Sunday 30 December 2012

London Carol Concert for the Polish Order of Malta in the United Kingdom

Earlier this month, the historic Church of St. Clement Danes (the Central Church of the Royal Air Force) in central London was the venue for "Carol of the Bells: A Polish Christmas Night", the annual carol concert organised by the Polish Association of the Knights of Malta (UK) and the Polish Order of Malta Volunteers (UK).

Guests of Honour included our President: The Earl of St. Andrews, our two Patrons: Field Marshal The Rt. Hon. The Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank and  HE The Ambassador of the Republic of Poland, as well as Greg Hands MP and Sophie Thompson.

Left to Right: Rafe Heydel-Mankoo, Dr. Marek Stella-Sawicki, Field Marhsal The Rt. Hon. The Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank, Joanna Meeson, The Earl of St. Andrews, Greg Hands MP, HE Mr. Witold Sobkow Ambassador of the Republic of Poland
Performed by the Ave Verum Choir, and with beautiful solos performed by noted singer Natalie Coyle, this concert was held in aid of the Order of Malta's Poznan oncology clinic (the clinic provides free treatment to thousands of people every year -- and the site's connection to the Order of Malta dates back many centuries).

The Church of St. Clement Danes also contains a memorial to the Polish Air Force and the squadrons that participated in the Second World War. During the concert our President and Patrons processed to the memorial to lay a wreath in tribute to their contribution to the fight for freedom.

In this photograph I am briefly summarising the contribution of the Polish Air Force during the Second World War and introducing the formal wreath-laying procession to the Polish Memorial in the Church

Wreath on the Polish Air Force Memorial in the Church of St. Clement Danes (the Central Church of the Royal Air Force)
located on the Strand in Central London

Tuesday 25 December 2012

Roundup of European Royal Christmas Messages 2012

Every Christmas, several European sovereigns and heads of royal houses broadcast Christmas messages. Europe's Royal Christmas Messages of 2012 may be viewed below.

The Christmas Message of HM The King of Spain:

The Christmas Message of HM The Queen of the Netherlands:

The Christmas Message of HM The King of the Belgians:

The Christmas Message to The Commonwealth of HM The Queen:

The Christmas Message of HM The King of Sweden:

The Christmas Message of HRH The Grand Duke of Luxembourg:

The Christmas Message of HH The Pope

The Christmas Message of HM King Michael of Romania:

The Christmas Message to the British Armed Forces of
HRH The Prince of Wales

The Christmas Message of HRH Crown Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia:

On the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the day of great joy for all Christians, I wish the citizens of Serbia and people across the world who celebrate Christmas the very best wishes from my family and myself. May everyone enjoy peace, love and happiness.
Christmas is also the time for people to come together, to give and to share and to be at peace, the time to build respect for each other that helps us all be stronger.
My family joins me in wishing all of you a peaceful and Happy Christmas and a very Happy New Year 2013.
Peace on Earth and goodwill for all!
Christ is born!
Alexander wikipedia wikipedia Rafe

Tuesday 4 December 2012

The Duchess of Cambridge is pregnant -- BBC TV Interview

Yesterday I appeared on BBC TV to discuss the announcement that HRH The Duchess of Cambridge is expecting a child.

Recent Public Speaking Engagements on the Monarchy

Below are images taken from three recent public appearances at which I spoke in favour of the Monarchy (University of Exeter Debating Society, The Battle of Ideas at London's Barbican, and The Sussex Salon Series sponsored by the University of Sussex at The Brighton Dome).

University of Exeter Debating Society
28 September 2012
Motion: "This House Would Abolish The Monarchy"
Vote: Monarchist Victory
(C) University of Exeter Debating Society

(C) University of Exeter Debating Society

The Battle of Ideas debate sponsored by
The Institute of Ideas at London's Barbican Centre
21 October 2012
Subject: Monarchy in the UK
No votes counted

The Sussex Salon Series sponsored by
the University of Sussex at
The Brighton Dome
28th November 2012
Motion: "Should Britain Become a Republic?"
Before the debate the audience was overwhelmingly republican;
by the end of the debate the Monarchist side
managed to slightly reduce the republican vote 

Thursday 22 November 2012

"Should Britain Become a Republic?" Debate, Brighton Dome, 8pm, 27 November.

