OPINION: Throughout much of the world it's not easy to hit 64 without someone reminding you of the Beatles' song about that very subject. And the questions it poses.
Prince Charles will turn 64 during his six-day New Zealand tour with Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, in November. Will she still be sending him a valentine . . . birthday greetings . . . bottle of wine?
Probably, yes. But one question in that catchy song does resonate in a wider context. "Will you still need me?"
Nowadays its a tedious truth to point out that there were times, including during Charles' lifetime, when a royal tour would have been fantastic news, prompting not only widespread excitement but also a massive spring clean. Billy Connolly, it was, who said the royal family must believe the whole world smells of fresh paint.
But there is not a sense of awe, of a great occasion, or even particularly of glamour.
To some extent this has to do with age. A new generation of royal is now where the photogenic action is, whereas the figure who embodies the traditional constancies and reassurances of monarchy remains the Queen herself. Charles and Camilla are caught between in rumpled middle age.
What we have to look forward to, then, is a visit widely expected to be sure-footed to the point of dullness. The couple will be shown things and will show an interest in them.
This will include the still-raw Christchurch earthquake recovery process, though the royal balm has already been applied to that area, and with all due care, by Charles' elder son on an earlier visit in which he quoted his grandmother quite touchingly: "Grief is the price we pay for love."
It is true that the impressively mounted London Olympics featuring the Queen's double act with 007 brought a sense that maybe the older monarchy is loosening up. Then photos of Harry suggested that some tightening up at the other extremity of the family business might be in order.
Back in Britain the monarchy has a future as well as a past. But do we still, here in New Zealand, need them?
Not really. Republicanism awaits, though there's no great impetus for it to come with an indecent rush. Our national evolution will get us there in time and when it does there will still remain among many of us an abiding affinity for the better aspects of our colonial heritage.
As for now, we are hardly reliant on the royals and most of us are impressed by them only on occasion. Nowadays it's we who tend to sit in judgment on them, rather than the other way around.
In any case, consider this: the royal accounts reveal that last year taxpayer funding for the Prince of Wales and his family ran to NZ$23 million whereas the prince and duchess helped raise, directly and indirectly, $131 million for charity.
These people do work for a living, they really do. The spectre of redundancy and outsourcing hangs over them the same as for many workers. And those who think that bloodlines have no relevance in modern life clearly haven't been reading the women's magazine covers where celebrity offspring are turned into sad little soap-opera figures.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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