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Post re: Spain/UK: on Interviewing Royalty (Paul Preston, UK)
Created by John Eipper on 02/13/09 2:03 AM - re-spainuk-on-interviewing-royalty-paul-preston-uk

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re: Spain/UK: on Interviewing Royalty (Paul Preston, UK) (John Eipper, USA, 02/13/09 2:03 am)

On 12 February, a royal-struck JE asked Paul Preston to share his experience of interviewing Spain's King Juan Carlos. Paul kindly responds: Regarding John's interest in "what it's like to interview a king," I would guess that it is impossible to generalise. If I can add in queens and princes, my tiny experience is confined to Elizabeth II, Charles Prince of Wales, Juan Carlos, Queen Sofia and Felipe Principe de Asturias of Spain and deposed King Constantine of Greece, Sofia's brother. I interviewed Constantine when I was researching the Juan Carlos book. He was affable, humorous and forthcoming. I have met the British Queen twice, once when it fell to me to escort her when she came to open a newly built university library and once when I received a decoration. On both occasions, I found her to be icily polite and, for perfectly understandable reasons, pretty uninterested in anything resembling an exchange of views. I have met Prince Charles once, at what was described, when I received the invitation, as "an intimate dinner." There were 78 dinner guests and my conversation with him was extremely short. I was reminded of the words of the great British surrealist comedian Spike Milligan, who once said of an exchange with a dignitary, "He exchanged a couple of words with me. I didn't understand either of them." My experience with the Spaniards could not have been more different. I have met Felipe in various contexts--at a small gathering of academics, at the dinner mentioned above, and at the royal palace (more modest than very many American homes). On each occasion, I found him to be charming and interesting company. He is intelligent and has real people skills. He was interested in hearing what people had to say and made frank and perceptive contributions. His mother is a remarkably bright woman who takes her royal role as a serious professional commitment. It is quite clear that, having seen her own family forced into exile by a military coup, she saw that the survival of the Spanish monarchy depended on it having a strong relationship with the Spanish electorate. In fact, I should have said in my earlier post, that it was inconceivable that she would have had any truck with military conspiracy in 1981 or at any other time. In public, she demonstrates real empathy with ordinary people. In private conversation, she has an acute forensic intelligence and has no time for foolishness or frivolity. Juan Carlos is an extraordinary man. I had spent many years studying him before interviewing him properly. In other words, I had met him formally but had wanted to avoid being constrained in anything I wrote. As I did the research for the book, I was struck by the truly dreadful childhood that he had suffered (perhaps much more even than is the norm in royal families)--sent at age 10 as a hostage to be brought up by Franco--and also by the remarkable courage that he showed as the firefighter of democracy between 1975 and 1981, first of all acting as a bridge between Francoist reactionaries and the democratic forces in the period up to the first elections of 1977 and then as the man who did most to keep the armed forces in check. Inevitably, my book was very favourable to him. When I was invited to meet him properly, I went expecting maybe a 30-minute audience. I got a long private conversation, then lunch with his family and I was there for five hours. When he greeted me, he said, "Thank you for coming and thank you for your book," to which I, endeavouring to be funny, said "Well, when I got the invitation, I assumed I was being summoned to the Palace to have my head chopped off." "Why would you think that?", he replied. "Well," I said, "the book is full of material that must have been incredibly painful for you." "Yes," he said and added, to my astonishment, "but it has given me back my life." "I am thrilled that you would say such a thing, but what do you mean?" "Most people think that I just parachuted onto the throne and nothing has been difficult for me. You have shown what sacrifices I had to make." He asked why I hadn't been to see him before. I then explained how I hadn't wanted to be overly influenced or to have to submit the manuscript for royal approval. So, he said, ask me anything you like now. And I did. It turned into a amazingly funny and instructive meeting. His comments on Franco were both perceptive and his impersonation of the dictator hysterically funny. Subsequently, we went to lunch and were joined by the Prince, the Queen, the Head of the Royal Household (an old friend of mine who had been Adolfo Suarez's chef de cabinet and had been detained in the parliament by Tejero) and by the Head of the King's Military Household, who had been a captain in the artillery unit that was supposed to take Madrid during the coup. By the time coffee arrived, a very pleasant and affable lunch turned into a two-hour high-level seminar on the coup. Subsequently, I have met him on several occasions and he has always been both affable and concerned. He is, as far as I can tell, the same with everyone. If he knows you, he grips you by the arm and shakes hands, asking you by name how you are. How he manages to be so endlessly affable and funny all the time is a wonderment. JE comments: This is one of my favorite posts of 2009--WAIS insight at its best, combining the global and the local, the public and the personal, in one fascinating package. I thank Paul Preston for allowing us all to have a brush with royalty. Note to WAISers: Read Paul's book, We Saw Spain Die , on foreign correspondents during the Spanish Civil War. I finished it about two weeks ago, but I haven't yet gotten around to writing a proper review. I still hope to do so. But here's the skinny for now: You'll learn how Spain 1936-39 was the epicenter of world sociopolitical intrigue, as well as the meeting place of many important literary and cultural figures of the time. Moreover, Paul writes some of the most gripping and eloquent historical prose I've ever encountered. A must read. -- For information about the World Association of International Studies (WAIS), and its online publication, the World Affairs Report, read its homepage by simply double-clicking on: http://wais.stanford.edu/ John Eipper, Editor-in-Chief, Adrian College, MI 49221 USA


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