Sunday, 10 March 2013

THE OFFICIAL BBC ALBUM OF THE ROYAL WEDDING



(#249: 15 August 1981, 2 weeks)

Track listing: Fanfare (“Royale”), Bridal Procession (Trumpet Voluntary [The Prince Of Denmark]) and Hymn (Christ is made the sure Foundation)/The Marriage Service/Anthem (Let the people praise Thee, O God) by W. Mathias, Lesson (I Corinthians XIII) and Address/Anthem “I Was Glad” by Sir H. Parry/Lesser Litany (Versicles and Responses) and Prayers/Hymn (I vow to thee my country), Blessing (Amen), The National Anthem/Music during the Signing of the Registrar (March from The Overture to the Occasional Oratorio, “Let the bright Seraphim,” “Let their celestial concerts all unite”)/The Procession of the Bride and Bridegroom (“Rejoicing,” Pomp and Circumstance No 4)

“She wanted a fairytale wedding and to have the most beautiful dress. We all went through previous Royal wedding pictures, and felt we had to out-do those – we’d discover which had the longest train, and say ‘OK, it’s got to be longer.’ The process of designing her dress and the bridesmaids’ outfits was very relaxed and informal; once the bridesmaids turned up on rollerskates – they were whizzing around with their dresses on.”
(Elizabeth Emanuel, quoted in Vogue, October 1997 issue)

“Hey, little sister, what have you done?”
(Billy Idol, “White Wedding”)

A fine late summer morning, with those subtly cooler intimations of an imminent autumn. She awoke she knew not when – it didn’t really matter, since she had gone to bed at the time when most people normally get out of it – but was relieved to find that the day was bright and not yet crisp. She looked out of her bedroom window; Kensington Gardens looked as lush and childish as ever, people going about their way, jogging or dawdling, or simply using the park as a convenient shortcut from High Street Ken to Notting Hill, or vice versa.

Going to the kitchen quarters, she found, selected and extracted a tub of yoghurt from the refrigerator – there were plenty to choose from – then sliced a bagel in two, put the Philadelphia Light tub next to it, and placed the bagel into the toaster. She poured a drink – Sainsbury’s apple and cranberry juice – into a glass tumbler, waited for the toaster to click readiness and switched on the kitchen radio. “Men In Black” by Will Smith; an infectious toetapper about aliens and instant memory erosion.

It was a simple but very effective breakfast and she always enjoyed these hugely. As she munched through the cinnamon and raisin, she wondered what to do with the day; there were no engagements in her diary. Go down the health club, perhaps. Or put the baseball cap and shades on and tie her hair in a bun to avoid recognition – so that she could be any one of a thousand women in Kensington of an early September lunchtime – and have a browse in the Rough Trade shop; it was, after all, only fifteen minutes’ walk from her home.

Then she noticed the flowers. And the people. Beds of flowers, so huge and oppressive that she would be lucky to be able to venture out of the house. Piles and piles of them. People bringing them over, more and more, many of them weeping and praying. She was naturally quite startled. What’s this all about? Something happen to Margaret?

Now she became concerned. Deciding on the cap and shades, she looked for the side door exit, just to check that she could actually get out of the building. She hoped that she would and that nothing had indeed happening; if another death, though, she would surely already have been called upon to stir herself to service?

And where was Dodi? She noted, still slightly blearily, that she had awakened alone, in a double bed.
It all seemed very mysterious, and she determined to solve the puzzle by at least stepping outside.

When she stepped outside, she discovered that she was not in Kensington Gardens.

She was outside a block of penthouse flats, and she was looking at the sea.

She stared back at the large white building from which she had emerged. Without any bidding, the front door automatically clicked open.

Before going back in, however, she looked around her. She found that she was in a busy seaport; there were boats and yachts of all descriptions, tied to the quay or already seabound. There were crowds of people, but none stopped to recognise or pay tribute to her. Many were faces she dimly recognised. Behind the white apartment block were rows of skyscrapers and other prosperous and new-looking buildings. Traffic was already snarling up the roads. The horizon was dotted with lurid advertisements, including one for VERSACE’S BOUTIQUE: AUTUMN COLLECTION NOW IN STOCK, in Albertus typescript.

