Queen seems like bystander in own biography

By Ray Locker

Associated Press

While also presenting the life of Queen Elizabeth II, whose 50 years on the throne have taken her from being welcomed by Winston Churchill to being feted by Ozzy Osbourne, Robert Lacey gives readers a subtle condemnation of British royalty.

Lacey has written the rare biography in which the subject is a secondary character.

And that, the reader learns quickly, is because her majesty isn't very interesting.


She listens well, Lacey tells us, and the world's leaders often see her as a mother confessor.

She has a quiet dignity rare among the members of the House of Windsor, and she understands better than most the royalty's role in a democratic society.

But when it comes to the stuff of gripping biography, the queen is no Elizabeth I or Victoria.

It becomes evident rather quickly why the British media, particularly the popular tabloids, became so besotted with Lady Diana.

While he tries to keep the focus on Elizabeth, Lacey spends most of the time on her family; the often-feckless Charles, Prince of Wales; and his father, the diffident Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

In doing so, Lacey shows a royal family crumbling under its own weight and anachronistic role in a contemporary society.

Faced with doubts from her subjects, Elizabeth and her family responded with public relations.

Lacey frequently recounts the comings and goings from the royal family staff and how various family members used their press aides to perpetuate their pernicious sibling rivalries.


"It is a common Bolland tactic to hype Prince Charles by making sure the press gets to hear every delicious detail about the follies of his siblings," Lacey writes of Mark Bolland, Prince Charles' press aide.

"Monarch" is filled with asides such as this, as family members face their various problems by trying either to court the media, hide from it or twist it to suit their needs.

Elizabeth engages in it, too, although not as often as her children. She's an often-disengaged mother who would rather ride horses or walk her corgis.

After a few hundred pages of this, it's easy for the reader to wonder why Great Britain even bothers with a royal family.

They gobble up huge chunks of money from a nation that has far greater needs and pressures, and for years they never paid taxes despite being the nation's largest landholders.

But bother they do.

For all the problems her family has faced in her 50 years as queen, Elizabeth continues on. Lacey sympathetically shows how she faced down her greatest challenge five years ago after Diana's death in a Paris car crash -- would anyone else's former mother-in-law be expected to step in and deal with such arrangements? -- and explains how Britons salve their problems with a dose of royal behavior.

"Britain's reaction to the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, was diagnosed at this time as a very modern sort of nervous breakdown," Lacey writes. "But one day of immaculately executed ritual, broadcast with taste and style, triumphantly resolved the crisis and left most people feeling better."


That, as much as anything, explains the royalty's continued existence.

With their empire dissipated, Britons need some pomp to which to cling, and Elizabeth, with her well-mannered grasp of her role, gives it to them.

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