I will be appearing at Brighton's historic Brighton Dome on Tuesday, November 27th as a panellist for a public debate on the age-old Monarchy vs Republic Debate. The debate is sponsored by the University of Sussex and is part of their Sussex Salon Series  at the Brighton Dome.  Tickets are available VIA THIS LINK

The promotional blurb for the event follows:

The country may have celebrated the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in spectacular style this year, but is everything really happy and glorious with the monarchy in 21st-century Britain – or is it time for Britain to become a republic?
What can we learn from monarchies that have become republics in the past? Does the issue even matter in the modern world?
A panel of experts including Sussex academics and supporters of both royalty and republicanism will discuss these and other questions at the next Sussex Salon event – Should Britain become a Republic? – at the Brighton Dome Studio Theatre on Tuesday (27 November).
The speakers are:
  • Rafe Heydel-Mankoo is an historian and one of North America’s leading royal commentators. He is an expert in monarchy, protocol, honours and British traditions and a Research Associate at the leading public policy think tank ResPublica;
  • Paul Myles of the Thomas Paine Society, which promotes the Lewes-based revolutionary thinker’s contribution to democracy and freedom;
  • Graham Smith heads the organisation Republic, who campaign for a democratic alternative to the monarchy. He has been outspoken on issues including Prince Charles’s lobbying of government departments, and is calling for an honours system decided by the people;
  • Richard Whatmore, Professor of Intellectual History and the History of Political Thought at Sussex, whose interests include the history of democracy, the French Revolution and the Enlightenment.
The Sussex Salon is a roundtable event where academics, practitioners and commentators share their views on hot topics. The audience is invited to join in either by asking questions or taking part in the snap opinion polls via the electronic voting system.
The series is organised by Dr Ruth Woodfield, a sociologist and Director of Widening Participation for the School of Law, Politics and Sociology.
Dr Woodfield says: “This debate promises to be a lively and informative event and we would love to have the public join us and contribute.”
The debate takes place at 8pm-10pm. Tickets cost £6 (£4 concession) and are available from the Dome Box Office, or call 01273 709709 to book.

Friday 21 September 2012

CBC Archives: The Monarchy in Canada - Rare Footage

Regular readers of my blog will be aware that in recent years the Canadian Government has embarked upon a policy to reinforce the position of the Crown in Canada. This refreshing approach to Canada's oldest institution has been replicated by Canadian instiutions in numerous other areas of Canadian life. Most recently, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has created an on-line archive of royal visits to Canada. This site, which is free to access, provides a fascinating glimpse into the history of the royal family's connection with the Senior Dominion. I am pleased to recommend it. It is accessible via this link:  CBC DIGITAL ARCHIVES - THE MONARCHY: 

Thursday 20 September 2012

Brutalist Humble Pie

Earlier today I stumbled upon a photograph on Facebook of a familiar plaque that is located just off of Russell Square in London's "Bloomsbury". The plaque, as may be read on its inscription, was erected to apologise for the construction of the building on which the plaque was affixed (the Brunei Building, School of Oriental and African Studies).  

I think this is an excellent idea which should be rolled out all over London, much as the resoundingly successful Blue Plaques have been. Now that the judgement of history has found them guilty on all counts, the architects responsible for our city's numerous monstrous carbuncles should be forced to erect plaques permanently recording their abjet apologies  for desecrating our streets and cityscapes, dampening our spirits and assaulting our eyes and minds. 

Saturday 15 September 2012

Royal Lawsuit Over Topless Photos of Duchess of Cambridge -- BBC TV

I appeared on BBC News Channel and BBC World TV this evening to discuss the royal reaction to the publication of topless photos of the Duchess of Cambridge and to examine the chances of success for the the royals in the French courts on the grounds of breach of privacy. The interview may be viewed below:

Monday 10 September 2012

A Separate Olympic Honours List for Olympic Medallists?

