Is Stephen Fry the de facto Queen of England?

Stephen Fry with corgi

HRH at home with her Pembroke Welsh Corgi

Campaign: Holidays at Home are Great
Client: English Tourist Board: Visit England

By Jack Faulkner

I have something to admit, and I hope the customs officers don’t come with my marching orders and deport me from England. The thing is, I’ve come to realise: I’m fed up with Stephen Fry. Not him, per se – more the idea of him, the brand of him: Stephen Fry, Official Spokesperson of the British for the British. And he’s just the tip of the iceberg. When 2012 is out, one of the most significant things English people will remember will not be the Queen’s Jubilee, nor the Olympics. It will be the nostalgia branding. Anyone would believe the two best industries in Britain today are ceremonial biscuit tins and reams of bunting.

But it is, of course, the Olympic year, and the Jubilee year, and the tourist board is getting in on the act of promoting Britain. As such, they have produced an advert, with Stephen Fry dressed up as a Harrods teddy, Julie Walters, the ginger one from Harry Potter, and a pretty woman who I’m going to guess was in Downton Abbey. Fry, the ginger one from Harry potter, Walters and the pretty woman are tripping over warm pubs and Tudor staircases and windswept beaches to sell British people the country we already live in.

Fry is drinking tea in his Britain-branded cup and saucer and walking around his palace while a corgi runs around his feet. Is Stephen Fry de facto Queen of England? Meanwhile a couple of moron proles are getting up early and looking for their passports. They are fools for leaving this year! Leaving to go somewhere it may prove difficult to get a decent cup of tea! Heaven forbid they go to the Algarve. Walters smugly asserts that Wordsworth was fond of the Lake District, while seemingly suggesting that eating in something called a “taverna” is bound to be a bad idea. After all, she insinuates, you can’t get shepherd’s pie in a taverna. Then again, that poem she quotes – wandering lonely as a cloud, daffodils and so on – is trite. Fitting for this advertisement, which could be an encylopedia’s example of trite. Puccini probably ate in a taverna and he didn’t bugger about with daffodils.

It seems 2012 is to be the year of smug superiority and xenophobia. “You’re British, you will enjoy scones and tea and have no need of the Algarve.” It’s not just walks in national parks, sand dunes and salty air. Walters reminds us that the Tate gallery has a franchise in Liverpool. So even it were raining there – like it would be – I could still see Salvador Dali’s lobster phone. And what about Anglesey? “It’s good enough for Will and Kate,” says the ginger one from Harry Potter. Yes, Prince William does spend time in Anglesey. But then, Prince William is in the RAF and is stationed there. By that logic, Camp Bastion in Afghanistan is somewhere other men in the forces rather look forward to visiting.

The ad looks good, with its retro-styled quasi-super-8 imagery of the ginger one from Harry Potter and a pretty blond woman cavorting down a windy dune. It is charming and simplistic. Yet hold on a brief moment. Step back and look at what isn’t there: the price.

No matter how it’s done, getting across this sceptered isle is expensive. Petrol for your hatchback is expensive. Trains are hilarious unless you booked your ticket in the mid-90s. All the cavorting and hanging out with fishermen comes at a tidy sum.

Let me consider my choice. Go to Crete, where it’s very likely to be warm and sunny and I can eat well for not very much money, or go to Bridlington, where it’s very likely to be cold and damp and I can eat the same expensive food I eat in Cornwall. I was in Athens during its Olympic year; I went because I’d had such a good time there the year before. The first time I went, Athens was run-down, dowdy, charming and cheap. During the Olympic year, it was run-down, dowdy, charming, branded and much more expensive.

So, a pretty actress, De Facto Queen Stephen of England, Julie (I bet she is a dame) Walters and the ginger one from Harry Potter are suggesting I hang out with them in warm pubs or near some nice rocks or in little fishing boats in Britain this summer. I should hang out with them, the fairly-well-known faces of British cinema and television. Well, English cinema, for white people, white people who have money to spend.

Or perhaps not. Perhaps I won’t. It’s less money for me to go to Bologna by plane than it is to go to Bridlington on a National Express coach. And you know why I occasionally leave my home in Cornwall to go abroad? There are four main things I want of a holiday. One is to try different types of food. A second is to experience different cultures. A third is to improve my odds of getting some sunshine. And the fourth reason, the big reason I leave Cornwall? If only for a while, I like to escape the bloody British.


  1. Laura wrote:

    Why won’t you lurch forward to the dales of Bridlington (are there dales in Bridlington?) and think of England? Perhaps the commercial is going for the nagging “You never visit anymore” sensation one gets from one’s parents?

  2. [...] • In April 2012, Jack Faulkner wrote about whether Stephen Fry is the de facto Queen of England. [...]

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