27 April, 2011

Prince Harry, T-Mobile and Finding the Rebel in Regal

When I first heard about the engagement between Prince Will and Kate Middleton my reaction was “weren’t they engaged already?!” This response was in part a reflection upon my terrible attention to detail  (I work in PR and read all the newspapers including the Daily Express every day, so there’s no excuse for being out of the Royal loop) but as well as this, I was always totally indifferent to anything going down in the Palace. As far as I am concerned, the Royal Family are like the ornaments in your grandparent’s house – well kept, inoffensive and nice to have on show, but if you take them away no bricks are going to fall down and no one is likely to miss them.

I have no active disrespect towards the Royals, not least since my History teacher at school adorned his classroom high and low with pictures of various Royal Family members, dressed twee in tweed jackets like he thought he might be invited to a Royal gathering at any moment and would rant daily that we “must respect the monarchy!”, drilling the concept into us in his *put-on* posh southern tones. After dealing with that for 5 years, there was no way I could have sustained any insolence towards our regal friends, for fear of being kept in detention if I dared chew gum in front of Prince Charles’ portrait. Yet despite Mr South’s best attempts, I have never really taken an interest in the Royal clan, apart from when my sister did the Queen’s wave at passing vehicles out of the window of my Dad’s car, as we hurled down the M25 every Saturday.

In the run up to the Royal Wedding, since that unsurprising engagement in 2010, I have continued mainly to look the other way. Though as the day has drawn closer it has become harder to avoid – it is unlikely you’ll find a page of media print that hasn’t been defaced by the happy couple, an increasing amount of bizarre Royal Wedding memorabilia has gone on sale and a startling number of the general public are finding Kate’s face in a baked bean or Will’s silhouette on a tree stump (the joys of having to read The Sun). Everybody it seems wants a piece, everybody but me?

Prince Harry and the Royal Blues

My main interest in the Windsor family has only ever been in that unruly Prince Harry. The one who hasn’t got his life mapped out and seemingly isn’t afraid to live outside the Royal Box. If anything, he’s dangling over the edge of it, clutching for reality, like a child reaching for the monkeys through the cages at the zoo. For me, Harry is an almost tangible member of a family who otherwise live so far removed from our own experiences they might as well be gnomes.

When Princess Diana died I wanted to hug him, mainly because he was the smaller of the 2 boys, but also his ginger-ness was clear for all to see – this lad was never going to be able to get away with anything less than Factor 35, destined to a life under a parasol. Years later, when Harry was forced to return home from the army, unable to serve his country in Afghanistan due to his high-value/high-risk status, I wanted to hug him again. This time partly because he was demonstrating a muscular physique no-one ever expected him to achieve (is it a divine right of Prince’s that they shall go forth and blossom into a ripped Adonis?) but also because I felt for him and his inability to live out his passions. I have always thought that although being, ya know, a Prince admittedly has its advantages – they inherit a pretty good estate/royal wedge with their Grandma’s face on it, the Queen’s got their back and they have a tool for wooing women that other men only ever see in Disney – at the same time the Prince’s pay a price they didn’t choose, every day of their lives.

Both William and Harry are bound by their duties every single day, are forever isolated from the rest of their generation and will never, ever, ever be just common Eton lads.  While Will has succumbed to this life and finds himself about to marry one bang-tidy lady and the people’s actual Princess (no that isn’t you Cheryl Cole), Harry seems to be struggling more with the Royal chains.

When my friend met Harry on a night out in London a few years ago, she told him off for smoking, because she felt he was doing his role as a role model a huge injustice. That probably pissed him off royally and forced him to check in with his conscience that night, something that doubtless happens to him a fair bit. So when in 2005 Harry got into trouble for donning a Nazi uniform on a fancy dress night out with his mates (2 weeks before the Queen was due to lead the UK’s Holocaust Memorial Day commemorations #FAIL) I felt all the more sorry for him and slightly wanted to applaud him. Yes it was a careless, insensitive act of rebellion and his PR team had a nightmare on their hands, but suddenly Harry was relatable, fun and a little bit risqué.  This was a Royal male I could get on board with. It’s a while since I have believed in Princes, but since then I have believed in Harry, not least because he is now my last chance to be a princess and thus restore my faith in Aladdin.

Conforming by Rebellion

Akin to the time I have for Prince Harry, my interest in the Royal Wedding was always going to be minimal until it showed me something I could relate to. Despite my eagerness to see Harry rock up to the service stoned, my initial impression of the whole affair was of long boring ceremonies, Kate being put on an unrealistic pedestal never to be taken down, forced patriotism and news story after news story after news story. My heart said “whatever” and my mouth followed suit. Yet to my surprise, although for me this sentiment still reigns, from the moment I heard “national bank holiday” and read Cosmo’s feature on how to get Kate’s face, Kate’s body AND Kate’s style (err, okay then) I kind of discovered a Royal Wedding I could get involved in and finally gave it a tiny second thought. Like a child bribed by sweets, suddenly Kate & Wills had my attention, ever so slightly.

