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Holland Park Press

Many Thanks for the Elephant

23 April 2012 Zie Nederlandse versie
by Arnold Jansen op de Haar

Most royal families are just a tiny bit common: witness their preference for fast cars, planes, yachts, hunting, firearms, money, hydrogen peroxide, extramarital affairs and villas in sunny countries, though not necessarily in this order.

You could wish for a royal figure to emerge with a genuine interest in literature. Alan Bennett has written a wonderful novella on this subject: The Uncommon Reader. But unfortunately royal news mostly consists of someone qualifying for a pilot’s licence or making a slip-up.

Last week the Spanish king was at the centre of a scandal. Juan Carlos, aged 74, had shot an elephant during a safari in Botswana. The outcry centred mainly on the issue of the king embarking on such an expensive holiday during a time of austerity, plus the fact that he had been accompanied by a much younger woman: 47-year-old blonde German princess Corinna zu Sayn-Wittgenstein. Actually, she’s not even a real princess, but an in-law who was allowed to keep the title after her divorce.

I was more concerned about the elephant, especially as the king is patron of the Spanish branch of the Worldwide Fund for Nature.

It has been alleged that as a teenager Juan Carlos accidentally shot dead his younger brother Alfonso. Several different accounts are doing the rounds. ‘He didn’t know the gun was loaded,’ according to his mother’s dressmaker. Another witness declared that, when Alfonso entered the room, the door knocked Juan Carlos’s arm. Two weeks ago the 13-year-old grandson of Juan Carlos shot himself in the foot during ‘a shooting exercise on his father’s estate in Soria’. And Juan Carlos has just shot an elephant, deliberately. It’s as if we were discussing the family affairs of an international arms trader.

Elephants are very intelligent: they recognise themselves in a mirror and mourn their dead. They can smell at a distance of five kilometres and hear over a distance of ten kilometres. They can even swim and have a vast memory. The Spanish king should avoid Botswana for the foreseeable future.

Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands (1911–2004) was one of the founders of the Worldwide Fund for Nature. By all accounts, during his life he shot at anything that moved, except elephants. In an interview, Prince Bernhard explained it like this: ‘I have no problems whatsoever with elephants; they love me.’ Unfortunately his relationship with wild boar and deer wasn’t on the same footing.

Prince Bernhard collected elephants in art. After his death these objects were auctioned and the proceeds went to the Worldwide Fund for Nature. He was the proud owner of at least one inflatable elephant. I’m not making this up: I was at Soestdijk palace when it was presented to him.

This was at a reception for the committees of several student organisations. Although we were not meant to bring presents, one of the committees had had the idea of giving the prince an inflatable elephant, which was inflated on the spot. ‘Many thanks for the elephant,’ the prince said in his thick German accent.

The other similarity between Juan Carlos and Prince Bernhard is their fondness for hunting blonde wildlife, which is also quite common.
Royal families are a phenomenon that belongs to the past. That is what I think every time I see women at a state banquet dressed in what looks like a bit of curtain and a sash. In the old days, kings could be locked up or beheaded if they did something silly or were simply raving lunatics.

On her Silver Wedding Anniversary in 1972, Queen Elizabeth received Jumbo, a seven-year-old elephant, from the President of Cameroon. I hope this elephant is at least still alive.

I assume it is, and now Queen Elizabeth is about to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee. She has never put a foot wrong, and besides she looks like my mother, who can look similarly disapproving and smell an elephant killer at a distance of ten kilometres.

Heartfelt congratulations, Your Majesty, but keep an eye on that Pippa: she was recently spotted in Paris in the company of a man with a gun. Your family can always leave it until later to turn common.

© Arnold Jansen op de Haar
© Translation Holland Park Press

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