Me & the Royal Family


I first arrived in Cambridge in October of 1983 and quickly made friends with a screamingly funny divinity student named Joe Marshall. Joe was interested not only in God but in amateur dramatics. It so happened that Prince Edward, Queen Elizabeth's youngest son, also arrived in Cambridge in 1983 — a dewy, apple-cheeked nineteen-year-old. He too was interested in 'amdram' and within a term was cast, with my friend Joe, in a production of Arthur Miller's The Crucible.

From the Crucible, Cambridge 1983. Edward is in the gray waistcoat; my friend Joe Marshall is on the left.

Thus it was that as rehearsals progressed, I was Joe's guest at one such, observing the proceedings closely. It was astonishing to find myself in an intimate rehearsal room with the Queen of England's boy; the owner of a face (indeed, at 19 a very beautiful face) I had seen only on newsprint and in the reverential coffee-table books favored by grannies.

Prince Edward at Cambridge, 1983.

We all went out for drinks after the rehearsal. Somehow Edward and I were standing at the bar together ordering for some of the others; and then it seemed that Edward realized he didn't have any money to pay for the drinks (I overheard a cast-mate grumbling in a loud, amused voice, "He never has any bloody money"); and then it seemed he hit up one of his cast-members for a fiver; and as we stood there waiting our turn, it suddenly whacked me between the eyes that this guy — in the most casual and unselfconscious way — was holding a bank note upon which his mother's face was etched. That gave me pause.

Several years later, when I had graduated from Cambridge and was living and working in London, I went as often as I could to watch the polo on Smith's Lawn in Windsor Great Park. I had at that time become quite intoxicated by the game. The Queen too, of course, took an interest and most Sundays that I was there, she was too.................housed in a sweet little wooden royal box that had been constructed at the side of the field. I could easily see her and her guests sitting up on the second floor balcony of this bijou lodge, on mismatched chairs with exhausted-looking cushions. Sometimes I could hear ice clinking. These were casual times. Often the Queen would drive herself over (she lived just across the field after all), a faded royal standard rising in jerks up the little flagpole soon after.

And at the end of each match a couple of security men would appear with a rope and move to semi-encircle Her Majesty as she left the box — a rather half-hearted cordon sanitaire to keep the hand-full of us at bay — while she handed over a trophy and shook hands with the sweaty victors. These rope half-circles that we stood behind were actually very close indeed to the royal personage. So close, in fact, that after several months of this I confess I had begun to feel almost casual about the sovereign's presence.

But me and the royal family were all a very long time ago. Save for a few months here and there, I've not properly lived in England since 1990. I assumed that the constant path-crossing had ceased. I don't even think I would have considered them blog-fare either. Until, you may imagine my surprise when I learned yesterday that the Duke of Cambridge — aka Prince William — has just joined me for his own Cambridge University sojourn, here to study agriculture.

St. John's College. It may be Prince William's new base of operation; but for me it's the short-cut to town.

And he's going to be studying agriculture at St. John's College which, it so happens, I've always used as a short-cut conduit from my own college to get into town. Does this mean William and I are also destined to cross paths? Is there something to all this? I wish I had a swami to consult.