Nearer the harbour she noticed a hilly collection of pastel-coloured Italianate buildings, of indeterminate origin and design, converging upon a central palazzo with a water fountain and a brass band who were at that point enthusiastically puffing their way through the Bachman-Turner Overdrive song “Takin’ Care Of Business.”

She thought of those funny videos Charles used to collect and watch, and had the distinct feeling that she had seen this place before, though had no recollection that a whole city had risen around it.

Definitely disorientated and confused, she turned again towards the still open and beckoning door of her apartment block, and went back inside.

As soon as she re-entered her home, there it was again; the Peter Pan statue, the weeping masses, the already decaying flowers. Kensington Gardens, clearly visible through the windows. But she now noticed a slight delay in movement, as though the scene were being transmitted via a gigantic television system for her benefit.

The television screen in the corner of the living room blinked into action, and a rich, warm voice emanated from it:

“Good morning, your Highness!”

She turned with a start.

The gentleman, grey and distinguished-looking, approaching his mid-seventies, was seated in a spherical chair. He smiled at her.

“I expect you’re wondering what you’re doing here.”

She stuttered it out:

“Where…am I?”

“Oh, there’s no need to worry. You were out of action for over a week. Look at the kitchen calendar.”

She rushed to look and sure enough it said: MONDAY 8 SEPTEMBER 1997.

And hadn’t it been dark, and hadn’t she been in Paris?

“You were in Paris,” the man said, reading her mind. “You got into a car. Some photographers were trying to outrace you.”

“I…was!” she remembered. “Dodi…and Henri, and…what happened?”

She blinked again towards the windows.

“Where are the boys?” she exclaimed, almost violently.

“They’re safe and being looked after by your brother.”

“My…brother? Charles?”

“Oh yes – he made quite an impression at your, um, shall we say…”

Her voice turned cold. “What exactly has happened to me?”

He looked keenly at her. “It’s best I tell you face to face. Did you enjoy your breakfast? Room enough still for some brunch, I hope. The Green Dome. Across the street, you can’t miss it. Be seeing you.”

The face vanished from the screen, as though it had been switched off, to be replaced by This Morning with Richard and Judy.

She switched the TV off, got dressed, packed her handbag and went outside.

* * * * * *

The Green Dome was, as the man had said, just across on the other side of the palazzo. She walked there. The early afternoon was bright and warm. Passers-by murmured their greetings to her without necessarily knowing who she was. Reaching the Dome, she rang the front door bell and the door immediately opened to let her in.

The huge purple planetarium of an office she had definitely seen before. The man rose from his spherical chair and rushed over to greet her.

“My dear,” he said, “this is most unfortunate and I really must apologise. You’re probably confused enough as you are. Do sit down. My name is Ross, by the way. Brigadier Ross.”

“Army?”

“I’ve been here about a year. Chelsea Barracks before that.”

She thought she’d seen him before.

“Now, please do sit down. Tea, coffee, croissants, jam – all here should you wish it.”

She noticed the plates and the food and was still hungry enough to take Brigadier Ross up on his offer. She poured herself some camomile.

“But of course,” Ross smiled. “Even here, one must watch the figure.”

“Here?”

Ross’ face moulded itself into seriousness, and concern.

“Your Highness,” he said solemnly, “I don’t know how to tell you this, but…”

“Go ahead.”

“There was a dreadful car accident in Paris. In the tunnel, you know. Your chauffeur, Monsieur Paul, he got a little…over-exuberant. Thought he could outdrive the paparazzi. One thing you don’t do in that tunnel, as you know, is try go-kart racing.”

“Henri? Dodi?”

“Both killed in the accident, I’m afraid.”

A horrible terror rose slowly within her, succeeded by a scarcely less horrible sadness.

“Your bodyguard in the car, he survived. He’s in a very bad way – they’re still putting him back together in hospital - but he’ll live.”

“And…me?”

Without a word, he handed her a copy of a week-old newspaper.

She read what it said, and shock gripped, but did not quite paralyse, her.

“Thirty-six,” she murmured, distantly. “Thirty bloody six. Is that all I got? And what about the boys? They’ll have to grow up without their mother?”

“We can hardly sacrifice them.”

A brief silence. Ross asked:

“Have you not yet worked out where you are?”

“I feel as if…I’ve…well, not been here before, but seen it before.”