Following the Government's decision to create a separate honours list for Olympic medallists, I was asked to discuss the subject on Sky News' "Boulton & Co" programme, hosted by Adam Boulton. Do Olympic medallists deserve an honour for their achievement in addition to their Olympic medals? Or does this risk turning the honours system into a "Win one medal get one free" farce? The segment may be viewed by clicking below:

Wednesday 5 September 2012

My Autumn Public Lecture & Debating Schedule

Over the next couple of months several of my public speaking engagements will be open to the general public. My blog followers and other interested parties are welcome to attend. 

Details have already been confirmed & released for the following:

1.   28th September. University of Exeter, Devon. Debate: "This House Would Abolish the British Monarchy".  

2.   5th October. Kensington Palace Lunch & Lecture.  The title of my lecture is: "Why are we Monarchists? The Enduring Appeal and Relevance of Monarchy in the 21st Century".  This is a ticketed event arranged by the Constitutional Monarchy Association. Tickets (which include both the lunch and lecture) and further details via the Constitutional Monarchy Association.

3.   21st October. The Battle of Ideas Debate: "Monarchy in the UK".  Location: The Barbican. This is a ticketed event organised by the Institute of Ideas. Tickets and further details:

4. 27th November. The Sussex Salon Series at the Brighton Dome. Debate: "Should Britain Become a Republic". This is a ticketed event co-organised by the Brighton Festivals Office and the University of Sussex. Tickets and further details:

Sunday 2 September 2012

Crown Council of Ethiopia Statement on the Death of The Ethiopian Patriarch, His Holiness Abune Paulos, Fifth Patriarch and Catholicos of Ethiopia

A statement from the Crown Council of Ethiopia

 On The Passing Of Our Patriarch His Holiness Abune Paulos, Fifth Patriarch and Catholicos of Ethiopia, Ichege of the See of St. Tekle Haymanot, Archbishop of Axum and serving President of the World Council of Churches

We would like to express our condolences on the sudden and unexpected passing of our father, scholar, internationalist and tireless advocate for peace, Patriarch Abune Paulos.

As the spiritual guide of Ethiopia’s 40 million Orthodox Christians, The Patriarch suffered much spiritual and personal hardship and abuse during the 1970s in the jails of Colonel Mengistu Haile-Mariam and the Derg Communist Junta.  Having watched the Church he was devoted to being persecuted and the then Patriarch Abune Tewflos being executed, the Patriarch was released from prison in 1983.  There followed a period of exile and continuing study in the United States until his election as Patriarch in 1992-the year following the overthrow of the Communist government.

Born in Adwa, Tigray Province, Patriarch Abune Paulos was distinguished as the first member of his ethnic group to become Church Patriarch. Abune Paulos was only the fifth Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church since Emperor Haile-Selassie secured the Church’s independence in 1959 from the Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt.

Having personally presided over the re internment of Emperor Haile-Selassie in 2000 at Addis Ababa and the subsequent burial of other members of the royal family at the Holy Trinity Church, Abune Paulos retained an unabashed and life-long fondness for and attachment to the venerable history of the Ethiopian Empire, its people and its royal family.

The Patriarch’s personal valor, international regard and tireless spiritual diplomacy resulted in his recovering substantial church properties and assets seized previously by Ethiopia’s communist regime.
These scarce and valuable resources were immediately deployed in the service of the Ethiopian people.
The Abune was also a tireless advocate for the preservation of Ethiopia’s spiritual and cultural heritages.

Abune Paulos was also the first Church leader to bravely challenge deep seated social and cultural taboos to draw awareness to our nation’s devastating HIV-AIDS rates-and the immediate and critical need for treatment and preventive education.

Through trying and at times controversial circumstances the Patriarch’s spiritual leadership and prodigious efforts on behalf of peace, pragmatic internationalism and humanitarian leadership have shepherded Our ancient and venerable Church into the 21st Century.

