HRH: The ’94 Tour

It’s summer, and the really big acts are on the road.  The Stones are in the States, lugging a stage the size of the Pompidou Centre from city to city.  Pink Floyd too, bringing their very own airship with them.  And for the next few days Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth the Second is playing a few dates in Victoria, with her signature collection of handbags and weird hats.

The Stones may be pulling in bigger crowds, but for sheer stamina and staying power you’ve got to hand it to the old pro from Buck House.

So she’s on tour in her northernmost dominion at the moment, with the mandatory media swarm in tow.  You see her on the nightly news, opening hospitals, trading bromides with elderly well-wishers, accepting bouquets from kindergarten classes, and nodding sagely as some minor dignitary gives her the run down on the local landmarks.

Barring mishaps, a royal tour is as formulaic a media event as one can imagine – a stately, scripted spectacle in which nothing much happens.  But that’s as it should be.  The crowds come to see the Queen, and the cameras dog her every step, not for what she does but simply because she is.  It’s her presence, her pure existence, around which this elaborate constellation of attention turns.  Not to get too esoteric, but Heidegger had a word for this.  He called it Dasein, which basically means being-there.

In a world in which fame is the engine of multi-billion dollar cultural industries, the Queen’s celebrity is the old-fashioned kind.  She was famous from the instant she was born, and she’ll remain famous for the duration of her life.

But it’s a fame that keeps its distance from the machinery of the media, even as she submits to the cameras.  She won’t be chatting with Vicki Gabereau.  She won’t be popping up on Larry King Live to field calls from Podunk, Iowa.  With the possible exception of the royal seal on bottles of HP sauce, she’s not much into product endorsements.  Other celebrities sell their likenesses to make money.  The Queen’s picture is actually on the money.

Nonetheless, she is in show business, even if all her act consists of is cutting ribbons and peering through bifocals.  And she’s probably the hardest working trouper in the biz.  Only the Pope and George Burns come close.  Whenever the Stones go on tour, the media are full of stories about Jagger’s training regimen.  But the Stones only hit the road about once every five years.  Apart from the odd breather at Balmoral, the royal roadshow has been going non-stop for the past 50 years.

And just like the Stones, Her Royal Highness is an icon to her fans.  While Keith Richards is a living, wheezing rebuke to every petty functionary who ever advocated bigger warning labels on cigarette packages, Elizabeth the Second is a mobile monument to duty and decorum.  Rock on, your

  • CBC Radio August 16, 1994