WHAT a nightmare it must be being the Queen. Every day, every week, for years on end, you have to glad-hand flunkies and officials and smoothy-chops politicians, and you have to make small-talk.
You have to be polite and you have to talk about the weather. Or, for just a little variation, you can sometimes ask people, "And how do you like to spend your days?"
But the main thing is that your conversation has to be frothy, light and utterly meaningless.
You must not say anything interesting; or quirky; or funny; and woe betide you if you say anything, anything at all, that might be considered... (deep breath)... controversial.
And you keep this up for years and years and decades and decades, and you never ever put a foot wrong - and in all this time you never, ever get the slightest bit of gratitude.
And then one day you let your guard slip. Maybe you've had a glass of white wine at lunch. Maybe you've been distracted by a picture of your newest great-grandchild. Maybe... maybe you've forgotten that you are never allowed to behave like a normal human being.
So rather than just listening to a senior police officer's conversation, and rather than just mouthing the usual inane platitudes, for the first time in a long, long while, you just happen to say what you think.
The copper says she was in charge of policing the Chinese delegation that was given the red carpet treatment in the UK last year.
And 99.9 per cent of the time, the Queen would usually just reply - "Oh really?"
Not this time though. This time, we get a small glimpse of the real Monarch on our throne. "Oh bad luck," she says.
She then follows this up with an amazing double-whammy.
The Chinese delegation were, says HM, "very rude to the Ambassador".
Straight from the Queen's lips! Boy she must have been pissed off! But what on earth did they do? Were they pilfering the silver? Passing the port the wrong way? Or did they treat the ambassador like a personal skivvy who wasn't fit to polish their boots?
Doubtless it will all come out soon enough.
Unfortunately - or perhaps fortunately for us humble hacks - this was all recorded on camera, and so from being just the very mildest piece of repartee, it suddenly turns into a "major diplomatic gaffe" with the Queen (she's 90, by the way), having to deal with all this "massive fall-out".
Downing Street is spinning away for all its worth, the Chinese are being asked for a comment, and the hacks are happily stirring the pot.
Along the way, all the other Royal gaffes from the last century are being recycled - particularly Prince Philip's one about the "slitty-eyed" Chinese.
It's not much of a gaffe and it's not much of a story - but seeing as it's the Queen, and seeing as she hardly ever puts a foot wrong, then it's being turned into a huge story.
I don't see it as either a gaffe or a howler. And I couldn't care less that the Chinese are miffed at being described as "rude". (I'll bet they were! Why do you think that Prince Charles always skips the Chinese state banquets?)
Rather, it's a reminder of what a hellish job it is to be the Monarch - or, indeed, any leading Royal.
Most people are going to be in totally shivering awe of you. You are never able to have a normal conversation.
And on the very rare occasions when you say what you think, you invariably land yourself in the shit.
These, then, are the basic rules for all members of the Royal family.
1. When out in public, smile a lot.
2. Particularly smile at kids. If they're giving you flowers, get down to their level. Pat them on the head.
3. When speaking with the public, just ask questions. Never, ever, ever express an opinion. On anything. Even talking about the weather can be pretty hairy; for two pins you'll get dragged into the whole climate change farrago.
4. More than likely, your every word is being recorded. Just keep smiling!
5. If somebody says something of slight interest, then you must not agree. You must not disagree. The correct response is: "Oh really."
6. Just keep doing this over and over again with every single stranger that you meet until the day that you drop dead and you'll never go wrong!
God it must be tough! Like everybody else, the Royals have opinions and ideas, and yet though they are meeting thousands of people every year, they are never once allowed to say what they actually think.
We like our Royals to have shiny hair and good teeth and hands that wave - and all the personality of a speak-your-weight machine.
They may be pampered up to the eyeballs, but their public lives are nothing less than a living death. Frankly I'd rather have a frontal lobotomy
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