God save the king? What about the planet? | Stewart Lee
As a boy, in 1977, I made a stupid monkey face at Queen Elizabeth II as she drove past us in Solihull’s Mell Square on her silver jubilee perambulations. “You aren’t funny, Stewart,” my gran said of the subsequent photograph, unaware that I would one day be declared “the world’s greatest living standup comedian” (the Times).
But like Nick Cave ™ ®, whose best work we now realise was a glorious mistake made while smacked out of his brain in a baby’s nappy, I too was moved by the brown tide of history that flowed over the Queen’s funeral; I enjoyed the warm congratulations of Princess Michael of Kent at the 1984 National Lifesaving Championships in Coventry, where she clearly enjoyed watching my lithe teenage body repeatedly rescued as a volunteer corpse; and a minor royal recently attended one of my performances, where he was pleasant and polite when getting me to sign a DVD afterwards, despite having witnessed his relatives being ridiculed. They’re not so bad, I thought.
Since the coronation, however, I now find I hate all the royal family’s guts. And I hope, as fervently as my gran hoped in vain that she would live to see another coronation, that I in turn live to see the royals end their days in the gutter, pleasuring cheapskates for loose change by the bins behind the bus station; even the surviving corgis, which, in a clear safeguarding breach, are now in the care of Prince Andrew.
The former Prince Charles was once a pioneer in then unfashionable ways of thinking, and was ridiculed for talking to vegetables. But it paid off. And both the king’s brothers grew up to be useful members of the royal family, with Andrew having an especially beneficial effect on young people. But given Charles III’s trumpeted eco-concerns, it is disappointing that he would sit and finger his ring in Westminster Abbey while those who care about the planet’s future were wrongly arrested under the fig leaf of protecting him.
You don’t have to have done A-level religious studies in 1986, alongside a boy who worshipped Thor and cast runes, to know that a simple utilitarian reading of Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil would place them firmly on the moral high ground of history, while the royal family, who stood by and let them be arrested in their name, will find themselves squirming in the anus of Dante’s devil.
The abstract concept of “utility” is described as tending “to prevent the happening of mischief, pain, evil, or unhappiness to the party whose interest is considered”. There can be no more important “party” than the survival of all life on Earth, which trumps even the regrettable inconveniences suffered by the listeners of Nick Ferrari’s LBC phone-in.
During the service, King Charles III prayed that he would be “a blessing” to people “of all faiths and convictions”, while outside people with convictions about the environment or the monarchy were detained by the police because the string tying their bundles of placards together could have been used to “lock on”, as long as none of the Metropolitan police officers managing the event had any scissors. Charles’s silence in the face of the police force scaling the foothills of fascism, via the Tories’ draconian new police bill, makes a mockery of his promise.
It’s not great to criticise the police, an underfunded force asked to enforce populist measures designed by morally bankrupt politicians, trying to appease the gaping maw of a “red wall” they both patronise and fear. But suddenly, nice white middle-class eco-protesters and kranky anoraked anti-monarchists know what black people and women knew all along. Sometimes, you cannot trust the police, and they are not always there to serve and protect you. And now one of the life lessons we are obliged to teach our children is to treat the police with suspicion, and make sure a friend with a phone films any, even apparently innocent, interaction they have with them.
I got pulled over by the police once. I was a 21-year-old would-be standup driving a 1971 Morris Marina back from an unpaid tryout in the Elephant and Castle in south London. They asked me if I smoked “the old weed” and fruitlessly searched my car; they asked me where I had been, and one of the pair asked if I had performed at the Comedy Store. I had done a tryout there. He said he had been there and it was shit and all the comedians were shit, as if trying to goad me into doing something I’d regret. The police were right about the Comedy Store, though, which never employed me, the late booker Kim Kinnie saying I “wasn’t a Comedy Store act”, unaware that I would one day be declared “the world’s greatest living standup comedian” (the Times).
Then the police searched my bag, which was full of strange little props, my act in those days consisting mainly of me pointing at things and saying they were shit. One officer pulled out a piece of string with a weight tied to the end of it. I explained it was for a joke based around the phrase: “How long is a piece of string?” “And that’s funny, is it?” the policeman asked, sarcastically, before reluctantly releasing me. Today, I could have been detained for possession of that same piece of string, bumping up arrest statistics. And yet King Charles III remains silent.
If anyone is offended by this column then, like the Met, I express my regret. It is difficult to make snap decisions about what is right and wrong in the moment. I now consider the matter closed and trust I continue to enjoy everyone’s full support.
Basic Lee is on tour, including six dates at the Royal Festival Hall, London, in June and July, and a fun-size ™ ® version of the show at the Stand’s New Town theatre, Edinburgh, 11-20 August