MIDWAY: Love of royals
In the wake of Prince Charles’s visit to Pakistan, now is an apt time to reflect on the strange hold that royals, and he in particular, have over Muslims.
It may sound paradoxical, but it’s not surprising that when British ministers queue up to tell modest women to take their veils off, there is a special affection for a prince whose public utterances on the subject have been marked by a sort of bumbling Islamophilia.
Charles and Camilla’s visit to Pakistan was a really important trip for my mum. She is obsessed with the royal family. Lots of mums are but, really, you have no idea how big the royals are with Bangladeshi women. My friend Koruna will tell me, “But I bet she doesn’t have a showcase filled with royal-family china like my aunts.” Of course she does. “Yeah,” Koruna replies, “but a whole showcase in a mud-shack village in Bangladesh?”
Thousands of households in the subcontinent give pride of place to royal kitsch, and that is as much the case in the volatile Islamic states of Pakistan and Bangladesh as it is in India. A survey of my Asian mates confirms this grim predicament - the royal cult, and in particular the icon that is Diana, is being propped up by Muslim women all over the world, not just tabloid readers in a corner of south-east England.
For my mum, it was the fairytale romance of the People’s Princess that drew her in. She got married around the same time as Di and, like her, was a young bride; I was born in 1982, like William. For a while, she convinced herself that I would marry Wills and she could live in Highgrove.
My mum felt she and Di were living parallel lives — Windsor Castle and an estate in Redhill, being dressed by Valentino and wearing saris — although I never saw the similarity.
Now, when I go home, all those tacky royal plates have been taken down and replaced with equally cheap-looking, but perhaps more predictable, plates with Arabic script, pictures of Mecca and so on. It’s as if many Muslims have become more Islamic.
But now Britishness is apparently about values, values which lately seem to define themselves in opposition to the Muslim bogeyman. Saying that, however, I have a biscuit tin with the Queen Mum on it. What can I say? It’s retro.