Queen Elizabeth II has had more jubilees than I’ve had hot dinners. Her majesty just wrapped up her big Platinum Jubilee weekend, marking 70 years on the throne. Many more of these celebrations and they’ll have to start using some of the lesser-known metals: Bismuth Jubilee, anyone?
I was 13 when I moved there, and the next two years turned me into an Anglophile, obsessed with English music, television, cars, fashion, etc. In 2007, I dragged my own family to England for a year. Now one of my daughters lives in London and is engaged to an Englishman.
I’ve spent the last four decades trying to understand my Anglophilia. I sometimes wonder whether I would have become a Francophile, Sinophile or Greenlandophile if I’d spent those impressionable years in Paris, Beijing or Nuuk.
A large part of being a teenager — this teenager, anyway — is wishing you were special but feeling that you aren’t. Going to school in a foreign country can help with that. When I arrived in the summer of 1976, I was literally the only American at Hinchingbrooke School, which made me a mini-celebrity. England wasn’t drowning in American culture then the way it is now. People weren’t sick of us yet.
As the only Yank, I was assumed to be good at basketball and therefore was automatically drafted for the school team. I can still remember the gobsmacked expression on my teammates’ faces when we played another school that also had an American on its team, but one who actually knew how to play basketball. As this ringer dribbled down the court, drained shots, dunked, they looked at me with a mixture of fury and pity.
I was the only American at the school until a girl named Jennifer arrived, her father also a U.S. Air Force exchange officer. It pains me to confess that I immediately broke up with my English girlfriend — named Bryony! — and started dating Jennifer. You can take the boy out of America …
I still go to England at least once a year, to visit my daughter and the friends I’ve made there. Anglophilia typically doesn’t survive repeated exposure to England. And it’s true there have been times when I’ve been tired of London, drenched by English “sunshine,” irritated by the English attitude toward customer service.
Still, I return. I think part of the reason I like England so much is that I don’t really have to care about it. When it does something stupid — Brexit, say, or Boris Johnson’s lockdown parties — I don’t take it personally. It’s just a plot development on “Masterpiece Theatre,” not a breaking news alert on CNN.
You’re probably wondering: Did I ever meet the queen?
No, but I did see her once. During the Silver Jubilee, there were all sorts of commemorative events. One was a royal review of the Royal Air Force, when Elizabeth and Prince Philip visited an RAF base to inspect the troops and watch a flyover. We went, too.
RAF personnel were lined up on a parade ground in orderly rows, standing ramrod straight. The summer of 1977 was a hot one in Britain, a country that doesn’t really know how to deal with the sun. (Mad dogs and Englishmen and all that.) It was a broiling day, and several airmen fainted. They just collapsed, crumpling in place as instantly as if they’d been felled by a sniper’s bullet.
I remember my father later saying they must have had their knees locked. Top tip: Never lock your knees while at attention.
I didn’t meet the queen, but my father did meet Princess Margaret. It was while he was a student at the RAF Staff College in Bracknell, where he spent a year before taking up his assignment.
The college had officers from air forces around the world — Iran, Australia, the United States — and Margaret had come to inspect it. (Royals are always inspecting things.)
The students were lined up to meet her. Margaret worked her way down the line, shaking hands and making small talk. (Royals are good at small talk.)
When she got to my father, the aide accompanying her explained that Maj. Kelly was an officer from America. Margaret asked, “How many of you are there?”
My father answered “Two hundred million,” thinking she meant “What is the population of the United States?”
What she’d meant was how many Americans were attending the RAF Staff College. (The correct answer was “Four.”)
“She looked at her aide and winced a little bit,” my father said later.
Then she moved down the line. The Royals are nothing if not troupers. And the superest trouper of all is Queen Elizabeth. Happy Platinum Jubilee, your majesty.