Posted by: kathandroger | December 10, 2017

Johnny, Diana and the Queen.

When we came to France, we were surprised that the news often seemed to include something about the health of Johnny Halliday. We knew a little about the French rock and roll singer, but did not appreciate how important he had become to the people of this country. A few years back he had a failed back operation and was later put in an induced coma in the USA-it was front line news, and we remarked then that he had become the nearest France had to royalty. Whatever would happen when he died? Well now we know. All media for the past few days has been saturated by his passing, and both television and radio have broadcast endless tributes. Yesterday was marked indelibly by the outpouring of genuine emotion from all classes of French society. Paris was choked by thousands upon thousands of worshipers, lining the Champs Elysees and the surrounding areas including the magnificent Madeleine Church. Hundreds of Harley Davidson riders formed a rumbling procession following the cortege; the numbers of bikes restricted by having to apply for permission via the local dealer several days beforehand. Johnny loved his Harley. Three Presidents of France were present at the ceremony, and Emmanuel Macron gave the initial address from outside the church, to the multitude lining the streets. He called for a round of applause for Johnny, which was politely acceded, but soon the chanting of “Johnny, Johnny” erupted from everywhere in the streets. The Catholic service went on for hours, but was moving and dignified, with noted academics and actors all performing with sincerity. France has lost its foremost icon, and the grieving will go on for weeks and weeks.

The nearest equivalent I can remember is the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales. It was over twenty years ago, and an even more worldwide event than Johnnys’. She had also become an icon, not least because of her failed marriage and her obvious unhappiness, but also because of her beauty, elegance and her working for good causes. She was surrounded by rumours of infidelity, and her war with the rest of the Royal Family, but that only served to give her the role of underdog and therefore even more popular support. She was the most photographed lady in the world and a medias’ dream. Her premature death was surrounded by intrigue, and doubts still remain, but she was adored by millions. Her funeral, too, was an amazing event, deeply moving, and a stirring of national emotion that we have not seen since.

So what do these two events tell us about ourselves? The French are a nationalistic race as much as we Brits. They needed someone with whom they could identify and admire as the forefront of Frenchness. The fact that Johnny was born from a Belgian father, and lived mostly in Los Angeles did not make any difference. His records were produced over almost sixty years, and he brought rock and roll to France by making copies of the American songs which the locals could understand. Parental admiration was passed on through the generations. He overcame a difficult childhood, the emotions of which he has since shared with his public. His stage act embraced the movements of Elvis, and his good looks and newness entranced the country. There is no doubt that he loved his audience, and that his multiple concerts were magnificent showbiz affairs attended by huge crowds. He gave his all to his admirers, even performing when physically unfit to do so. His voice was magnificent and his stage presence enchanting. And he, too, was flawed. His flirtation with drugs, tobacco and alcohol, and his five marriages were not his best features, but he seemed to be a genuine friend to many, and untouched by his fame.

Perhaps we can see, or would like to see, something of ourselves in these two. Not from the talent or the beauty perhaps, but the fact that success can come hand in hand with failures in other parts of our lives. They both gave us hope that there are good things in life that we can admire and enjoy. They provided a distraction from the less attractive features of modern day life, and we must all have wondered what it was like to be them. For us they lived an alien life which we could never attain, but to imagine was fun.

And so to our Queen.She has devoted her life to supporting her people, and has avoided controversy almost completely. We love her for always being there, looking contented and being a seemingly willing participant in what must be for her the most mundane tasks. A true servant of the British, and for so long. But will she have the same emotion at her demise? Respect and gratitude certainly, and a profound admiration for a job well done. Her send off will be a huge affair, attended by dignitaries worldwide.
I am not sure that the emotion will be as strong as for Johnny and Diana. Could it be that a privileged upbringing and automatic elevation to the cosy life of Royalty is so far away from us that we cannot conceive of it? We can identify with the troubles of the former, and admire their victory over the various vicissitudes. They had their problems, but overcame them to become admired and loved. I guess that is what being human is all about.


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