Britain's Queen Is All Smiles as She Tries to Become Warm and Fuzzy
LONDON — Next time you see Queen Elizabeth II, expect her to be smiling.
Under new guidelines for royal behavior, the woman who has occupied the British throne for 45 years has promised to be "closer to the people" and to listen harder to what they are saying.
The new royal style announced by the queen last month is the latest development in a Buckingham Palace strategy aimed at improving the image of the British monarchy and safeguarding its future.
In a sly reference to Elizabeth's German ancestry, London Times royal reporter Alan Hamilton says her "Hanoverian scowl has disappeared in what appears to be an overnight change."
Other commentators say the queen's decision to meet more "ordinary people" and cultivate an altogether friendlier image is a direct result of adverse public reaction to the royal family's conduct immediately after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.
"Diana's death taught Buckingham Palace an important lesson," says Harold Brooks-Baker, editor of Burke's Peerage and an authority of the royal families of Europe.
"The failure to come back immediately from Scotland to London and take part in public mourning was a serious error," says Mr. Brooks-Baker. "The queen has committed herself and her immediate family to a more friendly and sensitive approach to her subjects."
Elizabeth announced the new monarchical style during celebrations of her 50th wedding anniversary Nov. 20.
At what Buckingham Palace officials called a "people's banquet" attended by private citizens as well as high-profile dignitaries, the queen said the attitude of the public to the monarchy was often obscured by "deference, rhetoric, or the conflicting currents of public opinion," and was therefore "difficult to read."
Then, in a phrase widely reported and commented on in the British media, she added: "But read it we must."
Columnist Simon Jenkins notes that, as well as already appearing more outgoing in public, the queen is making it clear that the marital and other troubles her family has suffered have their counterpart in the country at large.
"Even the best-regulated families come unstuck, and there seem to be no rules to guide them through the trouble," says Mr. Jenkins, a self-confessed admirer of the monarchy.
In a further move calculated to appeal to the public, Buckingham Palace is reported to be working on a plan to convert London's Kensington Palace, where Diana lived, into an art museum that would serve as a permanent memorial to the princess.
The queen is custodian of some 10,000 paintings and other works of art, one of the largest and most valuable private art collections in the world.
Royal officials say the plan now being developed would move the best of the collection to Kensington Palace, where the public would be able to view it.
Officials are reticent on another aspect of the plan. Kensington Palace is also the home of several second-rank royal family members and courtiers who occupy "grace and favor" apartments rent-free.
Current occupants of Kensington Palace include the queen's sister, Princess Margaret, and the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester.
Labour Party member of parliament Tony Benn, a self-styled republican, says, "Clearing out the royal hangers-on would be a good move towards slimming down the monarchy and persuading the public that the queen is indeed listening."
According to royal sources, the plan may allow for some apartments to be rented out. Knight Frank and Rutley, a leading London real estate agency, says a four-bedroom apartment in the palace could command around $5,000 a week.
While the queen and her husband, Prince Philip, were celebrating the 50th anniversary of their marriage, three miles away on the River Thames another symbol of royal change was visible.
The royal yacht Britannia, which the queen has used for trips around the world since her coronation, was towed under London's Tower Bridge and moored in midstream.
After months of discussion and argument, Prime Minister Tony Blair has confirmed to the queen that Britannia will not be refitted or replaced. Instead it will become a tourist attraction somewhere on Britain's coastline.
There are also indications that another icon of old-style royalty may soon disappear. The Royal Train, which the queen and members of her family use for moving around Britain, was used only 31 times last year.
With a cost of 61,000 ($100,650) each time the train sets out on a journey, Simon Gimson, head of the Buckingham Palace policy unit, says the it's future is "under review."