“It’s a sort of halfway house. Between one way of living and the next. Of course, if you settle down, you could theoretically stay here forever. Look at what we have to offer.”

He pushed some buttons, and the sea rose up on one of the screens.

“I know what you’re thinking,” he said, “and you are of course free to leave this place and roam as you wish. There is no…er…security system to keep you here. This is not a prison. This is what people who have been here before never worked out. The weather balloons were a projection of their own timidity. It’s just that their old lives…ended. Their old world was gone; they could never go back to it.

“That having been said, you could sail out to sea, and go and find other communities like this one. They’re all out here, they all exist. But we think you’d be happiest in this particular community.”

“Dodi?”

“Oh, he’s here.”

She breathed a sigh of relief.

“He was as shellshocked as you to begin with, but he came round very quickly. He’s out there now, sailing his yacht. Camera 23?” he called.

Camera 23 stirred into action, and there indeed he was, on his yacht, lazing the day away.

“Let him enjoy himself, you know what he’s like. He knows you’re here – he’s been leaving flowers for you every day; go and look in your bedroom – and he’ll come ashore and be with you soon. Henri, too; we didn’t quite trust him in our taxi service, but he’s got a wine shop on 6th Street which I’m sure you’ll enjoy. Took to it straightaway. You will not be required to work, of course – your money is safe and secure, your continued income guaranteed; the bank on 3rd Street will confirm this for you, since we took the liberty of transferring your account up here. But I’m sure you’ll find plenty to do here – there’s a superb health club, plenty of hills for you to go walking up and down – and, of course, I expect there’ll be many people you know.”

She considered all of this.

“So, if I get you right, I have been killed in a car crash, in Paris, and brought up here – a week and a bit later? What happened in between?”

“Oh, a lot of controversy. The whole thing nearly toppled over. They were in Balmoral, and…well, you know; different families find different ways of coping. But they came back down to London eventually – they could hardly not come back - and you had a funeral with full honours at Westminster Abbey. Everything you would have expected and wanted.”

“So I am no longer in Kensington.”

“You are back home, in Althorp, in the middle of an island surrounded by a lake. But of course you yourself are no longer there, as such – you have come up here. Been brought up here, let us say.”

“Why the façade?”

“Well, we thought you’d appreciate being reminded of home. Ongoing live television transmission of images, everything as you would remember it. The flowers and mourners will disperse eventually. I do hope you don’t mind – we thought it was the least we could do for you.”

“We?”

“Oh yes, Number 1 insisted upon it.”

“Number 1?”

“He loves every one of us, you know.” He gave her a beatific smile which instilled in her a strange sense of resigned contentment.

* * * * * *

She wandered the streets of her new city. She had checked in at the bank, and sure enough they knew exactly who she was, and had bowed and curtsied as she came in. She had visited the Versace shop and was surprised and delighted to find Gianni himself at the counter. They embraced joyously and Gianni told her with a chuckle how John Lennon had laughed at his taking such a stupid chance, especially given what had happened to him. “I told John, yes, I shouldn’t just go out on my own, but it’s…pride, you know? Anyway, it’s the guy who shot me who’s going to have to live with his own nothingness for the rest of his life – I think I got the better deal.”

She was searching, however, for a library; she was sure that a place this large – she was reminded of Hong Kong – would have one, and there on 9th Street it was, an unprepossessing but large redbrick building which identified itself as the World Library. Again the receptionist there stood to attention and welcomed her warmly: “Don’t worry, we already have your membership processed – here is your ticket.” The receptionist presumed correctly she’d want to go to the Archives section, and so she was directed to the third floor.

Upon entering the third floor of the library she found that the room was of infinite size. In its space appeared to be detailed, alphabetised archives for every human being who had ever lived. She recognised some of her fellow browsers. She went immediately to the “D” section – rather than “S” or “W” – and there, after some while searching, she found her archive.

Each archive had its own sub-room to itself, with all necessary reading and listening facilities, and so she contemplated the archive of her life, which was sizeable but ranked and stocked in absolute fidelity to her life’s passage. She found the file marked “FUNERAL” but didn’t feel ready to look at that yet, and so concentrated on the one marked “WEDDING.”

She still felt it necessary to get back to the source of the pain, even if it were only the reverse of her joy.

