THE capital of the French republic is better known for beheading monarchs than celebrating them. But Paris went wild for Britain’s queen during her state visit last week. Crowds on the Champs-Elysées cheered as her royal convoy drove past. Socialist ministers lined up enthusiastically to greet her at her birthday garden party.Share
The queen’s arrival at the international ceremony on “Sword” beach to remember the 70th anniversary of D-Day drew louder applause than that of America’s president. Anne Hidalgo, the Socialist mayor of Paris, even had a flower market named after her on the capital’s Ile de la Cité, which happens to be home to the Conciergerie prison where Marie-Antoinette was held before being carted to the guillotine in 1793. “The queen of the French” ran a headline in Le Monde, a left-leaning daily.
Why are the French so smitten by the world’s longest-reigning queen? Partly because she embodies the post-war era in which their modern republic was born: she was crowned in 1953 and has known all seven presidents of the Fifth Republic. Her affection for France, and grasp of the language, also help. After foie gras de canard at a state dinner at the Elysée Palace, with François Hollande, the president, she spoke of her “grande affection” for the French people. This was the queen’s fifth state visit to the republic.
Another reason is that the French, shorn of their own monarchy, have long become avid voyeurs of everybody else’s. Point de vue and Paris-Match, two magazines that splash photos of royals across their pages, were launched back in the 1940s. The French turned the Monaco royals into celebrities before reality television invented instant fame for everybody else. In 2011 the French cleared the airwaves to cover Prince William’s wedding on live public television; 9m viewers tuned in to watch.
Perhaps the hidden reason for French royal fervour, though, is a secret envy mixed with regret. Mr Hollande, stuck with a 16% popularity rating, is said to have noted wryly how refreshing it was to hear cheering crowds when he accompanied the queen. Asked in a poll what they thought today of the execution of Louis XVI in 1793, more of the French (29%) judged it “unfair” than “understandable” (23%). The French “have a royalty complex”, wrote Hervé Gattegno in Le Point, and have built their republic on monarchical traditions as if to compensate. The president, who has more sweeping powers than almost any other modern democratic leader, is fussed over by much pomp and splendour—and the seat of the presidency is a palace. (Read more.)