Be careful what you say to Danes about their royal family. I’ve learned this painful lesson when I’ve attempted to broach the subject in the past: the icy silences, the pained glances, the hasty change of subject.
The Danes truly love, virtually worship, their royals, or at least Dronning Margrethe. A bit like Americans with Oprah, or the French and Johnny Halliday.
And with good reason, at least as far as ‘Daisy’ is concerned (for some reason, back in the ‘60s and ‘70s it became fashionable for female Danish aristocrats to adopt a ‘below stairs’-style English nickname, probably some kind of weird reaction to Social Democracy). She seems a good egg: she gave an admirably pro-immigration New Year’s speech this year. She doubtless does sterling work for exports, and spends more time than seems reasonable dressed in regional traditional costume visiting places like Greenland. Plus, she has a certain degree of artistic talent, and famously smokes like a laboratory beagle.
I understand, too, the value of a figurehead around which a small nation can gather. The monarchy helps bind the Danes together, it’s a gathering point, an integral part of their identity. If not Margrethe, then who? Brigitte Nielsen?
But, still, I am a republican. I feel uncomfortable with the principle of hereditary privilege. When I lived in Britain I resented my tax money being used to fund the lavish lifestyles of minor royals – and I still do. One such case in Denmark is Princess Alexandra, ex-wife of the queen’s second son, Joachim (a man who makes the UK’s Prince Andrew look positively likeable). She receives millions of kroner each year from the state, as approved by the people’s representatives in Christiansborg.
Coming as I do from an appallingly anti-egalitarian country which is stuck in the 1930s and rendered syphilitic with class division, I would hope that, in a supposedly democratic, progressive country like Denmark, they would have moved on from these kinds of Ruritanian pantomimes.
But that’s just me. This is Denmark: s’up to the Danes what they do.
I could be wrong – and, certainly, time, countless royal scandals, rumours and misdemeanours have so far proved me entirely mistaken on this – but my suspicion is that the support for the monarchy in Denmark is more fragile than is commonly perceived, and that it wouldn’t take much for approval ratings to drop markedly.
We had a glimpse of this a while back when more private details were revealed concerning the aforementioned Joachim and how he and his second wife had grown tired of life in Shackenborg, their palatial pile in Jutland, and moved to a 600 sq m home estimated to be worth 27m kroner on Emiliekildevej in Klampenborg.
There were ripples of discontent: what was wrong with fragrant Jutland? Is this not a royal family for all Danes, not just those who live in Greater Copenhagen? And, surely, Joachim should be keeping his ex-wife in Louboutins and pork scratchings, not scrounging the tax kroner of nurses, teachers and exceptionally hard working freelance journalists so he can save his cash to splurge on a pad in a posh suburb?
There were more ripples the other day too when Crown Prince Frederik ignored the closure due to a storm of the Storebælt Bridge, and drove across it as if he pretty much owned the thing (which, I guess, in a way he does). Meanwhile, ‘ordinary’ Danes were forced to wait like, well, ordinary Danes.
Now, this was something. There was genuine uproar as Jante Lov kicked into full-effect. Events in Paris were pushed from the headlines as the Danish media lined up to lambast Fred. Who did he think he was flaunting laws and rules, and clip-clopping on his metaphorical high horse across the Great Belt (in his Audi)?
There was a poll: 55% of Danes thought this was NOT ON. The royal house tried to claim that PET – the Danish security service – made Fred do it, but few bought the excuse.
Of course, I was hugely encouraged by this. Could this one, arrogant, wilfully dangerous act of entitlement prove to be the first fissure in the Danes’ hitherto unquestioning adoration of their monarchy? Would this be the beginning of Denmark’s Romanov moment (although, obviously, I don’t want to see anyone lined up and shot in a basement: exile in Gladsaxe, perhaps).
Short answer: No. The very next day, there was a fawning documentary on DR1 about Prince Henrik’s favourite recipes, the Queen was filmed opening something on Lolland, and apparently it will be the birthday of someone called Princess Athena on Saturday.
Michael Booth is the author of The Almost Nearly Perfect People: The Truth About the Nordic Miracle available now on Amazon and is a regular contributor to publications including the Guardian and Monocle.