Notebook

Mary Kenny: Why royal beauty is a blessing

Queen Letizia of Spain and her equally graceful friend Queen Rania of Jordan (Getty)

It seems that President Donald Trump is expected on a brief, golf-oriented visit to Britain this week. Personally, I’m far more engaged by the prospect of the King and Queen of Spain, Felipe and Letizia, who will be on a state visit on July 12-14.

Felipe and Letizia are an attractive couple who have gone about their monarchical business trying to sow peace and harmony. Queen Letizia is a beautiful woman who is frequently compared to Kate, Duchess of Cambridge. Letizia is more often seen in the company of her friend, Queen Rania of Jordan, another beauty who pops up around the world advancing good causes.

Now, beauty is skin deep, and, as the nuns in my convent school always taught us, it’s character, not looks, that matter. Yet beauty has always been admired by the great artistic traditions, and upheld as a gift from God by the Christian aesthetes. Those who are beautiful often cheer people up.

While politics seems to be allotted the role of making us feel more crabby, divided and depressed, monarchy nowadays has the task of bringing to us the sunny side of life. In the midst of the tragedies, aggression, attacks on human life and caustic, combative public debate, a pleasing king and queen can help to emphasise the positive.

Good monarchs can do good deeds, and extend comfort to the afflicted, and the popular monarchs of continental Europe carry out these tasks of kindness, comfort and support – notably Queen Mathilde of Belgium and Queen Maxima of the Netherlands. These young queens are also well-educated and apparently fulfilled in their lives as wives and mothers.

Monarchies fell all over Europe partly because they were deemed to be outdated by 19th-century progressivism, and partly because the monarchs themselves weren’t up to scratch. The German Kaiser was a warmonger; the king of Italy was useless; Farouk of Egypt was decadent; and the Tsars failed to improve themselves. The Bourbons and Habsburgs of old were, it has to be said, not always lookers, and not always wise. Dynastic marriages reproduced the famed lantern jaw.

Modern monarchies have learned the lesson and reformed themselves into upbeat organisations which focus on sweetness and light. Even Emmanuel Macron has picked up on that lesson: he is now holding his conferences at Versailles to reflect the historic glamour of the French monarchy.

Sweetness and light between Britain and Spain are surely for the common good. Just don’t mention the Armada (and avoid the subject of Gibraltar).

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The hot ticket in the West End theatre currently is a play about the Northern Irish troubles called The Ferryman, written by Jez Butterworth. It is very long, and well acted (at fifty quid a ticket, so it should be), and is received by the London audience with standing ovations.

My own reactions were more muted. There’s an element of fake “Irishry” about the revels. The swearing is interminable: the Irish are terrible swearers, but very few people constantly repeat the f-word and the c-word in front of children. The denouement depends upon a priest betraying the seal of the confessional – under duress; it is true, but still. Butterworth’s writing has vitality, but I need to believe that characters add up and context is truthful, and I wasn’t entirely persuaded.

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There was a “Rally for Life” last weekend in Dublin, which, according to Garda estimates, attracted a peaceful crowd of 60,000 to 70,000. Newspapers reported that the crowd was 10,000 and 20,000. This is the kind of disparity which causes distrust in the mainstream media.

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I have sometimes thought that the Samaritans were too detached in their policies – listening but taking no action. My mind has been changed after learning of their latest, terrific initiative – training railway staff to spot the signs of people who may be intending to take their own lives, and to reach out to them.

As a result, rail suicides are down to their lowest since 2010. Maybe we could all do with such training – to be alert to the signs of someone in despair, and show them support.

Follow Mary Kenny on Twitter: @MaryKenny4