I have gradually departed from my original values and admittedly have found myself wondering what Kate’s dress will look like. Uh-oh! I have bookmarked a “Royal Wedding Drinking Game” in Glamour (drink one finger for every metre of Kate’s train, down a shot every time Prince Phillip looks like he might be thinking something racist, have a sherry every time you spot the queen etc). I have actually considered going to various Royal Wedding themed BBQ’s and parties, something that up until a few weeks ago I was adamant I would NOT because it was boring, hypocritical and I had better things to do. But drinking games and bunting? I never was one to turn down a party…

In part the slight collapse of my principles can be blamed on the gradual erosion of any resilience by the relentless press and the endless Royal Wedding Facebook and Twitter updates , but it can also be put down to the fact I finally found some down-to-earth entertainment in the affair. No I am not patriotic and really I don’t think my life will change at all for the fact we have a new Princess in our midst’s, but fun is my weakness and if this royal union means an extra day off work, free BBQ chicken and a new reason to have a cocktail, then who am I to snub it?

My full conversion came at the weekend when this T-Mobile viral leaked online and the occasion I had initially deemed to be totally dull and irrelevant to me and mine, suddenly took a turn for the amusing.

Much like my interest in Harry, my curiosity regarding the wedding this Friday was only realised when I eventually found in it something fun, relatable and a little bit rebellious.

I may not watch the wedding this Friday with my British flag spice girls dress on and God Save the Queen playing on a loop in the next room, but I’m more than happy to raise a glass to the happy couple the night before, take that free day off work thank you Queenie and scan the crowd of attendees, commenting on their hats and hoping to see Harry staggering in late, with the ring stuck somewhere awful. Royal Cheers.

10 April, 2011

The Summer of all Fears

Yesterday the centre of Sheffield city was swarming with floral dresses, gladiator sandals, over-sized sunglasses and thousands of pairs of pale, unprepared legs – unprepared to have overnight been tugged out of those trusty skinny jeans that saw us through from October to now and into last summers short shorts that we’re now thinking perhaps look a bit like maybe we should have left them to Kate Moss.

The above scene can only mean one thing – Summer has made it’s first appearance and citizens of the UK are excited. Ice-creams? Hurrah! Beer gardens? Yes please! Holidays? Flights are filling faster than my wine glass on a sunny day. Festivals? The line-ups are being announced, the early-bird tickets are a thing of the Spring past and we can’t go on Facebook without seeing the following status “[insert infamous festival name] Booked!” taunting those who have not.

However, beneath all this excitement, deep down inside the bottom of every Summer 2011 debut Mr Softy cone, I sense panic. For as much as we love the summer and embrace all that it represents with open arms, there is the fear that we are unprepared and that those open arms may in fact be badly dressed bingo wings that frankly should never see the light of day. In amongst other summer related fears, this is enough to make us wish we’d had just a little more warning…From bingo wings to bankruptcy, here are my four summer fears and how I have learnt to combat them.

Out and proud
Having hibernated inside with winter comfort food and warmed our cockles with too much alcohol over the festive season, and well into the “New” Year, cellulite counts are probably higher than one would want to find on a beach. As a result, my room has for the past week resembled a jumble sale, as I have tossed clothes out of my wardrobe and into an abyss, in a bid to find anything appropriate for this glorious weather. Anything that doesn’t make me feel like a giant mound of mozzarella trying to pass itself off as a girl in a frock. I don’t need a dress; I need dressing and a side of tomatoes.

Yet while sat in amongst the heap of garments, colouring my life like unwanted bunting, I realised that it isn’t the cutesy dresses and tees that aren’t right. It’s the pasty legs and untoned tummy hoping to parade them. Nothing a nice tan and a few weeks on the salad can’t fix. But we don’t have a few weeks, people, summer starts NOW and those BBQ’s won’t wait for no man. For me, there is only one thing for it – straight into Boots to frantically clear the shelves of Johnson’s Holiday Skin and then next door (literally) to HMV for the Davina DVD. No we won’t necessarily look like Jessica Alba by next weekend, but it’s a start, right?