In the “WEDDING” file was enough material to furnish a small study. Among the contents was a long-playing record. She stopped to consider. She remembered the event well enough, though never watched herself on video afterwards, but was curious to find out how it sounded. A record of the wedding? My goodness, she thought, who would have bought that? Tourists, wanting a souvenir? A country needing reassurance in the midst of things she only vaguely heard about, like hunger strikes and riots. She knew something of the former – in her own way – and certainly did not feel as though she had ever ridden out to cause the latter.

She carefully examined the fairly lavish cover, so lavish it was easy to miss the gold leaf printing on the front. She recognised the picture, however; taken by Tony in the Palace against one of these unsexy old tapestries which seemed to spring out of her flowing, ruffled green-on-turquoise dress. She was seated – on the throne, so to speak – and Charles stood with a protective hand at the back of her right shoulder. He never quite got it, did he, Charles; looking vaguely bemused, giving off that strange air of being Alfred E Neuman, with his stare slightly perplexed, as though he had never seen a camera before in his life and was quite delighted by what it could do.

She herself, however, was nothing like that. She glances sidelong at the camera, her eyes and mouth not really smiling, her arms folded strategically to highlight her engagement ring. She looks already aware that any future she may have will be as an image. Images are powerful things; people who become famous through their image – and that, in the final reckoning, is how most famous people become famous – think of themselves as inviolable, maybe even immortal; there is a quality, an attribute, to their image that they can transmit to their viewers and admirers, to say, by these images will you know me, so I might strive one day to be a god. In your world, I may already be one. The admirer has to know implicitly that they can never be as she is, yet by this frustration can they contrive to imprison the star within her image – she must live up to what we see her as being.

The picture on the back cover is actively distressing, and she remembers it being taken, again by Tony; now they are together in happy embrace and it is clear that she loves him, if not the other way around. Once again, she places her left arm in a position prominent enough for us to see her engagement ring very clearly. But her face is a little too large for her body, as though it had been pasted in, and how come Charles is so much taller than her? She was five feet ten, and yet she could see that she is bending down slightly in order to allow Royalty to be bigger than her. He looks conspiratorially at the camera, as if to say: haven’t I bagged a nice one, lads? But she is leaning against his left shoulder so forcefully that it is all she can do not to collapse on the floor. She looks as the note that monies raised from the sale of the record will go towards the Royal Wedding Souvenir Fund “which is being devoted to the handicapped as part of the International Year of Disabled People.”

She is not interested in what she knows her many obituarists have to say about her; it is, she knows, difficult for others to understand her without going into the same old clichés about her life, and the world, even in 1997, is not in need of yet more amateur psychologists. Instead she opens up the record sleeve and glances inside. Yes, the Order of Service, set out like a restaurant menu, and two sides filled with portraits.

She looks at Charles’ side and remembers what she saw in his image, if not his actuality, in the first place; still looking surprisingly young – or was it simply that by 1981 standards he looked so old? – he poses formally, and is surrounded by other images of him at work and play; grinning on the ski slopes, hustling a polo pony, rigging up a windsurfer, on duty in the officers’ mess with a mullet subtly poking out of his lieutenant’s cap. Everything she wanted when she was nine years old and had posters of him up on her bedroom wall; everything her own parents could not give her at the time. The danger of the observer being entranced and attracted by the image of another; hence there is a definite kinship with Lennon and Chapman, and like the latter, there could probably only always have been one survivor. Degree absolute.

On her own side there she is in the centre, wearing a frilly blouse, thinner than she ought to be, looking, as elsewhere, like a stray Nolan sister. This is surrounded by images of her…not really working as such, but in various poses, ranging from contemplative to mildly threatening, in her slender array of Laura Ashley standards and bobbly knitwear. At top left there is a picture of her and Charles, some distance away from each other, entering a marquee of some kind; neither looks especially happy, and she is wearing the black silk Emanuel ballgown that will prove to be the wrong size for her; later that evening she will fall out of it. Perhaps they are both apprehensive, but he looks more accustomed to the occasion than she does.

She notices that on Charles’ side there are no pictures of him with her.

With some trepidation, she takes the record out of its sleeve and places it on the turntable that has been provided for her.

