POLITICS CHATTER: In which contributing editor Mark Bourrie analyses what’s behind his disdain for royal tours — then admits he’ll be heading out to see Will and Kate anyway
Years ago, my wife, who has a nasty fear of heights, gazed out at the Spanish Aero Car, the balloon-basket-like cable car that traverses the Niagara River whirlpool, and said they couldn’t pay her enough to ride on that thing.
A few weeks later, she was working as a tour guide on the Aero Car for the princely sum of $3.25 an hour, hoping the tourists wouldn’t tip the basket when suicide victims were spotted floating in the foam.
And so it goes with me and royal tours. There’s nothing more boring than watching royalty, popes, and other VIP visitors show themselves to crowds. Reporters and photographers, who are desperately needed by tour organizers, are held in obvious contempt and herded like swine. There’s no fun or glamour in the assignment. And no matter how disappointing the crowds, these tours are always passed off as great successes.
I covered the Huronia part of the 1984 papal visit for the Globe and Mail. Likely, this is the first admission in print that the tour by Pope John Paul II of the shrine to Canada’s 17th-century Jesuit martyrs and of their reconstructed fort nearby was a complete bust.
Some 1,500 cops were despatched to line the roads around the shrine. Every school bus in central Ontario was commandeered to carry the million pope watchers who were expected to show up. Empty fields 10 miles from the visit site were supposed to be filled with cars and people were to be bussed into the papal mass site. Locals needed special passes to get around.
But no one came. Maybe 10,000 people, no more than 20,000, could be bothered with all of the hassles. I fell asleep during the pope’s sermon. And when the cops were loaded into school busses to take them to Ottawa to guard the Pope at Lebreton Flats, hundreds were given box lunches containing salmonella.
Part of the reason the papal visit was a bust lay in the police-state level of preparations. When unimportant people start working on behalf of celebrities, a lot of Napoleonic wolf-man stuff starts happening, and mid-level functionaries take on the airs of Stalinistic apparatchiks. In Huronia’s case, people knew a bummer when they saw one, and stayed home to watch the show on TV.
Same with the most recent visits by the Queen.
Now the 1939 royal visit was one of the great Canadian events of the 20th century, even though George VI could barely talk, due partly to the famous stutter and partly to newly-invented Crown Royal. No reigning king had been to Canada and all of the national press found berths on the royal train, which turned out to be a spectacular binge. Real crowds turned out and people had a genuinely good time.
Elizabeth II has been to Canada 21 times. He visit last year was greeted with a collective yawn. Her presence on Parliament Hill was not enough to generate a big enough crowd to cover the lawn.
I felt sorry for her. My family could leave when the French Canadian rap singers came on, but the Queen was stuck there. Any 84-year-old would be careful with the time they have left. Most would be loathe to throw away an afternoon listening to Inuit throat singers and other dreadful acts booked by civil servants.
Henry VIII would have known exactly what to do with anyone who put him in such a noxious situation.
Now we have William and Kate. Sorry, but do I know these people?
Really, they don’t seem particularly evil. He’s a military officer; she’s rich. But if they lived next door to me, I doubt I’d try too hard to have them come over for dinner. What, exactly, have they done? Are they capable of carrying on an interesting conversation? I don’t know. Really don’t care, either.
We get enough celebs through town that the novelty of famous faces has worn off. So why would anyone want to get up early on a hot Saturday morning to watch a relatively horsey-looking, vaguely famous young man and his looks-good-in-a-cocktail-dress wife walk from a landau to a stage and sit down while the throat singers do their stuff?
I think Canadians are somehow past this stuff. Geezers like me have been through the Diana magic stuff and realize it was all hooey, that the Chuck and Di marriage was a shabby, adulterous mess involving two emotional retards. It’s not that we worry that William and Kate can’t carry it off. We just don’t care.
But I will be there, bought and paid for by a foreign news agency that wants my reportage on Their Royal Highnesses. I’d rather go to a beach far from downtown Ottawa, but, like my acrophobic wife realized back in the 1980s, there are bills to pay.