) you won't. Not when our collective expectations are already on your wobbly shoulders. It wouldn't surprise me if you grew up hating the media and decided those expectations are too heavy and chose your personal happiness over duty instead. Insatiable interest tends to have that effect. There's even a precedent. Google it.

So while you are surrounded by adults at your whatever themed birthday party, looking befuddled at all of the fuss, insatiable interest waits outside your front door. Following you to the park, or to school, where you will just be trying to be a kid.

Ignore us while we make you more than that.

© Marilyn Braun 2014

Thank you for enjoying this article. If you use the information for research purposes, a link to credit the work I've put into writing it would be appreciated.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Nothing like a good old royal twitter debate

I admit it.

There’s nothing I enjoy more than to get into a meaty discussion about royalty. Following twitter arguments where republicans go toe to toe with monarchists, journalists stirring the pot by bringing up divisive issues about royal privacy and whether Catherine Cambridge could should be doing more and then innocently denying the spoon in their hand.

Bring out the popcorn, I LOVE it.

Sometimes I wade into those arguments, which continue throughout the day until some exhausted person tweets ‘let’s agree to disagree’ and we all go back to our respective lives until the next divisive topic comes along. Because it is always fun to argue about something where our opinions have no effect whatsoever on the outcome!

In several cases I usually finding myself in the minority when expressing my viewpoints. Such was the case a few weeks back when Prince Carl Philip of Sweden became engaged to Sofia Hellqvist, who has a rather ‘colorful’ past. People argued how royal standards had lowered to the point where anyone could marry into the royal family regardless of how unsuitable we regarded them to be. How this type of stuff would harm the monarchy down the road. But some monarchies are fairly resilient. for instance, how many times have people claimed things would bring down the British monarchy, and yet they're still here?

Yes, I’m usually outnumbered. But dammit! Someone has to offer a counterpoint! I won’t discuss my views about William and Kate here because I’ve done that so many times in blog posts that I have nothing new to add. Twitter is a different story.

Back to Sofia Hellqvist and Prince Carl Philip. Yes she has a colorful past – posing nude as a teenager, amongst other damning things people do in their past and can do nothing to change now. But, to me, if the King and Queen are happy with Carl Philip’s choice then that’s what counts. Or at least it should. Look at Camilla and Charles. Disapproval galore but their PR campaign wore us down and 9 years later we can congratulate ourselves for forgetting everything that made her unsuitable to us in the first place.

The days when royalty was supposed to marry for only duty instead of happiness are fading. Many now marry for love. Sometimes successfully, sometimes not. But royalty is not supposed to be a life sentence of misery because no one approves of your choices. Plenty of people thought Kate Middleton was an inappropriate choice for Prince William because she is *gasp* (clutches pearls) a commoner! Some people still think she is an inappropriate choice. Should William have taken a poll about his choice of bride? Depends on who you ask.

People have very short memories. Forget the double standard about blood royal males misbehaving badly by having affairs. That’s OK. When it’s a woman, suddenly the future of the monarchy is in doubt. Why is that?

Discuss amongst yourselves on twitter, I’ll swing by later to join you.

Here’s my prediction, once Sofia Hellqvist appears in her elegant wedding dress donning a historic tiara and paying tribute to some obscure royal bride, people will forget. Suddenly she will magically transform into princess material and everything that made people question her suitability will be swept under a carpet - just like it was with Camilla.

Then we will have to find something new to argue debate about!

© Marilyn Braun 2014

 Thank you for enjoying this article. If you use the information for research purposes, a link to credit the work I've put into writing it would be appreciated.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Royal Review: Royal Books for Children

To coincide with the arrival of Prince George, three clever and delightful children's books have been published. Appealing to young and old alike, my children enjoyed all of them.

Bubblegum Princess by Julie Gribble

Unlike the other books in this post Bubblegum Princess has nothing to do with the arrival of the royal baby. Instead the heroine of this book, Katy, spreads joy throughout the kingdom by blowing bubbles. Colorfully illustrated, it is a nice tale about being true to yourself and finding bubble-blowing kindred spirits in unlikely places. Don't be surprised if your son or daughter asks for bubblegum afterwards.

A Royal Fairytale by Adam Larkum

If you're looking for a children's book that condenses William and Kate's relationship into the traditional 'and they lived happily ever after' format then A Royal Fairytale is for you. Bypassing eight years of drama, and ignoring the infamous breakup altogether, this version has William and Kate meeting, falling in love, getting married and travelling the world. The only thing to make their happiness complete? Spoiler alert! They have a royal baby!

