The royal family loses its last bearable member.

Notes from different corners of the world.
April 8 2002 5:12 PM

End of the Line

The royal family loses its last bearable member.

(Continued from Page 1)

You may well object to the fact that the only chance most civilians have of gaining legal entrance to Buckingham Palace door would be a) to get a job there, most likely in one of the notoriously low-paying footman-esque positions; or b) to pay about $15, during select summer months, for the chance to see whichever parts of the queen's priceless art collection she feels like displaying at the time. The Smithsonian Institution this isn't.

As it happens, I found a third way, when I was assigned to cover Rudolph Giuliani's investiture as an honorary knight a couple of months ago, and thus was given the chance to observe royalty first-hand in its natural habitat.

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Supporting it all was a swarm of indeterminately employed courtiers—I was actually introduced to someone described as an "under footman"—milling around the palace, in huge cavernous rooms the purposes of which were not readily apparent. The palace, it seemed to me, had an awful lot of what we might describe as living rooms.

As Giuliani and dozens of other people who were getting awards for one thing or another lined up in various vestibules and prepared to make their grand entrances, the band played music that would have been at home in an elevator. At one point, I could hear the Carpenters' "We've Only Just Begun" wafting across the hall. It was like prize day at school, with the queen, dressed in a black suit, her glasses propped on her nose, as the aged headmistress.

But she did what she was supposed to do. She smiled and shook hands and rapped the appropriate people on the shoulder with her father's ceremonial sword. She did not appear bored, or tired, or irritated, or even embarrassed by the bad music. She did not complain about what a dumb job she has. And then everyone went home, thoroughly pleased with themselves and their big day at the palace.

What is the point of the royal family? It's become a question that only the queen would be capable of answering—if she ever answered questions in public.

Sarah Lyall is a London correspondent for the New York Times. You can follow her on Twitter.

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