Full disclosure: I am amazed by the idea of a royal personage. Coming from both an Irish and an American background, where throughout history the monarchs were perceived as more “foe” than “friend,” I look at the behavior of His or Her Royal Highnesses with a healthy dose of skepticism. Still, I am only mortal, and the sight of resplendent jewels the size of a baby’s fist, visions of diamond-encrusted crowns, and miles and miles of ermine capes do dazzle and impress me. So I have this bizarre attraction to the trappings of aristocracy (“Look at the tiara! Look at the gown’s train! Look at the guards at the gate!”), but also this kneejerk reaction to shake my head and repeat that “they are only humans.”
Even with my Irish-American roots firmly planted around me, I have to extend kudos and a big congratulation to Queen Elizabeth II. Her 90th birthday is April 21, 2016, and her perseverance and prominent role in Britain’s cultural affairs have given Helen Mirren the opportunity to rule both the Oscars and the Tonys. That is a byproduct that is worth cheering about. (Mirren won filmdom and theater’s highest honors for playing Queen Elizabeth II at various ages and confidence levels.) I was fortunate enough to see her channel Queen Elizabeth II in her Tony-winning performance in “The Audience.” It was spectacular and quite moving!
What I learned from that play was a crash course in British etiquette and assumed responsibility meant to humanize the queen for an American theatergoing audience. One of the things that came through, loud and clear, is that Elizabeth is an honest-to-goodness animal lover. Like Doris Day, who recently made an Internet splash with a photo of her and her canine companion, Queen Elizabeth II absolutely adores her corgis. The romance between royal ruler and doted-upon pups is part of public record, and the queen has had as many as 14 dogs at one time — five corgis, five cocker spaniels, and four dorgis, which are mixes of corgis and dachshunds. Her affection stems back to when she was 7 years old, in 1933, and her dad, King George VI, brought home Dookie to be her pet. This photo of the 10-year-old Princess Elizabeth interacting with Dookie is a lovely portrait of innocence and the start of a lifelong devotion to the breed.
As a regal individual, whose likeness graces currency, stamps, statues, and documents, Elizabeth (let’s be on a first-name basis) has a stiff and stoic reputation. Since she’s inherited the throne on February 6, 1952, she’s had to comport herself in a staid and stately manner. However, she seems to let it all go loose when she is with her doggies. Her beloved “bad boy” grandson Harry admits that she’s often behaved more like “a boss” and “a queen” toward him than a grandmother, but he acknowledges that she indulges and plays with her pups with total abandon. Her relationship with the dogs is one that doesn’t have to be measured alongside dignitaries and dignity.
Teddy bear companies have marched out an array of bears that honor the queen for reaching the ripe age of 90 and for never letting her decorum fall to the wayside. The bears celebrate her recognizable attire and the trappings of her office. Merrythought, which holds a special place in the annals of British bear making, has created the “HM Queen Elizabeth II Teddy Bear,” constructed from opulent mohair and wearing a really lifelike-looking jacket. Merrythought is England’s last remaining teddy bear factory.
Elizabeth’s advanced age and her long tenure are also commemorated by the Great British Teddy Bear Company. The design team at the GBTBC bears in mind that Elizabeth first became queen when she was 25 years old. Though she was groomed to be royal from the moment of her birth, the inheritance of this title can be overwhelming and can very easily evolve into a “gilded cage” or a “glass case of privilege.” Certain people can’t handle the pressure and do crack under the relentless speculation and restraints. (Watch or read “The Woman He Loved” about Edward VIII’s abdication. He was Elizabeth’s uncle who paved the way to her ascension.) The Great British Teddy Bear Company’s version of the queen is lush and luxurious, befitting her longevity and global admiration.
The German teddy bear firm Hermann has ushered in a more relaxed version of Queen Elizabeth II, as she poses in one of her signature hats and carries her omnipresent handbag. It’s an age-old mystery regarding what the queen could possibly carry in that pocketbook. She doesn’t need photo ID, and she just has to pull out a piece of currency — and bang — there she is! Her face is on the British money! I’m thinking maybe some enterprising radio DJ should ask the monarch what she is toting about, and perhaps her reply will be “hot sauce.” Apparently, that zesty spicy enhancer is the preferred condiment of present-day politicians. (Note to bear artists: if you do a Hillary bear, make sure to include that in her purse.)
Some of the regal bears, like the “Steiff Musical Queen,” first appeared on September 9, 2015, to celebrate her reaching the milestone of becoming Britain’s longest-reigning monarch. The Steiff incarnation plays “God Save the Queen.” And, to set aside any snarky egalitarian or American Revolutionary bad blood, Queen Elizabeth II has been an enduring emblem of stability, bravery, grace under pressure, and refinement for more than 64 years.
From her family’s dedication to setting a courageous and resilient example during World War II and the endless bombing of Britain, to her humbling handling and acceptance of the legacy of Princess Diana, Queen Elizabeth II was not the People’s Princess like her daughter-in-law was. Rather, she was Britain’s monarch and matriarch — as a mother, a grandmother, and a great-grandmother, she is a reminder of England’s past glory days, and a promise that the traditions shall live on through the next generations.