Charles & Camilla: the Gretna Green option

by Stephen Tall on February 27, 2005

Gretna Green must be looking pretty attractive to HRH Prince Charles and the Duchess-select of Cornwall right now. A quick elopement, and, in one bound, they would be free. Free of the expense, the worry, the interference, the publicity, the disapproval. For one day at any rate. But just imagine that day, that 24 hours, that 1,440 minutes, that 86,400 seconds… That perfect day in a parallel universe…

They wake to a lazy breakfast: fresh orange juice, warm fluffy croissants, steaming strong coffee. Not a worry in the world.

They would idly riffle through the newspapers, admiring the in-depth coverage of that day’s news – the terror laws, imminent election campaign, and Israeli-Palastinian peace process – which, suddenly, the newspapers discovered they had space to cover.

The happy couple muse on the new media voluntary code which accords stories column inches in proportion to their significance. On how fired up editors and journalists now are as they ply the trade they once dreamed of, blue-pencilling interviews with the latest evictee from ‘I’m A Celebrity Ballroom Gardener, Get Me Out Of My DIY Holiday From Hell’. And on how readers have been engaged by this New News, the way it takes for granted their intelligence and enhances their understanding.

They would discuss the recent Anglican schism, and the difficulties inherent in making real the vision of a broad church in which contrasting Christian convictions nestle alongside reciprocal Christian respect.

They would thank their lucky stars that the state church had recently been disestablished by Act of Parliament, and that Charles would not inherit a state-defined responsibility for defending the country’s faith. They would reflect on the wisdom of America’s Founding Fathers and France’s Revolutionaries who long ago recognised the state has no role in mediating matters of individual faith and conscience.

They would observe the aftershocks of the Iraq war, and grow angry that their Government had committed British troops to war on the basis of a false prospectus, and refused to publish the legal justification for this decision.

They would note with incredulity the act of war was declared in the name of Charles’s mother, that 86 British soldiers had so far died in her name, and that she was responsible but not accountable for the actions of her Government. They would sigh with collective relief that the establishment of the British Republic ensured sovereign power was no longer invested in the head of state, but in the body politic.

Finally, as they wander along Gretna’s Central Avenue, towards the Registration Office for their low-key private celebration, they would give thanks for the common sense of thee British people: once subjects, now citizens. It is, after all:

  • their mature empathy which has prompted the happy couple to cast off the monarchical shackles to which they were duty-bound and rejoice in a new-found personal happiness;
  • their realisation that to treat the Royal Family as an amusing diversion from real life, to be by turns mocked and adored according to fickle media mood-swings, is cruel and unusual punishment;
  • and their enriched self-confidence in a reformed public life which respects the mutually exclusive spheres of the personal and political, leaving each individual responsible to their family and friends for their personal actions, and all politicians directly accountable to the citizens they serve for their political actions.

But now it’s time for us to wake up, to smell the cold coffee, stale croissants and sour orange juice which awaits. The happy couple have just left the Windsor Guildhall to the epilepsy-inducing miasma of flashing press bulbs after a month’s febrile speculation. The honeymoon beckons, its every move tracked by a zoom-lens, a portent of things to come.

For weeks gone past (and for weeks to come) Charles and Camilla’s nuptials have swamped the news agenda: our public life is pebble-dashed with Royal micro-stories. Every screaming front page, every paparazzo picture, every fulminating leader, every righteous commentator, every snide feature: they each corrode our public life.

The Royal Family has a choice. The British public has a choice. Let’s choose Gretna for all our sakes.