I must admit to a weakness for Reality TV. Not the manipulated “real life” genre usually traced back to Big Brother, which was first broadcast in 1999 on Dutch television. Not the survivors, the amazing races, the housewives, or the shores that followed. The chink in my cultural armor is for programs where contestants battle to be crowned best singer or dancer, most creative cook or savvy apprentice. And I blame it on the immortal question, “Do YOU want to be Queen for a day?”
Every weekday afternoon in the late 1950s the bus would drop me home from school in time to sit with my mother and watch ordinary American women pour out their heart-tugging tales of emotional or financial adversity, in hope that the studio audience meter would deem them worthy of the coveted title Queen for a Day. The winner was draped in a fur-trimmed cape, handed an armful of roses, and seated on a throne to receive her prizes, tears streaming down her grateful face. I used to imagine what stories I might tell so that I could wear that glittering crown for all the world to see. Yes, even as a child I was grooming myself for the role of drama queen.
He Who Wears the Crown
Interesting to note, the original radio version of the show was first broadcast in 1945 on April 30, birthday of (then) Princess Juliana of the Netherlands. Three years later her mother Queen Wilhelmina would abdicate, passing the crown to Juliana. The Dutch have celebrated Queen’s Day on April 30th ever since. (Queen Beatrix took to the throne in 1980, but chose to continue the celebration on her mother’s birthday, since her own in January was less suitable for traditional outdoor festivities.)
April 30 2013 marks the last Queen’s Day (Koninginnedag, as only the Dutch can say properly) – at least for a long time. Queen Beatrix abdicates, ending her 33-year reign, and Prince Willem-Alexander is crowned the first King of the Netherlands in 123 years. But that’s not exactly right. Officially the ceremony isn’t a coronation; it’s an investiture. The difference being… oh, something to do with religious versus secular. In other words, he accepts the crown but doesn’t actually get to wear it. I would be very disappointed by that. Um, yes. Drama queen.
Beer, Bikes and Theater
Willem-Alexander Claus George Ferdinand is a popular figure, as royalty goes. In his wilder university days the blonde youth was nicknamed Prince Pils (Dutch for beer, which he preferred to books) and he participated in the Elfstedentocht, the Frisian eleven-city ice-skating race. He has run the New York City Marathon and is an avid bicyclist. He was also a member of the International Olympic Committee and hopes to win a bid for the 2028 Games to be held in Amsterdam. (Interesting to note: his grandparents met at the 1936 Winter Olympics in Bavaria.)
Dutch novelist Arnon Grunberg remembers watching TV with his mother when violent riots by squatters and anarchists marred the 1980 coronation of Queen Beatrix. Such opposition will likely raise barely a whisper this year. In a piece for the NY Times he notes that the House of Orange, having lost its political influence, has become a kind of “state theatre.”
“Indeed, the monarchy these days amounts to little more than a constitutionally compulsory form of performance art… A famous doyenne of the Dutch theater revealed that a few of her colleagues had been discreetly approached with the request to provide the royal family with acting lessons. Those actors, unfortunately, would not to be paid for their services; this job, after all, was an honor.”
Linus was Wrong
If there is a real star of this royal family, it is Princess Maxima, the Argentine banker the Prince married in 2002. A Dutch newspaper caricatures the happy couple sharing a single crown, but not in a critical way. Although there was some controversy regarding her father, minister for agriculture during the militant regime of General Videla, Maxima’s popularity now rivals that of the late Princess Diana. It’s easy to draw comparisons between them. “I love to dance and I love music and I will continue to enjoy both,” she said with her usual smile in a recent interview.
As Queen Maxima, she will continue to balance her time between raising her three young princesses and a committed involvement in a number of social issues. On May 16 she’ll attend the opening of the first European congress for International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO) in The Hague. Now that’s a Queen that we drama queens can stand up and cheer for!
Many lifetimes ago as summer camp counselor Dave Drama, I directed the musical You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. One of my favorite scenes was with Linus and Lucy Van Pelt. (Wow. I completely forgot they have a Dutch name!) Lucy imagines herself as Queen. But Linus patiently explains that’s impossible since the position is hereditary. Linus was wrong, Lucy. If you’re clever enough, pretty enough, and popular enough, you can marry into a Queendom.