Send her victorious
Happy and glorious
Long to reign over us
God save the Queen
It must have been early in the planning stages of the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony. Someone, I like to imagine it was the new intern, makes this suggestion:
What about the James Bond and the Queen parachuting into the stadium from a helicopter?
A silence falls over the room. A few beautiful young executives chuckle nervously. Slowly all eyes turn to the figure at the end of the room. Seated in a high-backed chair, perhaps stroking a white long-haired cat, sits Danny Boyle, the director. He frowns at the intern.
James Bond? His voice is stern. Critical.
The intern looks nervous. I.. I was-
And Her Majesty?
It was- I didn’t mean-
Boyle lifts a hand, silencing the intern and turns to his number 2. Can it be done?
The deputy meets his gaze. If you order it sir, we’ll do our best, but-
Boyle’s eyes narrow. Do it.
I’ll call the Palace now sir.
Somehow, God alone knows how, they did it. I watched the Opening Ceremony from a crowd of twenty thousand in Victoria park and the moment is clear in my mind. The taxi driving up to the Palace, the Brazillian school children watching from the throne room, the whisper going around the crowd as Daniel Craig – James Bond – appeared.
Bond ascended the steps of the Palace and was shown into an opulent drawing room. The butler – apparently the real palace butler – announced him. “James Bond, your Majesty”. I remember my housemate next to me’s reaction: ”No...”
A white-haired old woman was sitting at a writing desk. Her back to the camera. The whispers in the crowd grew louder. ”it’s not her,” ”they couldn’t have got her,” ”there’s no way...”. Bond cleared his throat politely. The old woman turned to face him.
”Good evening Mister Bond."
And the crowd went wild. I don’t think anyone had genuinely expected it to be the Queen. In interviews afterwards Princes William and Harry claimed that even they didn’t know about it until it happened. I had expected a look-alike, or a discretion shot where she never speaks and we don’t see her face. At a pinch maybe Helen Mirren reprising her famous role. But no, there she was, with it has to be said a knowing twinkle in her eye, Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth the Second, being escorted from the Palace to a waiting helicopter by James Bond.
There was more. A helicopter flight over the cheering crowds of London, the Dambusters March, a waving statue of Churchill, even a daring flight under Tower Bridge just as the sun was setting. Then, the helicopter appeared over the Olympic Stadium. We could see it from the park, the searchlights scanning the skies. On the screen, Bond swung open the door and looked out. Somewhere behind me a girl whispered ”oh my God”. The Queen seemed to push past Bond and leapt from the helicopter, followed seconds later by the secret agent. Even at our distance, we could see a pink human-shape begin to plummet to Earth.
A momentary gasp swept around the crowd and then, in time to the triumphant opening chords of the James Bond theme, the union jack parachutes opened as the pair descended into the stadium. Over the loud speakers came the announcement, first in French, then English: ”Ladies and Gentleman, please stand for Her Majesty the Queen!” And there she was, wearing the same pink dress she had been in the film, descending the steps to her seat to wild applause.
The short film Happy and Glorious could have backfired. It could have robbed the Queen of the dignity that she has been at pains to maintain for sixty years. It’s hard to explain why, but somehow, it didn’t. Talking to people afterwards it found favour even with my republican friends. Perhaps it was because she was only in fact on screen for a few seconds (the parachutist was a stuntman, and possibly the world’s most literal drag queen), but I think it was something less definable.
No head of state with actual power and responsibility could have gotten away with being part-fictionalised in this way, but the monarchy is partially a fiction. It’s a glitzy fantasy, a collective pretence. It’s kept around not for its utility, but because, by and large, people think it’s fun, and they’re willing to give up 50p or so a year to maintain it. This can be hard to explain to outsiders; it’s only fun if everyone keeps up the charade. We can’t out-and-out say to the world “we don’t take this seriously” because that would spoil it.
Happy and Glorious showcased the British view of the monarchy, we know the Queen doesn’t really jump out of helicopters, just as we know she isn’t really in charge of the country. But, it’s fun to pretend overwise.
Happy and Glorious is probably not a part of the Eon Films continuity
Cmdr. James Bond CMG RN – Daniel Craig
– Mark Sutton
HM Queen Elizabeth II – Herself
– Gary Connery
Opinion is divided as to whether this means the Queen is an official Bond Girl. No-one knows what happened in that helicopter.