Ah yes, the crowd noises; she remembers straightaway. The long journey through a somewhat overcast central London to get to St Paul’s, the worry that her father wouldn’t be able to get in her coach because there was so much wedding dress, the hold-ups caused by that strange Spike Milligan fellow constantly getting out of his car to shake the hands of spectators – sometimes Charles’ Goon tapes and impressions could drive her to extremely dark thoughts, but boys had to have their fun as well, she supposed.

The dress which went on for miles and everybody cheered as she went inside – they went for the Cathedral rather than the Abbey because they weren’t sure they’d be able to get all the guests into the Abbey – and, yes, she felt nervous, but, she thought, on balance, pretty good.

As she proceeded very slowly into the Cathedral, the military fanfares and ceremonials made her, for a moment, regret that she hadn’t gone ahead with the idea of having her bridesmaids rollerskate into the church, wearing Walkmen, perhaps to that tune “Planet Earth” with its line “Look round, look all around – there’s no sign of life.” She loved Duran Duran; their first album had been out for about a month, and of course she had arranged for a copy to be bought for her. They felt new to her, unstuffy, both alienating yet simultaneously welcoming. Charles was a bit grumpy about them, said they were the Moody Blues with sequencers and mascara, but that made perfect sense to her since she also had Long Distance Voyager. That and her tapes of Supertramp, Cat Stevens and ELO; exactly the sort of music one would imagine a sensitive twenty-year-old girl to be listening to and enjoying.

Perhaps there were misgivings as she walked up the aisle to Jeremiah Clarke and felt C standing at the side, giving her the skunk eye. Oh, she knew about C all right, all about the history…but no, this was going to be different. She had absolutely no doubt in her mind, even sixteen years later, that she loved that man. Somewhere within her she still did. She thought she could change him for the better. She had no idea she was going to play a stooge to anyone’s Rebecca.

But she felt C’s stare, boring into her left side, and the sidelong look of despairing pity she had given to Charles, already there at the altar. No, she insisted to herself; I want to become the Queen, I entertain no thoughts of bringing this family or institution down, I just want to make it…better? More modern?

She, who was always anxious that she be considered modern rather than fashionable.

The hymn was Purcell. Always played at Royal occasions, whatever the occasion. This pleased her because she liked Purcell. In particular she liked the way he could feed into his music the possibility that not everything was happy; enjoying the newly-found freedom from Gregorian unisons, he would always sneak in minor key modulations of doubt, even into the most joyous and noble of hymns. The harmonies and the organ; Purcell reminded her of the Beach Boys. She doesn’t know how she would have got through that summer of 1976 without 20 Golden Greats.

And the voices singing; the whole congregation, from everywhere in the world that wanted to reach there. Margaret and Denis Thatcher were there, as was Nancy Reagan (and even Tricia Nixon); among the royalty was Princess Grace of Monaco, who once had sung songs like “True Love” and who, unbeknown to her, had just over a year to live. The twenty-one-year old who had to attend her funeral quietly scoffed at the thought that she herself could be caught out by such an end – a car accident, of all things.

The Dean of St Paul’s stepped up to read from the Book of Common Prayer; the regulations for matrimony which served to reinforce the notion, at this most High Anglican of ceremonies, that the Church was “here” before any “Royal Family” and that any marriage undertaken under its aegis must be entered into in the manner in which Christ “married” the Church. His routine peroration includes the part stating that children “should be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord,” in that very meaningful order. Fear first, nurture second (or man, followed by woman?), with interpolations from elsewhere in the Book, including the need for marriage not to be “taken in hand unadvisedly, lightly or wantonly” (but not the codicil “to satisfy men’s carnal lusts and appetites, like brute beasts that have no understanding”).

And then came the clincher: “if anyone can show any good reason why they may not be lawfully joined together, let him now speak or for ever remain silent.” She thought to herself, wrong gender, and nobody dared say anything. Her eyes bore possible witness that she would be as polite and charming as she could be, while all the time thinking if anyone lay a finger on her dress without her permission she could kill them (as Kubrick instructed James Mason to act as Humbert Humbert).

Then Archbishop Runcie set about getting them married. She was amazed at how thin, nervous and distant both of their voices sounded (at one point Runcie audibly whispers to Charles “Well done”). She almost married her father-in-law by mistake; Charles promised to share his “goods” rather than his “worldly goods,” the word “obey” was left out at her request. But they were joined together (to multiple camera clicks and external cheers).

