Anticipating Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee, Simon Doonan explained in March why she is the most fashionable woman in the world. The piece is reprinted below.
Expect more spangles and sparkles than you saw during Liberace’s ‘90s comeback tour. Anticipate more cheesy pomp and circumstance than heralded Liz Taylor’s entry into her Styrofoam Rome back in the 1963 movie Cleopatra. It started last week, and it will go on for months and months. I am talking about the Diamond Jubilee celebrations of Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II, the only British monarch other than Queen Victoria to have hit the 60-year mark. Go Brenda!
This is the Queen’s nickname, courtesy of Private Eye magazine. In 1971, a column in the satirical rag revealed that the Queen “is known as Brenda to her immediate staff.” This sent shockwaves of hilarity through the population. ‘Ere long all the royals were enjoying similarly quotidian nicknames: Princess Margaret was dubbed Yvonne, Charles was Brian, when Di came along she was dubbed Cheryl. Over the years these unaristocratic monikers have fallen out of popular usage. The only one that stuck is Brenda. The name Brenda proved to be as enduring as the lady herself, as exemplified by the fact that Keith Richards, in his recent autobio, revealed that he rewards Mick Jagger’s sometimes regal behavior by addressing him as “your majesty” or “Brenda.”
Call me narcissistic, but I feel that Brenda and I will be sharing the spotlight this year. Here’s why: I was born the year of the accession to the throne—somewhere there exists a horrid little commemorative spoon which I received to mark the occasion—so this year I, too, celebrate my 60th … and I, too, am a queen! So, you do the math!
I have always felt a special kinship with Brenda. I have frequently succumbed to the impulse to impersonate her by donning a wig, a frock, a sash, a crown, and butt-pads. The whole megillah. At one point in the early ‘80s, I was making a semi-regular income from my appearances at Hollywood discos and clubs in full Brenda drag. In the year 2002, I was persuaded (it took at least 17 seconds) to reprise my Brenda look-alike role and cut the ribbon at the new Barneys Co-op store on Wooster Street. I was conveyed to the red carpet in a bicycle rickshaw, crown horribly askew, thanks to the awful jiggling of my vehicle on those ancient Soho cobblestones. Every expense was spared. I was Brenda on a budget.
The same cannot be said of the currently unfurling festivities in the U.K. Last Thursday, Brenda and the Duchess of Cambridge (better known to you lot as Kate) marked the first day of the Diamond Jubilee tour with a foncy jaunt, by royal train, to the city of Leicester, famous for producing Joe Orton, “red” cheese, and the band Prolapse. There was a fashion show, a szhooshy lunch—Brenda drank a large gin and vermouth sans tonic—and several walkabouts with much frenzied flag-waving. Brenda wore Pepto-Bismol pink cashmere, and the Duchess was understated in dark teal.
Brand-building jaunts like the Leicester kickoff are a warm-up for the mother of all royal events, the June 3 Thames Jubilee Pageant. Brace yourselves for a Cecil B. DeMille moment. Surrounded by a massive choreographed flotilla, Brenda and the Duke (his nickname, if I recall correctly, was Nick the Greek) will sail down the Thames on a gigantic festooned barge named The Spirit of Chartwell. Brenda and Nick will be positioned in the center of said barge under an ornate canopy. They will be bejeweled, enthroned, and waving. I’m not kidding.
The digital renderings of this planned spectacle suggest that whoever has envisioned it might not be the butchest or most hetero person on Earth. We are talking massive amounts of gilt and draped velvet. Think Versace, not Prada, if you know what I mean, and I suspect you do. The unrestrained grandeur of Brenda’s barge seems almost fabulously depraved. “F*ck Occupy! I am Queen Brenda. I have done a fabulous job for 60 years and I am going to have my Liz Taylor moment,” the over-the-top mise-en-scène seems to say.
The likelihood of Brenda getting flack for “overdoing it” is slight for two reasons. First, the szhoosh is all “privately funded,” which is possibly code for “Rich Russians seeking favors paid for it.” And second, everyone in the U.K. sincerely adores Brenda and thinks of her as a beacon of warmth, dignity, and consistency. We love her sense of duty and her earnest frowziness. We love her willingness to wear her bifocals with her massive state crown. We love her unwillingness to remove a single accessory before leaving the house.
Regarding Brenda’s sense of style: Vivienne Westwood once dubbed her Majesty “the most fashionably dressed woman in the world.” Upon reflection, I think Viv may be onto something. In an era when the fashion landscape has fragmented into an infinite archipelago of conflicting trends and incomprehensible ideas, the only thing that really matters is to have your own signature look. Who has accomplished this if not QE2? Those boldly-hued matching dresses, coats, and hats—plus contrasting what-the-hell-does-she-carry-in-them handbags—positively scream “Brenda!”
There’s a lot of talk about the Duchess of Cambridge’s style. Yes, she is tall and mannequin-thin. But does she have a proprietary look? Not yet. She’s got a few years to iron that out. In the meantime she badly needs a nickname. Calling her the Duchess of Cambridge is too time-consuming. Prior to marrying Wills she was known as “doors to manual” in homage to her mother’s flight attendant past. But now that she’s a royal she needs her special naff council-estate name. I’m voting for Stacy or Tracy. What do you think? Float your suggestions in the comments. I command you!
I also command you to check out the official online store at www.2012queensdiamondjubilee.com. You can snag everything from a 5,000-pound Wedgwood Brenda vase to a 4-pounds 99-pence Brenda-emblazoned thimble. And, yes, there are horrid little commemorative spoons. The various “party packs” seem to offer the best value. On June 3, why not pay homage to Brenda, take the day off work, festoon your apartment with bunting and balloons, and invite your pals over to watch Liz Windsor have her Liz Taylor moment on the telly.
Long live Brenda … and me!