If you were in a position of unique privilege, and could access anyone in the world you wanted to, who would you turn to for wisdom when you needed it most of all?
You would, of course, be ultra wary of those driven by self-interest, narrow in view, or lacking in insight. You would wish to be advised only by the best of the best.
I asked myself this exact question when I sat down to write The Queen’s Corgi: On Purpose. And in the curious way that fiction can sometimes suggest more interesting – and even likely – possibilities than any factual analysis, the Queen’s most mysterious adviser wrote himself into my book.
I’d like to share an excerpt from the book in which I introduce the enigmatic Michael.
By way of scene-setting, the following is described by Nelson, the new addition to the royal corgis. Winston and Margaret are two, well-established household corgis, and Tara is the Queen’s Lady in Waiting.
Now, read on and see if you can guess more about the identity of the Queen’s mysterious adviser …
It was during those earliest days at Windsor that I met one of the Queen’s most intriguing advisers. His visit wasn’t like the others in Her Majesty’s official calendar, each of which would be confirmed weeks in advance and discussed at the start of each day with her private secretary, Julian. It happened on an overcast morning, when heavy mists veiled the river Thames and much of the castle was cloaked in gloom, one of those days in which the momentous events and historic figures of the past seemed invoked, unseen but living presences in this ancient royal castle.
We three corgis were snoozing at Tara’s feet, after our morning walk, when Winston raised his head as though in response to a bell. Ears pricked up and head cocked to one side, he was tuning into some sound inaudible to me.
Turning to Margaret and me he said, ‘Michael’s here,’ before jumping to his feet and making for the door. Because Margaret followed suit, so did I.
‘Do they serve canapés when Michael visits?’ I asked, wanting to demonstrate my evolving knowledge of how things worked around here.
‘Of course not!’ Margaret responded firmly, looking at me as if I was mad even to suggest it.
I realised that she was in one of her ‘difficult’ moods and hastened my pace to catching up with Winston.
‘Who’s Michael?’ I asked.
‘That, dear boy, is a question to which we’d all like to know the answer.’
‘But you’ve met him before?’
‘Then you must have some idea?’
Winston snorted, realising that his enigmatic answers were wasted on a pup.
‘You were at this morning’s diary meeting?’
‘Did Julian mention a visit from Michael?’
‘Does the Queen ever receive unscheduled visitors?’
‘Um …’ I thought I knew the correct answer, but was feeling less than confident after Margaret’s fierce response to my question about canapés.
‘Never!’ Winston provided the answer with a decided ‘ah’ about the second syllable of that word. ‘She does not. She is the Queen. Nobody just drops in to see Her Majesty. Nobody, that is, except Michael.’
‘And you’re sure he’s here?’ I was following Winston down a long corridor.
‘But, I mean, how do you know?’
‘I’m tuned in,’ said Winston. ‘Just as I expect you will become too, dear boy.’ He seemed to have made some judgement about me and was paying me a compliment.
I wagged my stump.
‘We dogs hear sound frequencies that humans cannot.’
‘Really?’ This was news to me. ‘Like magic?’
‘Not magic,’ said Winston. ‘It comes from within.’
He shot a glance over his shoulder towards Margaret, and I realised that he was drawing me into his confidence. ‘It evolves quite naturally over time. Of course some of us are more receptive than others. We need to be open to it.’
Margaret, I gathered, was not open.
We emerged in a hallway at the bottom of the stairs that led up to the Queen’s private apartment, the very same stairs Tara had ascended when she’d first brought me to Windsor Castle. The figure in the hallway had his back to us when we arrived, but hearing the sound of our paws on the carpet, he turned.
‘Ah, the welcoming committee!’
He was a substantial man, tall and broad shouldered, but the most immediate thing I noticed about him was the lightness he conveyed. Perhaps it was the enlivening quality of his very clear, blue eyes. Perhaps the inviting warmth about his features. As Winston scampered briskly towards him, Margaret bypassed him, seeming more interested in a newly installed pedestal table.
‘And you’ve joined them!’ It was as if he recognised me from somewhere before. ‘What fun we’re all going to have!’
As he bent to pat Winston and me, I nuzzled his hand, taking in the scent of him. It was a herbaceous and strangely compelling aroma that seemed to connect him to an ancient, more pastoral time. His appearance was that of a mature man, his hair snowy and face lined, but as I looked directly into his eyes for the first time, I felt drawn to a state of timelessness. Along with the lightness was a feeling of ineffable peace. Even in those first few moments, I realised that Michael was unlike anyone I’d ever encountered.