They were now married, and there was an Anthem, by somebody called William Mathias, who was a professor of music at the University of Bangor. Listening to it in 1997, she was struck by how unashamedly modern it sounded – there was no dissonance, as such, in the song, but the angles in which the music was arranged were new and unexpected, with great, brooding cranes of choir; it starts out as a standard all-joy-be-unto-thee hymn but quickly gets detoured, such that…well, somebody once told her that it was like a cross between “Cabinessence” and Koyannisqatsi. Whatever that meant. Harmonies hoisting themselves into the air, like hoverbirds.

There was the Lesson, given by the then Speaker of the House of Commons – another Welshman for the Prince and Princess of Wales – and it was the usual passage that got rolled out at Royal ceremonies, the one about sounding brass and tinkling cymbal, putting childish things away and through a glass darkly.

Runcie then gave his Address, focusing on fairytales, unconsciously paraphrasing Wilde in noting that “But fairy tales usually end at this point with the simple phrase ‘They lived happily ever after,’” before going on to explain that this was likely “because fairy stories regard marriage as an anti-climax…This is not the Christian view. Our faith sees the wedding day not as the point of arrival but the place where the adventure really begins.” His speech is loaded with portents, with its warning talk of cynicism and burdens, as if he is trying to convince himself that this marriage would work – as she knows she was convinced, and believed, at the time, that he was too. At one point he quotes Edwin Muir on marriage, and at the end, she now sees ominously, he is already talking about their marriage in the past tense (“However long they live”). They are doing this in front of millions, he concedes, and in the knowledge (“kings and queens of love”) that they can never be as other married couples, or other humans.

Then came Parry’s “I Am Glad,” also heard at the Queen’s Coronation, and another unusually advanced-sounding hymn for its age, again with strata of minor key doubt edging through the densely-constructed harmonies of the anthem (it is the distant cousin of Parry’s setting of “Jerusalem”). This was all very impressive, but she wasn’t yet sure what any of it ever had to do with her. Couldn’t they have got Jean-Michel Jarre?

She turned the record over at this point, and there was a sombre choral recital striving to be celebratory (too much guilt and embarrassment built into the British psyche for this ever to work, she thought that she thought) followed by a set of prayers. She smiled at the entreaty that their home might be “a place of love, security and truth.” Call and response, like they did with much less shame elsewhere in the world. Then the swelling of the Holst song, included at her specific request (and “Jupiter” came later; he reused and reworked the melody), and implying that they were not merely marrying each other, this couple with an age difference of almost a dozen years, but the country (how is this going to look to people overseas, was the constant thought that she recalled).

“O Thou The Central Orb.” She at least remembered where Orlando Gibbons’ “Amen” came from, and for her it was a moment maybe more spellbinding than the wedding itself. Listening to it now, it didn’t feel as if it fit in with anything else in the ceremony – although the Handel stuff was still to come – and somebody else said to her, well, you know “Our Prayer” by the Beach Boys? Beautiful, abstract and barely a minute long? She didn’t, of course, but listened as she was told that this is where that had, in part, come from. The beginning of SMiLE, a story told by descendents of Anglicans about a people building a country which represented a clean break from the old country, which did not require any royal title or obligation.

There is a blessing, and a brass-heavy orchestral reimagining of “God Save The Queen,” and then they went to sign the Register while the music of Handel played. Kiri Te Kanawa gave a virtuoso solo on “Let the Bright Seraphim,” or, more accurately, a virtuoso call-and-response routine with John Wallace’s trumpet, to be succeeded by a full, insanely contrapuntal choir on “Let their celestial concerts all unite.” Upbeat, perky, vibrant music for the most part – but the two songs form the coda of the oratorio Samson, based closely on Milton’s “Samson Agonistes” model, come after the death of the hero and the destruction of the Philistines, asking that Samson’s spirit be elevated to the next world. The register of marriage is being signed to the soundtrack of songs about death. She thought that was quite odd at the time – never mind how Handel, too, managed to smuggle doomy menace and mourning into his bright tapestries; in both songs there is a temporary breaking-off point where sorrow and grief are all too tangible.