April is the cruelest Month (T.S. Eliot, 1922)

So for another year we have had a taste of what life would be like if we lived in Australia, California, Spain…or anywhere that isn't the UK and seemingly has year-round sunshine. We have sampled a life of parks and happy bus drivers and smiling children and joyful bosses. And we’re terrified, because we know all too well that when April comes along and offers us a delightful splashing of sunshine, it is just a matter of time before the clouds close on our yellow friend and we’re sent plummeting back into April showers and “unsettled” weather. Unsettled indeed! A mere euphemism for an unpredictable collaboration of cloud and drizzle. If you’re going to break our hearts, Weather Man, at least have the decency to be honest with us.

I don’t want to burst anyone’s sunny bubble, but as a fan of the 5-day forecast, I know all too well how quickly he taketh away and I am prepared for the flip flops to go back under my bed for a little while longer.
Looking on the bright side, this does negate my first flabby fear – I like to see the April “summer” as a preview, or moreover a warning. This is what you and your bare legs need to be prepared for, my friends, says the man in the sky. So now we have a little while longer to crunch the living daylights out of our abs, hand-wash those linen dresses and pursue an interest in Fake Tan (just remember, Fake it Don’t Bake it) until our real summer rolls around.

The working Summer

When the summer comes along, it is a wonderful parade of BBQ’s, beer gardens, park-based gatherings, long lazy lunches, road trips, festivals and holidays. Great when you are a student, have all the time in the world and are still sponging free money, but now we are all grown-up, how are we going to fit in a job around all these exciting activities? When the world is outside supping and sunning, it is highly inconvenient to be trapped in the confines of 9-5.

It is easy to be professional during the winter time, when there isn’t much calling you away from your desk other than a comfy sofa and a hot chocolate. So we’re pretty happy to put in the hours at work instead, because at least we don’t pay for the heating at there (every cloud). It is a little harder now however, when there are 9,781 massive reasons to be outside and just 1 small reason to be indoors – your job. With each BBQ we miss and each sunny drink we pass up in favour of hitting the gym to prepare an Ibiza body, it becomes more of a struggle to stay strong.

The bitter-sweet Summer issues us with a constant conflict of interests – the sunshine beckons us and begs us to go play, but more than ever we need the extra money to do so (hello job) and the confidence to wear a bikini (hello gym). For there is really no point in going out to play if you have 10p to your name and refuse to change out of your boiler suit, sat uncomfortably under a gazebo insisting you just like being dressed in head to toe black in 35 degrees.

So the summer scares me somewhat, as it is the Apple to my Eve. However, I have found ways of assimilating my professional lifestyle with the temptations of the outside world. By bringing summer indoors. If like me you’re lucky enough to have a relaxed employer, who advocates summer attire, lunchtime BBQ’s and an endless supply of diet coke, then you’re halfway there already. Wearing flip -flops at your desk, walking around bare foot (no I don’t, Health & Safety) and swishing around the office in a pretty skirt makes you feel instantly more summery. Browsing the Topshop summer range online (under the supervision of your line manager) in office hours is also a great way to make sure you’re not missing out.

As well as dressing for the occasion, I like to plug into Radio 1 of a working afternoon so that I can have a dance at my desk and keep in mind all the fabulous music I am going to experience at my chosen summer festivals. I have also found pinning up half-naked images of Matthew McConaughey strolling out of the sea in and around the work space is an effective means of living the dream within the confines of reality. If the Mountain won’t come to Mohammed…

So much to do, such a perilous credit card…
From about March of each year, you can’t go online without being reminded of the thousands of possibilities for your summer. Pop-up ads from EasyJet offering to send you off to a glorious beach somewhere for 99p. Emails from those devilish Ticket Masters painting pictures of fantastic live music in the beautiful sunshine. Invites from friends for holidays, festivals and other summery treats. Seriously Eve couldn’t say no to an APPLE and we’re supposed to be restrained with all this??

However, the reality for most is that with limited free time and funds, we need to be selective with the events we commit ourselves to, and consequently a wave of panic ripples through us as we invites come flooding in and we wonder in alarm which one, WHICH ONE!? Do you go to Glastonbury with the rest of the world armed with Hunter’s, a car full of crates and some dry shampoo? Or do you head to a beach in Eastern Europe, where the sun is pretty much guaranteed and beer is half the price? As excited I am for the festival season, a small part of me wilts inside when I have to say “No” to the mass of other potentials that I’ll do “another year”…

However, as much as the initial panic and confusion sends us crazy trying to decide what to do and when, I have found that once the decision has been made, the flights have been booked and the excitement built, we don’t care what else is going on in the rest of the world because we know OURS will be the best time ever, and it doesn’t matter if U2 will be headlining or not…Decision is the sweetest thing and once it’s played its part, its all systems go and what follows is weeks and weeks to get excited for what will be the festival or holiday of a lifetime.

Oh Summer, I Love You!