Bond, Punk and Paddington
How Elizabeth II became the Queen of Pop
Written by Marcus Leibold
9/9/2022, 8:13 am
Sung by the Beatles and parodied by Andy Warhol and portrayed by Helen Mirren, the Queen became a pop culture icon during her long tenure. She has also shown her sense of humor in recent years.
When the Queen became Queen of the United Kingdom in 1952, James Bond had not yet been invented, Paul McCartney had not yet met John Lennon and Johnny Rotten, singer of the Sex Pistols, had not even been born. During her reign, Elizabeth II witnessed the end of the British Empire. But she also saw how Britain conquered the world in other ways: with movies and books, with Beatlemania, the British conquest, villainy, fashion and style.
Over time, the ruler herself became a part of this popular culture. And not just because it has always welcomed prominent musicians and actors, from Marilyn Monroe to Bond actors to the Spice Girls. But because, to a certain extent, it coincided with the rise of pop music – and it became its motivation.
Countless fashions and trends have worn the Queen over the decades. She has remained true to herself and has become a symbol of continuity in times of rapid change. The older she gets, the more people can recognize her – just because they haven’t known any other head of state. The Queen became a display for hymns of praise, but also for harsh criticism in the folk arts.
She owes this absolute existence to another fact: the queen has been in the public eye since her first youth. Even as a little girl, she was a tabloid topic, and at the age of three, she was on the cover of Time magazine for the first time. Constantly photographed and photographed, she is perhaps the most photographed woman in history – even Andy Warhol, whose portrait in many colors was published in a series of screen editions, the Queen bought a few copies of in 2012.
Queen, soup, marilyn
“Your Majesty is a pretty girl, but she doesn’t have much to say,” Paul McCartney once sang on Abbey Road. That seemed more exciting than embarrassing. On the 50th anniversary of his accession to the throne in 2002, McCartney sang the song again, this time in the presence of the Queen, and it was more embarrassing than trusting. Because the Queen’s image has changed in the meantime. She’s gone from being a young, wretched queen with no political power to a world-famous figure, the embodiment of the underrated Britons.
The Queen used this image. For decades, James Bond has acted on behalf of Her Majesty – from Scotsman Sean Connery to Englishman Daniel Craig. But Craig was the first to receive a special honor: at the opening of the London Olympics in 2012, as Bond, he escorted the main service lady to the stadium by helicopter and performed one of Elizabeth II’s finest and most entertaining performances – enthusiastically cheered by the people in the stadium.
Of course, this wasn’t always the case: In 1977, sex pistols fired the phrase “God Save the Queen” and slandered it “the fascist regime.” Punk’s criticism of the establishment was harsh, and the British were shocked – or bought the single and took it to number two on the charts. In other places too, people treated her with disrespect. In “Willi and the Windzors” by Hape Kerkeling, for example, the royal family has to leave Great Britain and ends up on a residential property with terraces in Hanover. Also memorable is the scene in which Canadian Leslie Nielsen ends up between the Queen’s legs in “The Naked Gun” after turning an official reception into chaos.
At odds with the street
In the film, the compromising picture ends on the front pages of the press. Indeed, tabloid journalists in particular have not held back from criticizing the Queen at Buckingham Palace. No wonder, given the many family scandals Elizabeth went through with her children in the 1990s. The royal family’s disapproval reached its climax in 1997 with the death of Princess Diana, the “Princess of Hearts”. Her mother-in-law’s silent reaction drew sharp criticism. This was the time when the British puppet show “Spitting Image” made the royal family notoriety.
Ironically, a film about this time, Stephen Frears’ “Queen”, was years later an expression of a change in public perception: there was an understanding of the Queen, for her role as head of state, of her discipline in deep crises. Also thanks to Helen Mirren’s balanced portrayal, who studied the Queen’s facial expressions and gestures for months in preparation and won a British Film Award and an Oscar for it. Since then, Elizabeth’s life has been fantastically explored, from the King’s speech about her father to the series The Crown, which follows Elizabeth from her accession to the present day.
In the last years of her reign, the Queen became an untouchable person. Even their fads were gently celebrated, almost becoming a part of British culture: from the love of corgi dogs to the use of Tupperware in the royal household. Her human habits and customs were completely forgiven in a woman who lived her life in the service of her country, persistently and without hesitation, always putting her own interests and opinions aside.
Be an amazing queen
There were enough examples. Reports of the Queen enjoying playing with the Wii have been met with rave reviews, as has an iPod gift from President Barack Obama, and the delightful comic bomb that the Queen may have dropped by accident. The Queen as a world-famous internet meme, turns 90 as an influencer in the digital age. Her visit to the set of the hit series “Game of Thrones” matches that, too. In one of the photos, she looks pathetically at the name of the throne of iron swords – what is this TV series so full of legend compared to its legend?
She was ridiculed and insulted, but in the new millennium Elizabeth II became the brilliant Queen. Pretty cool featured on The Simpsons. Their colorful costumes, along with matching hats and pearl necklaces, are no longer considered old-fashioned, but rather an enduring sense of style. Her insistence on protocol, her myriad appearances and patronage, was no longer a mark of outdated royal thinking, but rather of discipline—and her “unenjoyed” became an aphorism. Her images on stamps and coins – in fact, signs of the greatest possible distance – were supplemented with solemn images, which, despite all the gradation, also allowed intimacy.
Not only did she have a sense of humor when she appeared with James Bond at the Olympics. This year, on the 70th anniversary of her accession to the throne, she stirred up excitement with a funny, hipster video: The Queen sits with Paddington the Bear under tea, keeps her composure in the face of his follies — and shows the jam sandwich in her handbag. This is British humor at its best.
The funny young queen and the actor who was sharply criticized for the British establishment has become a lovable and unifying figure. With Elizabeth II, the world may lose the last person who has not only witnessed the fundamental change since the end of World War II but also helped shape it – politically impotent, yet symbolically influential. It is difficult to visualize this time due to the many developments. But just as her predecessors Elizabeth I and Victoria represent an era in time, Elizabeth II also symbolizes a culture: the era of pop music.