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A Jubilee feast of royal reads
7:00am Saturday 12th May 2012 in Books
TV presenter, writer and monarchist Alan Titchmarsh heads a long line-up of authors with books out to mark the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. He talks about the challenges facing the monarchy, while Hannah Stephenson leafs through the pick of the crop of other royal reads.
With the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations upon us, royal authors hope to whet our appetites with a plethora of books on the monarchy, from biographies to pictorial tributes, personal recollections and trivia.
Heading the line-up of authors charting the Queen's 60-year reign is TV presenter and author Alan Titchmarsh, a self-confessed monarchist who has met the Queen on numerous occasions and interviewed many of the royals, including the Prince of Wales, Prince William, Prince Philip and the Princess Royal.
His commemorative book Elizabeth: Her Life, Our Times, looks back with fondness at the Queen's 60 years on the throne, offering a charming portrait of the Royal Family and exploring their evolving roles against a backdrop of social change.
"The changing nature of society is among the biggest challenges facing the monarchy," he reflects.
"Monarchy is basically about mystery and magic and being special. When you go somewhere, it's the very fact that you are a member of the Royal Family that makes that occasion.
"You are bringing a bit of sparkle and a bit of special, you are a spreader of happiness. That can seem very vacuous but you have to maintain that role and at the same time endeavour to move with the times but not too fast.
"You have to cut a middle path, showing you're not a stick-in-the-mud but, at the same time, maintain a consistency and a dignity which avoids the fickle. Any of us would find that hard to manage."
Is the monarchy as important as it was 60 years ago?
"Probably not to the chattering classes but to the man and woman on the street it is," he insists. "You only have to turn out to a Jubilee celebration or a royal wedding to see how the vast majority of the population revere the Royal Family and see through a lot of the negativity they read in the press."
The Queen's grandchildren have made a huge difference in bringing the monarchy into the 21st century, he agrees.
"I know that they consider that the Queen is a very hard act to follow and have told me so in as many words. 'She's set the bar high' is the phrase that Prince William uses.
"She's had a lot of difficult times politically. She's lived through Suez, through the Cuban missile crisis and all kinds of constitutional difficulties as well as family difficulties. Her 'annus horribilis' in 1992 was grim, and then in 2002 she lost her mother and her sister."
The Queen has never been interviewed, but if Titchmarsh ever had the opportunity, what would he ask her?
"I would ask her about misconceptions, what most annoys her about people's perception of her role and where we got it wrong."
While there will always be opponents of the Royal Family, he believes the monarchy has never been as strong as it is now.
"Even for the most ardent cynic, the bottom line is it's better than the alternative. I'd rather have a family through whom we can trace our own ancestry, who are there out of a sense of duty and devotion to the country, rather than out of a sense of personal aggrandisement."
Best of the rest Other new royal books to look out for include: :: Elizabeth: A Diamond Jubilee Portrait: A Celebration In Photographs Of The Queen's Life And Reign by Jennie Bond (Carlton Books, £20): Written by the former BBC royal correspondent, this coffee table tome features more than 240 photographs plus details of the Queen's life and role as Head of State in a country and world that have changed almost beyond recognition since she inherited the throne.
:: Queen Elizabeth II: Her Life In Our Times by Sarah Bradford (Viking, £20): The title is strikingly similar to Alan Titchmarsh's royal read, but the content is not. Here the biographer of George VI and Princesses Grace and Diana turns her attention to the Queen.
:: Sixty Glorious Years by Victoria Murphy (Haynes, £18.99): This stunning pictorial tribute offers a look at the life and work of the Queen, featuring more than 300 formal portraits and behind the scenes 'off duty' pictures. It charts the Queen's reign in the context of the times she has lived through, looking in depth at the wars, tabloid headlines and prime ministers she has known.
:: Elizabeth: Reigning In Style by Jane Eastoe (Pavilion, £12.99): Sumptuous frocks, posh hats for state visits and practical clothes for off-duty pursuits are all featured in this stylish look back at how the Queen led the way in fashion in her earlier years, showcasing the best of the world's designers including Norman Hartnell and Hardy Amies.
:: The Queen's Diamonds by Hugh Roberts (Royal Collection Publications, £60, May 5): The Queen's magnificent collection of diamond jewellery is charted in this lavish book, written by the former director of the Royal Collection. It covers pieces as historically significant as the Diamond Diadem, made for George IV and worn by the Queen when travelling to and from the State Opening of Parliament, and as personal as the bracelet given to her as a wedding present by Prince Philip.
:: I Never Knew That About Royal Britain by Christopher Winn (Ebury, £9.99): If you're a trivia buff, look no further than this little gem of a book which explores Britain's royal past. Discover whose heart is buried near the Tower of London, which palace was built on top of a mulberry garden, the world's oldest and largest occupied castle and the first building in Britain to have latrines, among other fascinating snippets.
:: England My England: A Treasury of All Things English by Gerry Hanson (Portico, £9.99): Exclusively produced for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, this eclectic anthology of poetry, prose and song celebrates all that is wonderful about England and its heritage. Featuring speeches, articles and satire from writers and personalities including Alan Coren, John Mortimer, Bill Bryson and Melvyn Bragg.
:: Elizabeth: Her Life, Our Times by Alan Titchmarsh is published BBC Books, priced £18.99. Available May 10
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