Shhh! Don't Wake the Royal Baby! by Martha Mumford

Out of the three books, I enjoyed this one the most. I read it as an e-book but I plan to get a hardcopy. Shhh! Don't Wake the Royal Baby is entertaining and keeps the reader guessing as William, Kate and the rest of the royal family find inventive ways to put the royal baby to sleep despite noisy corgis, changing of the guard, and Harry and Pippa's lavish party planning. After watching the Queen jump out of a helicopter at the Olympics, doing the same for her new great-grandson, doesn't seem so far fetched after all.

In honor of Prince George's upcoming first birthday, the author has written another book to mark the occasion: Happy Birthday, Royal Baby!
© Marilyn Braun 2014

Thank you for enjoying this article. If you use the information for research purposes, a link to credit the work I've put into writing it would be appreciated.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Can Abdication be a good thing?

Today I woke up to the news that King Juan Carlos of Spain has decided to abdicate his throne. By doing so he joins the company of other recent former monarchs, including King Albert of Belgium and Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands.

Like King Albert II's of Belgium, King Juan Carlos' reign has been mired by scandal and he is ill. Juan Carlos is also not popular amongst his subjects. In his place comes a younger, fresher and more glamorous royal family. Crown Prince Felipe and his wife Letizia. Their daughter Infanta Leonor becomes, for now, the youngest heir to a European throne. Belgium and the Netherlands have experienced similar changes, with vibrant and glamorous royal couples and their photogenic children in effect, breathing new life into their monarchies.

There are some that look upon abdication as a sign of weakness, of quitting and in comparison to Queen Elizabeth II, not having the same level of dedication to their roles. I disagree. I would wager a guess that they are more dedicated because they put aside hanging on to power in favor of the future. Reading the abdication speeches of these monarchs a common thread amongst them is handing over the reigns because it is in the best interests of their monarchies to do so. I also think there is an acknowledgement of reality in these decisions. Kings and Queens are mortal and they are also not martyrs.

Something that seems to be forgotten in this issue is that the Queen herself owes her current position to the abdication of her uncle King Edward VIII in 1936.  While it was a crisis at the time, it was also seen as a relief. Someone who many considered to be ill suited to the role had vacated the position. If the new King and Queen were not seen as nearly as glamorous, they radiated stability and dedication and with young Princess Elizabeth, a renewed sense of optimism in the future of the monarchy. It may have been a crisis, but no one could argue that good didn't come out of it.

Whenever a monarch abdicates it inevitably raises the question, will Queen Elizabeth II follow suit? For most people the response is a resounding NO. Articles supporting this viewpoint including quotes from her 21st birthday speech where she made her solemn declaration, dedicating herself to her subjects. We are also reminded of her sacred anointment at her Coronation and the oath she took. As if this is supposed to be the end of the discussion. However quoting a speech from 67 years ago ignores the ever present reality that the Queen is 88 and proving mortal by the minute.  She has more than lived up to expectations.

Maybe now is the time to adjust ours.

© Marilyn Braun 2014

Thank you for enjoying this article. If you use the information for research purposes, a link to credit the work I've put into writing it would be appreciated.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Who is to blame for Kate's new bum rap?

Egads! Revealing photographs of Kate have been published - yet again!

In this case the photographs are from her recent tour of New Zealand/Australia showing her dress blown up by the wind showing her bottom in all its glory. This is not the first time her skirt has blown up revealing more than we needed to see, and I'm waging a guess that it won't be the last.

Now on to the crucial part: Who is to blame for all of this?

The royal watching twitterverse fired up with various explanations, scenarios, excuses, good reasons, bad reasons. The whole gamut of reactions covered. Bad article title puns (ahem), feminist rallying cries, heated exchanges and people unfollowed forever for expressing differing opinions! Stop the insanity! For the love of God it's a butt. WE ALL HAVE ONE!

So who gets the blame? Some blame the photographer - she shouldn't have taken such a prurient picture and then *gasp* sold it. Some blame the media, in this case, foreign publications which dared to publish those photos.

And most divisive of the arguments, some blamed Kate herself. As we have seen her skirt blow up before, the twitterverse offered commonsense tips for future reference: Kate should choose a different dress, put weights in the hems, wear longer skirts or trousers around helicopters.