“No one loves Africa more than Africans,” said Abune Paulos, and only an “African asolution” will solve African problems-two of the Patriarch’s more succinctly profound dicta that Ethiopians and Africans alike should cherish and always remember.

With the passing of Our venerable spiritual leader, we must now humbly seek the divine guidance of Almighty God to secure a wise and steady hand for our precious Church and people.

God bless the Ethiopian people and the Church. The Abune’s unique blend of spirituality, pragmatism, personal humanity, scholarship and international perspective will long be remembered and surely missed.

Wednesday 29 August 2012

Honours in the UK: Debate with Peter Tatchell following the publication of the Commons Select Committee Honours Report

The House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee today published its report on the UK Honours System. Unfortunately, despite a couple of useful recommendations, the Committee's report was rather misleading -- and, due to lack of knowledge of the subject, these inaccuracies were perpetuated today by much of the British media.

I appeared on Sky News this morning to debate the subject with Peter Tatchell. The discussion may be viewed by clicking on the video link below:

Monday 27 August 2012

Orders, Titles and the Royal Prerogative: Canada vs Lord Black

Ray Hnatyshyn, then HE The Governor General of Canada
presents the insignia of an Officer of the Order of Canada
to Conrad Black. 1990
The indefatigable, tenacious and ever controversial media tycoon Lord Black of Crossharbour, better known to Canadians as Conrad Black, is again in the news. This time he is challenging attempts to strip him of his clearly much cherished appointment, in 1990, as an Officer of the Order of Canada (Canada's highest merit order). Officers of the Order are appointed in recognition of "a lifetime of achievement and merit of a high degree, especially in service to Canada or to humanity at large."  Recipients receive an attractive neck badge suspended from a red and white ribbon, and they may append the letters "O.C." after their name. They are also entitled to encircle their armorial bearings with the ribbon of the order and suspend the badge from the base of the armorial shield.

A member may be removed from the Order if the Advisory Council of the Order of Canada (an 11-strong body which is chaired by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court) deems a member's actions to have brought the Order into disrepute. The possession of a criminal record falls within this category of actions. To date, four individuals have been expelled from the Order of Canada: Alan Eagleson (1998), David Ahenakew (2005), T. Sher Sing (2008) and Steve Fonyo (2010). Garth Drabinsky is another member whose suitability for continued membership is currently under review by the Advisory Council.  The call for Lord Black's expulsion relates to his US conviction and incarceration for mail fraud and obstruction of justice. In September 2011 the Advisory Council announced that it would review Lord Black's membership of the Order.

Lord Black's defence team have advanced ten arguments against his expulsion from the Order. Chief amongst these is their assertion that Lord Black was treated unfairly in the US judicial system and would not have received a criminal conviction had he been brought to trial in Canada.  The Advisory Board, which is now reviewing Lord Black's case, will make its recommendation to Canada's Governor General (the Canadian representative of HM The Queen, who is the fount of all honours in Canada) who alone has the authority to strip recipients of their honours.

Unusually, Lord Black has requested that his situation is so unique (and therefore unlikely to set a precedent) that he has petitioned the Federal Court to grant him permission to present oral evidence to the Advisory Council (the Council having denied his original request -- although his lawyers were able to make representations in writing). The Federal Court judge reserved his ruling last Friday and has not set a date for his decision. However, lawyers for the government have stated that the granting of honours, and the procedures that accompany them, lie within the realm of the Governor General's royal prerogative and, as such, fall beyond the reach of the courts and are consequently non-justiciable. It is a well-established constitutional principle that the Governor General cannot be fettered by the courts in the exercise of the royal prerogative.

This is not the first time that Lord Black has come up against the royal prerogative.  In 2001 the British Prime Minister recommended that HM The Queen of the United Kingdom should bestow a peerage upon the then Conrad Black. Conrad Black had previously received assurances from the Canadian government that as he was a dual UK/Canadian citizen, the conferral of this dignity of nobility would be permitted. However, although several similar honours had been conferred on other Canadians in the recent and not so recent past, perhaps due to the antagonism that existed between Conrad Black and the then Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, Chretien advised The Queen not to confer the peerage on the grounds that it would violate the (questionable) long-standing convention (based upon the non-binding Nickle Resolution of 1919) that no Canadian could receive a knighthood or title of nobility.  The Queen accepted the Canadian Prime Minister's advice.