But their work is done, and so the couple moves out of the Cathedral, to, first, another fanfare, and then to Elgar’s fourth jaunty march. Written in 1907, it is perhaps too early to attribute the inspiration for the uptempo first theme, in terms of both rhythm and orchestration, to contemporary dance bands, but there comes a purposeful, and more famous, second theme, all the while balancing the ironies of using the terms “pomp” and “circumstance” in relation to armies going off to war, as Shakespeare did in Othello - i.e. the gulf between the glamorous spectacle and gruesome reality (it is a musical trope that will extend to Westbrook’s Marching Song, so she read somewhere, but jazz wasn’t her thing; she remembers going to a Prince’s Trust concert with Humphrey Dankworth, or was it Cleo Tracey, and doing her best not to fall asleep. Too much fiddling, not enough directness; she was always a doer rather than a thinker. Better to tilt your head and make believe you contain the secret of life than to turn your head away and prove the sceptics right).

And the Pomp and Circumstance March fades into the background, as they return to the open air, to be met with tumultuous cheers, and the record itself ends with gloriously, ecstatically pealing bells.

But was it love, or just the look of love?

She was no nearer an answer.

“We turned water into wine, but that didn’t last.”
(Cliff Richard, “When Two Worlds Drift Apart” – those love songs, it must not be forgotten, are sung by somebody who harbours a deep religious conviction)

She carefully placed the “WEDDING” file and all the other files back into her archive, went back downstairs, smiled graciously at the receptionist and made her way out of the library.

And she was back in Kensington Gardens, outside the Palace, and she realised what she had entered into, an institution that didn’t know how to express emotion because they were never taught, or it had been knocked out of them before any damage could be done to the country. So she came in aged twenty, and spent the rest of her time acting and looking like somebody aged fifty, and when she finally worked herself free of them she realised that she was “herself” again – thirtysomething, and maybe something of a Sloane, but aware that she still possessed enough power to do things, perhaps even modestly change things.

The flowers were already being scooped up and disposed of; she moved through their fair with the bouncy, inquisitive eagerness that had always been a part of her. She knows that in 1997 she has been the biggest pop star in the world for at least a decade and a half, and it won’t stop, not even now she has gone.

She goes back into her bedroom, arranges her handbag and puts on a baseball cap and shades so that she won’t be recognised, not stopping to think that nobody recognised her outside just now. On the radio she hears songs – “You Have Been Loved,” “The Drugs Don’t Work,” even the thing Elton kindly rewrote for her to say that her country would be lost without her. But she is everybody now, just as everybody is her. She ventures anonymously into the city to buy the CD of her funeral, marvels at how closely its structure shadows that of her wedding, and carefully files it away at home, in between Seven And The Ragged Tiger and Flying Colours, and maybe you still see her at the corner of Sloane Street, anxiously waiting for the Anya Hindmarch shop to open up, and she is a shadow in a world of ceaseless transition. Looking at a distance, you realise that it might be a nice day to start again.

Next: time for entry #250.

3 comments:

Champiness said...

I've held out on commenting for a while but I just felt compelled to react to this entry in some way, because it feels like it not only earned it - it seemed to demand some kind of response. I wasn't too keen on your Scary Monsters entry in this format but this was just beautiful, you turned what could have been a remarkably dull entry into something remarkably empathetic. Here's hoping that we'll get to see you weave some more of this mysterious overarching narrative into your comprehensive history of pop music!
Warm regards,
Champiness

Tom Albrighton said...

Just brilliant, brilliant writing.

Robin Carmody said...

Agree that this is a truly wonderful, moving, involving piece, whatever you think of her or of the institution. Magic realism, so to speak. Of note: this was the first of two early 1980s number one albums released on the BBC's own label, but their only official number one single would not come until 1997 (unless there is something I've forgotten - I say "official" because some charts, earlier in 1981, had put "Chi Mai" at the top).

This album, like so many 1980s TPL entries, is not unrelated to the shadow of Apartheid; Kiri Te Kanawa's involvement would undoubtedly have been used by the Muldoon government to detract attention from the South African rugby tour of New Zealand, an event as traumatic as the riots and hunger strikes you refer to (arguably even more so, since the country had seen itself, and been seen by others, as a haven from all that).