Queen's 'Jubilee' Friendlier Than Past Celebrations

Robert Siegel speaks with Guardian editor Michael White about this weekend's Diamond Jubilee celebrations in Britain. They mark 60 years of the queen's reign — and evolving public perceptions of the royal family.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Sixty years ago, King George VI of Britain died and his daughter Elizabeth ascended to the throne.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: God save the Queen.

SIEGEL: By the time Elizabeth II marked 25 years on the throne in 1977, the monarchy was so out of sync with British life that the Sex Pistols rhymed God save the Queen with the fascist regime.

(SOUNDBITE OF "GOD SAVE THE QUEEN")

JOHN LYDON: God save the queen, the fascist regime.

SIEGEL: And in the waning years of the 20th century, the House of Windsor experienced princely scandals and divorces. The most beloved member of the family was the one driven out of it, Princess Diana.

QUEEN ELIZABETH II: No one who knew Diana will ever forget her. Millions of others who never met her, but felt they knew her, will remember her.

SIEGEL: Not too long ago, if you'd bet on the decline of British royalty or its disappearance altogether, you would have been taken seriously. But this weekend marks the 60th jubilee, and Queen Elizabeth II is about to be warmly celebrated by what appears to be a grateful and affectionate nation. What happened? Well, Michael White of The Guardian joins us now. And, Michael, what do you say what happened?

MICHAEL WHITE: Well, it comes and goes with monarchy. They're in it for the long game. That's a pretty obvious statement of the blindingly obvious, I suppose. But the queen had a bad decade, as you said in your introduction, but the queen 10, 15 years on, she's very old. She still does her day job. She went to Australia in the blazing heat for 17 days last summer. And I looked at her on the TV, and I thought, my God, she's 84, not bad. And the old boy at her shoulder is 90 and still peering down the girl's cleavage, and you kind of give him a round of applause for that. She's been dignified. I think that's the word which best sums up the queen - never fashionable but always dignified and usually silent. That's part of the trick in a very noisy age.

SIEGEL: Well, in fashionable, noisy London, will people be going to jubilee parties this weekend? Is it something that people enjoy?

WHITE: Well, I shall be going to one. My daughter-in-law, who's just moved into my neighborhood, is going to have a party in the park outside her house. She's a modern young woman. She was in Washington and New York discussing climate change only the other week, but she's happy to do this and join in the spirit of the thing. I should say right away she comes from Yorkshire in the north of England, which is the English equivalent of Texas.

(LAUGHTER)

WHITE: And where she comes from...

SIEGEL: Yes.

WHITE: ...the towns and villages will be full of patriotic bunting much more than London. There will be a lot of flags and a lot of fun, and people will enter into the spirit of things. And those who don't, some will winch and some will just shut up and have another drink and switch over to the football.

SIEGEL: Michael, how much credit do Kate Middleton and Prince William deserve for at least improving the attitude toward the royals these days?

WHITE: Well, I think marketing people would call it refreshing the brand. It's interesting. You said a moment ago how Diana had been such a dramatic figure arriving on the stage. This time around, it's really quite different because Diana's family in English hierarchical circles - they still exist - is older than the queen's, a bunch of Germans only got off the boat a couple of hundred years ago.

(LAUGHTER)

WHITE: And she's a Spencer, as in Spencer Churchill. And Kate, on the other hand, is the real deal. We all know girls like Kate Middleton. Her parents made a few bob on their own - the American way, if you like. And it's refreshing the brand.

SIEGEL: Michael White writes for The Guardian. He spoke to us from London.

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