However there was another side to those tweets blaming Kate. Some defended her, portraying her as the victim whose privacy had been invaded.  Other tweets had a disturbing 'she was asking for it,' tone. I don't think she is a victim but I don't think she helps herself in these situations either, especially when it has happened more than once. Regardless of what Kate was wearing, did those photos need to be taken? Did they need to be published? No. Is it a surprise that they were taken and published? Given the usual media coverage of Kate, no not really.

What is curious about this incident is people crying invasion of Kate's privacy. Not necessarily because of where she was, in a public place, performing royal duties. No, it was because we saw something we shouldn't have seen (If only we had looked away!)We all have a bottom but for some reason, Kate's is special and now in the public domain when it shouldn't be.

One party that seemed to be forgotten in the blame game. Us. Given how minutely her appearance is dissected, it is only natural that every aspect of her appearance would be seen as fair game. People who complain now that she is being objectified because of this appearance will be the same ones who objectify her over the color of her toe nails or a run in her pantyhose. Doing so feeds the interest and creates the demand for more. Even if it crosses a line we deem unacceptable.

I know where I place the blame for all of this. Do you?

© Marilyn Braun 2014
Thank you for enjoying this article. If you use the information for research purposes, a link to credit the work I've put into writing it would be appreciated.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Catherine Cambridge: Saving the monarchy one pretty dress at a time

During previous royal tours I've tried to be more active when it comes to blogging. With William and Catherine's New Zealand and Australian tour, I'm having a hard time rousing myself to write anything about it. What is there really to say other than to write about Catherine's wardrobe and Prince George's cuteness? To be quite honest, it's boring.

Not to say that I haven't been paying attention. Like anyone else, I'm curious about Prince George, how big he has grown. My initial interest in royalty started with the birth of his father, Prince William, so I would be rather remiss to ignore George now, wouldn't I?

So, why am I writing about this tour now?

Media coverage of the royal tour has bordered on the ridiculous. Royal Commentators falling all over themselves to make it sound like William, Catherine and George walk on water. Claims by smug monarchists about how they have reduced the Republican movement to ashes by their very presence. To be quite honest it makes me angry.

A lot of the success of the tour has been attributed to Catherine, how she has charmed people and what she wears. There is no denying that Catherine has done a great job. William, normalcy craving royal is comfortable in his supporting role. Then there's George. Adorable? Yes and you would have to have ice-water in your veins to criticize him. To see the family actually at work is wonderful and long overdue. Judging by how much they enjoyed their speedboat races, wine tasting and trips to the zoo, they seem to be enjoying this grueling tour immensely. So many great photo-opportunities, it's enough to blind anyone on the fence.

Having said all of that, I'm tired of reading the cavity inducing coverage. Watching how the media can bend over backwards to make the most mundane moments sound remarkable. I'm tired of reading about how much Catherine and George's clothes cost and how fast they sell out.  Crowd turnout is obviously great but how many crowd members are ardent monarchists or are just showing up out of curiosity to get selfies? Clothes selling out and crowd size seems to be rather flimsy evidence that the republican movement has been set back. If anything it I see it as evidence of how weak the pro-monarchy arguments are when it is so dependent on Catherine's clothes and how cute George is at the moment.

The real argument about the future of the monarchy can be found in what happens when the family returns to the UK. Will they maintain the momentum and dive into supporting the monarchy? Or will they disappear on their third vacation of the year, wearing a new dress at the occasional engagement to muffle the noise of the critics?

Old habits die hard and that doesn't bode well for the future of the monarchy.

© Marilyn Braun 2014

Thank you for enjoying this article. If you use the information for research purposes, a link to credit the work I've put into writing it would be appreciated.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Dear Prince Harry, Please do something foolish again

I have a confession to make. In the last few months I've started to grow bored of the British Royal Family. For someone whose all consuming purpose in life (aside from eating and tending to my family) is to write commentary about royalty this is bad news. It is a new year and I have yet to get riled up enough to blog. I've been relegated to writing about how I am uninspired to write about royalty. What will the rest of 2014 be like?

It's off to a bad start. Recently Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge celebrated her 1,000th day as a member of the royal family. First of all, I find this number reassuring. It gives me proof that there are other people just as bored as I am. So bored they sat down and calculated how many days Catherine has been royal. It is also proof at how inane royal news has become. And it allows me to date-stamp the moment when royal news all started to go downhill.

You will find people who disagree with that statement. After all, isn't Catherine the best thing that has ever happened to the royal family in all the years of its existence? Isn't it wonderful that she is perfection personified that she has never, ever put a foot wrong? Catherine walks on water and everything she does turns to gold...


