Thursday, July 12, 2007

That encounter between the Queen and Annie Leibovitz


ed: I followed this with a later blog post entitled "The Queen, the BBC and that Orwellian doctored film", once my suspicions were confirmed that there had been some liberties taken in the editing of the photoshoots at Buckingham Palace. A plague on your houses, BBC and associated companies. You are beneath contempt.

Am I the only one to be puzzled and bemused by that brief spat involving the Queen and fashion photographer Annie Leibovitz ?

It was all captured in a fly-on-the-wall documentary to be screened in the autumn (which I'm just itching to see, being a real sucker for those rare glimpses of the Her Maj' speaking off the cuff.

Here's what passed between the two strong-minded ladies, according to today's Telegraph:

"I think it will look better without the crown because the garter robe is so..."

Before she could finish the sentence the Queen shot an icy glance at the photographer and said: "Less dressy? What do you think this is?" referring to her robes which came complete with diamonds and ermine.

The Queen, who is rarely seen ruffled in public, then turned on her heel and strode out of the room with a courtier in hasty pursuit lifting the large train of her blue velvet cape off the floor.

The Queen was then heard pointedly telling a lady-in-waiting: "I’m not changing anything. I’ve had enough dressing like this thank you very much."

I'm not sure I understand why the Queen shot back first with "less dressy".

Even if Ms. Leibovitz was on the point of saying "dressy" before being so royally interrupted, "less dressy" would seem be something of a non-sequitur, if you'll pardon me saying, Your Majesty. In any case, Leibovitz was about to say "extraordinary" according to the Sky News report of the incident.

I cannot help but wonder if there was not some history between the two that had preceded this video clip.

Maybe the photographer had already got under Her Majesty's skin by the manner in which she had set about her assignment ( "the Rolling Stones today, Queen of England tomorrow, who's down for Thursday ?").

Maybe Her Maj anticipated the word "extraordinary" or something similar, and immediately rankled, the way I rankled, when reading a Stateside comment re Britain's monarchy which the writer described as "bizarre".

I remember being sufficiently miffed to fire off an instant riposte. Thanks to the power of Google I've been able to dredge it up from the archives ( a Telegraph staff blog):

"An earlier comment in these threads about Americans considering our Royal Family (aka constitutional monarchy) "bizarre" is another case in point. Call it traditional, outdated, undemocratic if you want, but don't call it bizarre unless you deliberately want to get backs up."

One wonders if the Queen felt a similar indignation, confronted by a hint of garrulousness on the part of our transatlantic cousin, the latter coping as best she could with a situation entirely out of her experience.

Which reminds me: do older readers recall a similar situation involving Walter Annenberg, back in the 1970s, who on being introduced to Her Maj as new US Ambassador to the Court of St. James, broke into that "elements of refurbishment" monologue. Curiously it too was captured for posterity on the first Royal fly-on-the- wall documentary, to the poor man's everlasting embarrassment.

In fact I do feel a certain sympathy for the photographer: the combination of crown and robe is indeed overkill in a purely photogenic sense.

One is reminded of that magnificent 1954 Annigoni portrait of the Queen in her Garter robes sans crown, showing a beautiful head of hair and giving its owner an almost defiant heroic quality, yet highly feminine with it too.

Acknowledgements to all those, including the Telegraph, whose pictures appear here. te

Update Thursday pm

Lots of new developments since penning the above. The most noteworthy is that the BBC has issued an apology to the Queen for editing the tape in the programme's trailer to make it seem as if the Queen had stormed off in a huff.

She had done no such thing. The BBC had taken a shot of her on the way to the photoshoot, with those words : "I’m not changing anything. I’ve had enough dressing like this thank you very much " and then cut and spliced it to appear after the photo session to make it seem like a flouncy exit. Methinks a BBC producer might benefit from a spell in the Tower for his lèse majesté.

But that's not all. I suspect there may have been some monkeying, or at any rate, premature truncation of the soundtrack also to create what seemed like a non sequitur on the Queen's part.

But according to the Guardian, the Queen did not, it seems, interrupt before Annie had completed her sentence.

I quote:
"Yesterday, at the BBC1 autumn launch, journalists were shown clips from the forthcoming RDF Television-produced documentary series, A Year with the Queen, in which Leibovitz was shown asking the monarch to remove her crown so the shot would look "less dressy."
So Annie did use the words "less dressy", making the Queen's reply entirely sensible, relevant and coherent.
It's now 8:45 London time, and the BBC's apology has been up several hours. But no-one seems to have told Sky News (online). Judge for yourself by the following words that accompany the trailer clip.

"The Queen is used to having her picture taken, but it seems one photographer pushed her majesty too far. Snapper Annie Leibowitz provoked a royal walkout when she asked the Queen to take off her crown while posing for a portrait."
Orla Chennaoui reports.
There was no walkout, Orla, and your editors have failed abysmally in their responsibility to warn viewers of that video clip that the so-called "walkout" preceded the photoshoot.
Returning to an earlier point, here's how Sky quotes Annie:
"Before she could finish the sentence the Queen shot an icy glance at the photographer and said: "Less dressy? What do you think this is?" referring to her robes which came complete with diamonds and ermine. "
But if you listen to the soundtrack on Sky's own video clip, Annie IS heard to end her sentence with the word "dressy". So what can you believe these days ? We've seen two instances of seriously sloppy journalism. I blame the schools myself.

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