This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
As of today, Queen Elizabeth II is the longest-serving monarch in British history, finally overtaking Queen Victoria's mammoth reign of 63 years, seven months, and two days. To celebrate, the media has treated us to a veritable feast of never-before-seen photos of "the real" Elizabeth picking out curtains and laughing, as well as a handy interactive guide to her life. But we've also witnessed an onslaught of debate from historians and commentators about whether she's done anything apart from sip Twining's tea, shake people's hands, and wrestle with her corgis for the past six decades.
Despite the critics, it's the "shy royalists" that still win out. You might only see them waving their Union Jack flags once in a while—at the Queen's Jubilee or outside a hospital during a royal labor—but that's not to say the nation doesn't have plenty of love for the royal family (well, for most of them). Put it like this: A 2012 Ipsos MORI poll found that 79 percent of Britons want to keep the monarchy. And a survey conducted by YouGov recently found that our current Queen is the most popular monarch ever. Take that, Henry VIII.
But who exactly are the royalists congratulating HRH on her ability to, well, not die? Sure, it's your gran and Amanda Holden. But it's also many of your mates, too. While public perception would suggest that young people are anti-royalist, recent polls have shown that increasing numbers of youngsters support the monarchy. To get a clearer idea of who exactly these people are, I spoke to some of the young royalists who'll be raising a glass to ma'am today.
Sean Okeeffe, 24, is the deputy editor of Royal Central, a news site dedicated to the monarchy. "The royals are my main hobby, and I dedicate two hours a day or more to researching," he tells me. "It's not rare to find young royalists because of Will and Kate. Lots of writers for Royal Central are in their early twenties or have just started university and are even younger."
Having juggled his royal writing with his day job in retail for over two years, Okeeffe says his initial interest can be traced back to his family. "My family have always been interested in the royals, and my brother's in the military, so obviously he has an interest in them," he explains. "My royalism stems from my patriotism. The royal family is the epitome of Britishness.
"When you mention the Queen to someone halfway across the world, they think of our British Queen," he reflects. "I love the Queen's devotion. I've never known another monarch, and neither have my mom or dad."
Okeeffe's affection doesn't just stop at the Queen—he's got a lot of time for the whole royal family.
"I really enjoyed the Royal Wedding. You wouldn't see people camp out for two weeks to see a royal baby in other countries. It's a very British tradition. I don't think it's fanatical. I think it's a nice thing to do. It makes you proud," he argues.
Okeeffe is not alone. Fellow royalist Ned Donovan, 21, took equal pleasure in the Royal Wedding. "We had the day off because I went to boarding school. We had a big lunch. It was great fun," he recalls. "Kate and Will are the image of the changing monarchy. I think they'll change how monarchy is defined. People have more affinity with them than they do with the Prince of Wales and Camilla."
Where does Donovan's interest come from? "Well, I've always been interested, but my interest was piqued when I worked for the Royal Collection in Buckingham Palace for a summer," he explains. "Britain works best under a constitutional monarchy. I simply think it's how it works. I would rather have the Queen—who has, for 60 years, never revealed her politics—than have an elected president from any party. As English people, I don't think we like politics getting above people."
For this reason, Donovan argues that the royal family ultimately eclipses and rises above politics. "People wouldn't camp out to see David Cameron open a hospital, but they would camp out to see the Duchess of Cornwall open a hospital," he tells me. "We're patriotic by proxy through the monarchy. If we started putting up flags for any other occasion people would think that was strange."
As such, Donovan argues that royalism among younger generations is far more common than many realize. "Many of my friends are royalists," he says. "I don't think people who camp out and have rooms full of pictures of Princess Diana are your average royalists; the chances are, the vast majority you'd ask in the street probably are."
Just like Donovan, Paul Constable, 27, also describes himself as a loud and proud royalist. "I've never been shy of telling anyone I'm a royalist," he tells me. "Ever since I can remember I've had an interest. I used to do all my mini projects on the royal family at home as a kid. I think the British public has a strong link to tradition and I don't think they like change. The royals give an element of what Britishness is and provide security."
Like Donovan, Constable argues that there are far more young royalists knocking about than many realize. "I think a lot of young people like the Queen and respect that she's been on the throne for so long," he argues. "I also think Prince Harry is respected among young people. They can identify with him because he's a rebel, he's normal, he's in the army; he goes out and parties."
Nevertheless, Constable maintains that he doesn't like the gossip side of things. "When stuff comes out in the media and the royals get abused, it annoys me. I suppose that does make me a nerdy royalist," he says. "I've seen the whole royal family—including the Queen—in real life at the Order of the Guard ceremony in Windsor. I was two arms length away from the Queen!"
And yet, the question still remains: why do so many young folk—the group who you'd traditionally expect to be republican, or at least indifferent—support the British monarchy so fervently? Especially when the royal family cost us so much—an eye-watering £200 million [$307 million] every year, to be precise—and the wealth gap just continues to widen.
Perhaps it's because, as Constable suggests, the royals have provided us with a sense of security and continuity during a period of historical and political uncertainty. Or maybe it's that young people are simply more conservative (with a small, and a big, "c") than we care to believe. After all, the Conservatives are now the most popular party among university students.
There isn't one definitive answer as to why, but the royals are evidently enjoying something of a heyday among Generation Y. With Prince William now classed as the most popular royal, it's clear that the face of the monarchy is fast changing and becoming more appealing to millennials.
Still, it's important that we continue to hold the royal family to account instead of swallowing all the pomp and circumstance unthinkingly. Branded "Waity Katie" by the media because she hung on eight years before Will popped the question, you could say Kate Middleton has breathed new life into the idea that women should be defined by who they marry. After all, what's so fairytale about relinquishing your identity, privacy, and vocation to marry a prince?
While the royal family are by no means the most pressing problem that Britain faces, the typically-Tory "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" anachronistic mindset isn't without faults. The royal family might claim to be impartial, but—like all of us—they have their own opinions, incentives and interests to protect. If Prince Charles' countless lobbying letters to political ministers don't prove that, then what does? We'll never know what is really said in the weekly meetings between the Queen and prime minister, as the monarchy is the only public body exempt from freedom of information laws. No written record is made of the private meeting, and both parties ensure the information is never disclosed.
In turn, the activities of the royal family continue to remain a mystery to the British public. The Queen might have witnessed the fall of the British Empire and the Berlin Wall, and met the major figures of the last century, but we know very little about her private or political life. God knows what she does when she's bored of wandering around her 700-room-palace picking brooches and outlandish hats. The Queen might keep a diary, but we won't see it for decades to come.
Without sounding like a scrooge, today is at best underwhelming and at worst a hollowed-out pantomime of royal fantasy. Just like the Queen's speech on Christmas day, it's easier to snooze through than vicariously celebrate.
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