Conrad Black launched a suit against the Canadian Prime Minister in the Federal Court, arguing that the Canadian Prime Minister had exceeded his authority to advise or make recommendations to the Sovereign as she was acting in her capacity as Queen of the United Kingdom and not as Queen of Canada. Whilst it is highly likely that Black was correct and the Canadian Prime Minister had exceeded his authority; nevertheless, the Federal Court ruled that the Prime Minister had exercised the Royal Prerogative and this was therefore non-justiciable as it was beyond the reach of the courts. As a result of this ruling, Black renounced his Canadian citizenship in 2001 and, as a UK citizen, he was finally able to take his seat in the House of Lords as The Rt. Hon. The Baron Black of Crossharbour.

HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother
receives the insignia of an "Honorary"
Companion of the Order of Canada. 2000
The loss of Lord Black's Canadian citizenship raised (and raises) an important issue which, so far as I know, has not been considered or addressed by any official bodies -- namely that only Canadian citizens may be substantive members of the Order of Canada. As she was not deemed a Canadian citizen, HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, despite being a former Queen Consort of Canada and the mother of The Queen of Canada, who is herself Sovereign of the Order of Canada, was unable to become a substantive member of the Order of Canada, and was therefore controversially appointed an "honorary" companion of the Order on the occasion of her 100th birthday.

Now that Lord Black is no longer Canadian, is he a substantive or an honorary member of the Order of Canada? Certainly there is no evidence in support of the latter classification and we must assume he remains a substantive member. Is it too much of a stretch to suggest that perhaps a precedent has been set which may now allow members of Canada's Royal Family to accept substantive membership of the Order?

As an aside, it is interesting to note that although the Canadian media almost always accord British peers and knights their titles (a search on the websites of Canadian media outlets will reveal that Sir John Major, Lady Thatcher, Lord Prescott, Lord Archer and numerous other UK citizens are addressed with their correct titles), this courtesy is seldom, if ever, accorded to Lord Black, who is invariably styled simply as "Conrad Black", despite holding only UK citizenship. One wonders whether this might suggest some bias.

(A further aside: Lord Black remains a member of the Canadian Privy Council -- it is a little known fact that members of the Canadian Privy Council are entitled to an official "Special Passport"; it would be an amusing loophole were Lord Black able to use this avenue to secure a Canadian passport. Alas for Lord Black, these are only granted to privy councillors who are engaged on business for the Canadian Government).

Saturday 18 August 2012

Save the Date: "Battle of Ideas" debate on "Monarchy in the UK"

Battle of Ideas 2012 20 & 21 October, London. Two days of high-level, thought-provoking, public debate organised by the Institute of Ideas with the Barbican.

For those who are interested, I shall be debating film director & investigative journalist Tesse Mayes, and Grahame Smith, Director of lobby group "Republic", on the "Monarchy in the UK" in the 2012 Battle of Ideas, which this year will be taking place at The Barbican.

To quote from the programme:

 "Monarchy in the UK
Sunday 21 October, 6.30pm until 7.30pm, Conservatory Battle for Social Justice
At first glance, the monarchy of 2012 seems to be in rude health. The Diamond Jubilee has been not so much an occasion for jingoistic national fervour as for quiet satisfaction that we live in a stable, free democracy that much of the world’s population can only envy. The Queen is viewed with almost unalloyed respect for the personal qualities she has brought to her role, and the wedding of William and Kate has restored the popularity of the House of Windsor to a pitch not seen since the early days of Diana. To many, the monarchy seems to provide a level of disinterested public service that is in sharp contrast to a political world tarnished with self-seeking and scandal.