I love writing critical commentary about this but right now I'm so bored I can't rouse myself to do so. I've run out of steam. Not enough to flounce skirts, gather up all my toys and melodramatically bid farewell in a blog post (sorry). But every time I read my twitter newsfeed, it slowly gets there. There's nothing controversial to write commentary about. Nothing new. No scandals to put into perspective. No sanctimonious denouncements about invading Kate's privacy by the very people who contribute to the problem. No royals getting naked or going on multiple exotic vacations. Even Prince Andrew (AKA Air Miles Andy) seems to be economizing. I used to follow various Kate fashion bloggers until my timeline was monopolized by a minute discussion about the actual color of Kate's shoes during her tour of Canada. Until that point I was completely indifferent. And this is why I'm date-stamping the downward spiral of royal news at April 29, 2011.

Before that date the coverage of Kate was much more interesting. Call it the thrill of the chase, the suspense, will they/won't they get married. The dynamic was different. The ridiculous stories were much more entertaining. Sure there was interest in outfits Kate wore, but it wasn't as obsessive as it is now. Now Kate has been relegated to a beautiful clothes horse and she seems happy to oblige. Great news for Kate fashion bloggers, but not so much for people looking for signs of substance behind it.

2013 was definitely a good year for royal news. The 60th anniversary of the coronation kept my Twitter feed dotted with tweets from grumpy republicans and smug monarchists responding to it. Surely there has to be a middle ground? Then there was Kate's pregnancy. Coverage that bordered on the ridiculous a majority of the time. But now that Kate has given birth to Prince George/Savior of the monarchy and he has been duly christened. Now what? Prince Charles shaking things up by merging PR offices. William, Harry and Catherine 'branding' themselves. Beatrice and Eugenie getting jobs. Lady Louise's successful eye surgery. William and Harry giving up playing with helicopters. Heck the most interesting "news story" is not about the royals, but about the outfit a transvestite wore to receive an honor from Prince Charles. Is this what we have to tide us over until Kate gets pregnant again or one of the royals dies?

I swear, where is a undercover reporter posing as a fake sheikh when you need one?

© Marilyn Braun 2014

Thank you for enjoying this article. If you use the information for research purposes, a link to credit the work I've put into writing it would be appreciated.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Royal Review: Her Majesty by Christopher Warwick & Reuel Golden

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
Christopher Warwick and Reuel Golden
306 pages

Aside from finding room, one problem with compulsively collecting books (600 by last count) is that it is very hard to surprise me, especially when it comes to books containing lots of royal photographs. Books that tout 'unseen' or 'rare' royal photographs are often not the case for me. Which is why I'm often incredibly skeptical of any new release that makes these types of claims.

On first glance, Her Majesty is an impressive book. It is so large (16" x 12") and heavy (10 pounds) that it comes with its own carrying case. I would wage a guess that this book is now is the largest in my collection. It also has an impressive price tag ($150) although if you're lucky and patient you can get it on sale like I did. But just because a book is large, does not mean it breaks new ground.

Her Majesty covers the Queen's life from childhood to her Diamond jubilee celebrations. She is depicted on duty with the occasional casual photograph. Throughout her long life and reign, the Queen has been photographed by some of the finest photographers of the 20th century. Photographs, which are familiar to any avid royal follower. Unless you have never seen a book about the Queen, there are few surprises in Her Majesty. Which is disappointing given the fact that as the most photographed woman in the world, there is no shortage of material to choose from.

With Her Majesty, the text is interesting and offered in English, German and French. However, again, there are no surprises.  It must be an occupational hazard for any royal biographer to come up with a new take on the Queen. Especially when other authors and journalists have already covered that same well-documented life ad-nauseam. The book becomes more interesting in the Appendix section which contains a chronology of her life and detailed list of her overseas travels from 1953 - 2011. It truly shines in the Royal Media section with newspaper and magazine covers throughout her life and reign, which serves to illustrate her cultural impact far better than any of the photographs within the book.

If you want to find a book with royal photographs, there are far more affordable options. Queen Elizabeth II: A Photographic Portrait by Philip Ziegler, The Queen: Art and Image by Paul Moorhouse. Cecil Beaton: The Royal Portraits by Roy Strong. If you're looking for rare and interesting outtakes from those sessions, you can find them in Queen Elizabeth II: Portraits by Cecil Beaton by Susanna Brown.

© Marilyn Braun 2014

Thank you for enjoying this article. If you use the information for research purposes, a link to credit the work I've put into writing it would be appreciated.