Editor’s note: Calla Jones Corner is a Montecito writer. This commentary by her seemed especially appropriate in light of the recent jubilee celebration for Queen Elizabeth II, the longest reigning monarch in British history.
By CALLA JONES CORNER
Special to the News-Press
In April 1980, as the Swiss correspondent for the International Herald Tribune and The Associated Press, I was asked to cover the three-day visit of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip to Switzerland.
Although members of the British royal family had hiked Swiss trails, attended Swiss finishing schools and probably held Swiss bank accounts for centuries, this was the first official visit of the royal family to Switzerland.
At a reception for the international press — 11 men and moi — I was introduced to the royal couple.
The queen’s gloved hand shook my bare hand as she smiled.
The prince asked me, “How does a young Yank woman get to be with a bunch of crusty, old hacks?”
I answered, “I’m lucky.”
Prince Philip spent the next 10 minutes questioning me to find out where else I’d been lucky in life. When I told him, “Marrying a charming Brit,” his notoriously roaming blue eyes flashed. Ever since, I’ve held a soft spot in my heart for the gorgeous gallant. When the prince died last year, I shed real tears.
During the funeral for her husband, fragile and sitting alone in black, a wide brim hat hiding her grief, I also shed real tears for the admirable, vulnerable queen.
Over this past weekend, I devoured Tina Brown’s delicious “The Palace Papers.” My British husband, Richard, savored William Manchester’s three-volume biography of his hero, “The Last Lion, Winston Spencer Churchill,” which I gave him in May for our 50th wedding anniversary. I interrupted him constantly to read one of Ms. Brown’s clever bons mots and bonnes phrases — for which the legendary editor of the Tatler,Vanity Fair and the New Yorker is famous.
Though I’m pretty much au courrant with British royal history and what’s going on at Buckingham Palace, as we live in Montecito, it was Richard who made me into a keen royal watcher.
When we were married, he had a subscription to Private Eye and The Daily Telegraph, and there were delicious tales about his family standing up whenever “God Save the Queen” came over the radio and my mother-in-law flushing the toilet every time Prime Minister Harold Wilson came over the tele.
Part of Richard’s dowry was the coronation stool that his godfather, the Bishop of Chichester, sat on. The stool was made for George VI’s coronation and recycled for Queen Elizabeth II’s. Our grandchildren now sit on it.
Richard’s father had an OBE from King George VI for his outstanding service in the trenches of World War I as a medical intern from Aberdeen University.
Richard’s parents would be aghast about the antics of Harry and yet another disruptive American woman and the despicable Prince Andrew. But his family has always shown love and respect for me and the “revolting colonists” that I brought into the family. I’ve forgiven one of Richard’s chums, who held a lit candle under my chin at our London engagement party as he mumbled. “I guess you’ll do!”
In 1953, when I was 10, my father, a serious anglophile, took the family to see the film on the Queen’s coronation. I couldn’t have guessed that two decades later I’d fall in love with a Brit in Switzerland, where we’d both moved in 1967, he to escape Labor’s horrendous taxes and I to escape the Woodstock hippie culture.
My old-school parents would also be horrified at what the Queen and Prince Philip had to endure these past few years with Diana, the Sussexes and Andrew. I think my mother, who, back in the 1940s, wrote FYI, Time Incs. house organ, would have enjoyed “The Palace Papers” and admired how Ms. Brown had been able to put together the page turner, especially during COVID-19 while her husband, Harold Evans, was dying.
My father, an alpha male, family man and keen sailor, like Philip, might have enjoyed reading about how the prince dealt with The Firm. Ms. Brown writes extensively and in interviews talks about what goes on behind the scenes at Buckingham Palace and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’ clumsy flight to Montecito, via Canada and Los Angeles.
Ms. Brown admits that, “The Palace is a snake pit, full of dusty, crusty, vituperous people” and that she is sympathetic with the Sussexes turning their backs on stuffy courtiers’ advice. She says the couple, however, “should have listened to the staff at Kensington Palace, who are “young and smart” and might have been able to steer the angry couple in a positive direction. Ms. Brown thinks it’s unfair to call the flight ‘Megxit’, as Harry “wanted out” for a long time and Meghan “gave him the tools to leave.”
Meanwhile, Harry’s book, due out in September, has been put on hold by Random House. Could the Sussexes have had second thoughts about rejoining The Firm as their media deals fall through or are in limbo and their private jet took off from London while the Jubilee was still being celebrated?
“The Palace Papers “isn’t flying off the shelf here in Montecito at the Tecolote book store. Most local, royal watchers know the Sussexes live in a $14 million manse, sometimes referred to as ‘”the pity palace”and a “tiara toss” from Oprah Winfrey’s 70-acre estate.