"And yet, and yet. This is the twenty-first century. If we were designing the constitution for a liberal democracy from scratch, it would not have a place for a hereditary monarchy, would it? Alex Salmond may argue that the Queen could remain head of state in Scotland even if full independence were achieved, but that can be seen as an awkward relic of a long history of conflict and union between neighbouring states. Moreover, on top of traditional political objections, in 2012 there appears to exist a more cultural disdain for all things ‘royal’. The jubilee celebrations were characterised by some as a ‘national sedative’, and ‘republican’ ire often seemed to be aimed less at the monarchy itself than the supposedly docile masses who doff their caps to it.  Whatever, contemporary royal events often feel more like evidence of popularity for celebrity than monarchist zeal. Conversely, republicanism remains a marginal political movement in contemporary UK. Interestingly, the lack of a popular campaign for a democratic republic is has less to do with a commitment to the hereditary principle than cynicism about politics in general. For many, the words ‘President Blair’ alone are enough to see off the case for a republic.

"Is there still a logical case to be made for hereditary monarchy, beyond affection, nostalgia and inertia? Some would argue, for example, that its existence provides a code of allegiance which ensures ministers, the armed forces, and the judiciary do not seek to extend their powers beyond those allotted to them. Are there deeper principles that demand radical change? Or will we just stagger on with an institution that seems to have become adept at finding new and compelling raisons d’être, however much society changes?"


Tuesday 14 August 2012

OMG! An Annoying Acronym with Honourable Origins

Perhaps the most novel aspect of the trend for sending SMS "text" messages and "tweets" has been the growth of acronyms. LOL, BTW, FWIW, OTOH, IIRC are but a few of the acronyms that have become standard in many types of new media. Perhaps the most annoying acronym is "OMG" (Oh My God!), an expression that is not used in the context of exclaiming devotion to a deity but, rather, simply to express any of a myriad of emotions (often unrelated): amazement, disbelief, shock, outrage, pleasure, etc.  Personally, the term conjures up an unappealing image of two shrill, fast-talking young girls gossiping and repeatedly screeching "Oh My God!".

However, it may be that the acronym's origins are far more distinguished than we could have imagined. Indeed, as the letter below reveals, the acronym OMG (as a contraction of "Oh My God!") had been used as early as 1917 and appeared in an exchange between figures as notable as a future Prime Minister and a First Sea Lord -- it is even used in reference to the Honours System!

Lord Fisher
In 1917 Admiral of the Fleet The Right Honourable The Lord Fisher of Kilverstone GCB, OM, GCVO (better known as "Lord Fisher") wrote a letter to The Right Honourable Winston Churchill in which he jokingly referred to the creation of a new Order of Knighthood to be known as "O.M.G." (Oh! My! God!). He cheekily suggested that, in light of the Royal Navy's great success, this new honour should be showered upon the Admiralty.

Even if an earlier use of this acronym can be found -- I doubt it will have such a distinguished progenitor!

Saturday 4 August 2012

HM Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother: A Personal Tribute

 I was commissioned to write this tribute in March 2002, immediately following the announcement of the death of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. 

 I post it today, to mark the anniversary of HM's birth. Ten years on from her death, this tribute to the Queen Mother might sound overly romantic and sentimental, but the emotions were very real at the time and, I feel, captured the mood of many of those who queued up to pay their respects.

HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother: A Personal Tribute

The Queen Mother is dead.

The words sound strange and hollow. They suggest that all is not right with the world. One might just as well write that the Statue of Liberty has sunk beneath the waves or that the Holy See has moved to Winnipeg - that the Queen Mother is no longer with us simply sounds impossible.

Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother was a constant. World wars were fought and won, fanatical ideologies rose and collapsed, empires crumbled, politicians and dictators were granted fifteen minutes only to become faded names in yellowed newspapers. Fashions changed and traditions ended. But the Queen Mother remained.

Over the decades, as the world changed ever more rapidly and dramatically, becoming, in the process, both increasingly chaotic and unfamiliar, the Queen Mother stood as a steadfast symbol of stability and continuity. She grounded us. We looked upon her as a Methuselah. The sight of that slight figure with her captivating smile and genteel wave was enough to remind us that some things never change. From this we drew comfort and hope.

But Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother was more than a constant. She was an institution. Born a Victorian and raised an Edwardian, the span of the Queen Mother‘s life is the span of our collective memory.
Rightly or wrongly we largely divide history into two chronological periods: twentieth century and pre twentieth century. The historic events that occurred prior to the Queen Mother‘s birth are as remote as the Spanish Armada or the expeditions of Columbus, those which occurred after the Queen Mother‘s birth are events of modern history – our history.

Born in 1900, the Queen Mother was the Twentieth Century. Her Majesty aged as the century aged and, by so doing, she came to be regarded as a physical embodiment of the modern era, serving as a rare bridgehead to the events of yesteryear. Through her we felt a tangible connection to our heritage and to our roots, those elements so critical to the foundation of any lasting national identity. Whilst the Queen Mother lived, the early years of the last century seemed less remote and our place in our national story could be better understood. These factors alone would render the Queen Mother a most memorable person.

However, Her Majesty was more than mere constant or symbol of modern history. One need not accomplish anything to attain that status. One need simply exist. No, the Queen Mother was far more. She was human. She was alert to humanity. She was conscious of duty. She was an inspiration.

A healthy and productive society requires role models and icons. Their function is manifold but they ultimately serve to motivate, inspire and guide both the society as well as its constituent parts. Our era, for whatever reason, suffers from a lack of true role models.

Real leadership and the notion of justifiably deserved respect and admiration have been all but forgotten in critical areas of modern life, replaced instead by artificially inflated figures of the hour or moment artfully created by powerful corporate hands and posed to resemble the genuine artefact We are encouraged and expected to idolise and collectively prostrate our selves before those who have become the physical personification of greed, selfishness and ego; in short, before those for whom "I" has become the all important mantra and for whom duty is understood only in terms of what others must do for them. Their faces are plastered on bill boards, on magazines, on television and in the cinema. These are the great and powerful we are told. They are to be revered.

All that glitters is not gold. Beside the genuine that which is inflated and artificial looks crude and cheap. The Queen Mother was the real McCoy. She towered over feeble imitations. In a life dominated by personal self sacrifice, dedication to duty and concern for others, even in the midst of great personal tragedy, Her Majesty epitomised much that was truly noble in the human spirit. To her we could look for examples of strength during adversity and calmness of spirit during times of upheaval.

Yes, Hitler did call her "the most dangerous woman in Europe", and that defiant spirit was no less evident at the age of 100, as she disobeyed doctors to clamber into a helicopter and fly to her daughter‘s funeral, than it was at 60. This is the mark of a true role model.

Today‘s youth will remember the Queen Mother as a delicate great-grandmother swathed in pink or blue chiffon. But let us never forget that the fist in the velvet glove was iron and so too was the will. The Queen Mother‘s resolute determination saw the Empire through two of its greatest crises: the Abdication Crisis and the Second World War.

Upon her husband‘s accession to the throne it was Queen Elizabeth who was the pillar of strength, tenderly but firmly encouraging and coaching King George VI through the terrible ordeals of his early kingship and the War which would soon be waged. During that war as a symbol of defiance against tyranny only Winston Churchill was their equal.

Whilst in almost all other areas society seems to cater to the lowest common denominator how refreshing and inspiring to know that here at least stood a shining example of those deeply cherished values and all important beliefs that have guided civilised man through the ages

The Queen Mother is dead.

The words have lost none of their strangeness. Yet the fact remains. We are all the poorer for it.

Friday 3 August 2012

The Royal Family & The Olympics -- Polish TV interview

I appeared on Poland's TVP 1 yesterday morning to discuss the historical connection between the Monarchy     and the Olympics. The segment is entirely in Polish.

Tuesday 31 July 2012

Britain created modern sport -- why was this ignored in the Olympic Opening Ceremony?

Much has been written about the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games, most of it overwhelmingly positive. On the whole, I thought it was a tremendous success -- and one which I thoroughly enjoyed. Of course, it is impossible to please everyone and some aspects of it have been criticised both at home and abroad. At home, many critics have complained, rightly or wrongly, that several segments were marred by an overtly left-wing / liberal bias (most notably the focus on the NHS). Abroad, critics have expressed disappointment that so much of the production was bewildering and mystifying to foreign audiences unfamiliar with various aspects of British history and culture.

It is beyond the scope of this blog to cover popular culture -- and there is little point repeating what has already been written -- however, as much as I enjoyed the ceremony (and I certainly do not wish to appear unduly negative -- it was a great show) I thought it profoundly regrettable that the organisers did not seize upon this unique opportunity to highlight what, in the context of the Olympics, should have been the most obvious and relevant British achievement -- the creation of modern sport.

Sport is as much a part of Britain's contribution to global civilisation as the English language, parliament, the common law and the industrial revolution. In their modern forms, football, boxing, tennis, golf, cricket, rugby, field hockey, ice hockey (yes, ice hockey!), baseball (yes, baseball!), table tennis, netball, rounders, modern polo, bowls, curling, snooker and darts were either created or codified by the British. (Britain also created the Paralympic games!) 

With an almost missionary zeal, the British spread these sports, and the general concept of sportsmanship and organised sport as competition and pastime, throughout the British Empire and, subsequently, the wider world. Britain may no longer excel or lead the world in actually winning many of these sports, but no country on the face of the earth has made a greater contribution to the world of modern sport.

The opening ceremony of the Olympic Games is intended in part to focus upon the ideals of the Olympic spirit. How strange, then, that the unique opportunity to celebrate this remarkable British legacy in front of a global audience was ignored. I wager that most citizens of the world, many of whom are no doubt largely ignorant of the extent of Britain's contribution, would have found this enduring legacy considerably more interesting and relevant than the curious focus upon a subject as parochial as the National Health Service.

The great Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, made a splendid cameo appearance in the opening ceremony. He famously gave his invention to the world for free, and the organisers acknowledged this by spelling out the phrase "THIS IS FOR EVERYONE" in LCD lights across half of the stadium. It was a tremendous piece of theatre --- but I could not help but reflect that the same phrase could have been used in reference to the British gift of sport.

In the end, it fell upon an outsider, Count Jacques Rogge, President of the International Olympic Committee, to point out in his speech the fact which should have been a key component of the ceremony:

"In a sense, the Olympic Games are coming home tonight. This great, sports-loving country is widely recognized as the birthplace of modern sport. It was here that the concepts of sportsmanship and fair play were first codified into clear rules and regulations. It was here that sport was included as an educational tool in the school curriculum. 

"The British approach to sport had a profound influence on Pierre de Coubertin, our founder, as he developed the modern Olympic movement at the close of the 19th century."

As much as I enjoyed the spectacular opening ceremony for the world's greatest sporting event, I cannot help but feel a deep sense of regret at this missed opportunity to celebrate Britain's unique and unequalled contribution to the very subject which is the focus of the Olympics.

Thursday 26 July 2012

The Olympic Order

Several symbols are synonymous with the Olympic Games: the Olympic Torch, the Olympic Emblem/Flag, the Olympic Medals, the Olympic Anthem, the Olympic Motto, the Olympic Oath and the Olympic Mascots. 

Rather less familiar is the Olympic Order. 

The Olympic Order was instituted by the International Olympic Committee in 1974. The Order is the premier honour of the Olympics and is conferred upon those who have rendered outstanding service to the Olympic movement or who are deemed to epitomise the essential ideals of the Olympics. The Order originally comprised three grades (gold, silver and bronze) however the lowest grade (bronze) was abolished in 1984. 

At each Olympic games the principal organiser will be invested with the highest grade during the closing ceremony. We can assume that Lord Coe will receive it in this manner.   

Insignia: A collar of gold, silver or bronze (depending on the grade) depicting the Olympic Rings flanked on either side by an olive wreath sprig. Recipients also receive a boutonniere, again of gold, silver or bronze.

Recipients are presented with a certificate. 

List of Recipients (Source: Wikipedia):