He began making his way up the stairs to Her Majesty’s apartment. Pausing on the landing, he regarded the soldier in chain mail with solemnity, the two acknowledging each other with respectful inclines of their heads, before Michael continued upwards. We entered the private apartment and made our way to the door leading to the Queen’s office.
Michael hadn’t so much as knocked on the door when we heard Her Majesty’s voice, ‘Michael – is that you?’
‘Indeed, your Majesty.’
As he stepped into her office, the Queen rose from her desk. Her visitor bowed.
‘Your timing is, as always, impeccable,’ she said.
When other people had come to her office, she would show them to one of the armchairs, before sitting on another. But she made no attempt to suggest where Michael should sit, and instead returned to her the chair at her desk, watching as he stood at the window looking out at the swirling grey mist, his back towards her.
‘Difficult week?’ There was understanding gentleness in his rich, bass voice as he looked out over the shrouded landscape.
‘Like wading through treacle,’ said Her Majesty. ‘Sometimes one can’t help questioning why one’s doing this.’
‘Would people, in fact, prefer it if we weren’t here?’
At the window, her visitor nodded slowly.
‘It’s about relevance, Michael.’ I had never heard the Queen express her doubts so freely. In fact, had I not been sitting at her feet, I wouldn’t have believed anyone who told me she could even entertain such dark thoughts.
‘One sometimes feels like such an anachronism,’ she continued. ‘From a rational point of view, there is no place for a monarchy at all.’ She sighed. ‘It is utterly undemocratic. There is no logic to it. And yet …’
After a pause he turned from the window to face her, his blue eyes seeming almost luminescent in the darkness of the room. ‘And yet,’ he repeated, ‘reason gets us only so far. Few of our life’s most important decisions, and none of mankind’s grandest undertakings, are driven by reason alone. The greatest works of art, the most important scientific endeavours, the building of empires, the pursuit of love, dreams and passions – none of our most significant endeavours are propelled by mere logic.
‘You, my Queen, are so much more than what you can or cannot do. Your mere presence is one of the most universal and powerful symbols of mankind.’
Just as I had never heard Her Majesty voice her reservations, nor had I ever heard someone speak to the Queen with such sweeping authority. There was respect in his voice, to be sure, but a guiding purpose that seemed almost fatherly.
‘You are the embodiment of continuity and the well-being of your people. You represent stability and hope. Whatever your own personal reservations, as sovereign you are a beacon for the forces of light in a degenerate age.
‘This land, and the culture that springs from it, has been a cradle of ancient spirituality since time immemorial. For thousands of years our people strove to live in harmony with the spirit they found in everything. God was present in nature and they sought Him in holy – healing – places. In caves, and springs, and mountains, in rituals and pilgrimages through which they placed themselves in resonance with those who’d been before.
‘Most Christian experience has been of this same, intuitive nature. The mass chanted in a language only the priests knew, the soaring spires, the stained glass and the incense – what was all this if not an invocation to experience a more transcendent state of consciousness? Divine presence?
‘In only a few hundred years, most of it has been lost. The current obsession with the material world, with consumerism, can make one feel that somehow our people have taken the wrong turning.’
‘Haven’t they?’ interjected the Queen, her voice cool as stone in that grey morning.
‘Complete immersion can be useful to discover something’s limitations,’ Michael said wryly. ‘And we are already witnessing the return of the pendulum to a greener and more balanced way of being. Spirit is being rediscovered.’ His voice was tremulous with feeling. ‘No longer called “spirit”, but “energy”. Einstein and the quantum scientists have shown that matter and energy co-exist. That energy is in everything. Our true purpose in life –’ he paused ‘– is to awaken to our own energy, and to use it for the well-being of all.’
In the stillness we considered the importance of what he had just said, before he told Her Majesty, ‘You already know this, of course. Your special role is to inspire it in others. Which you do so well, holding up a mirror to them, inviting them to see how they match up to their own purest nature.’
The Queen reflected on this in silence.
‘You play the most vital part in an esoteric lineage reaching back for a millennia. Like your ancestors, you do so through symbols and ritual. Is it a coincidence that the language and culture of this small, windswept island has such a sweeping influence on the rest of the world?
There was a lengthy pause before Her Majesty finally spoke, somewhat wryly. ‘Thank you, Michael, for reminding me of my most awesome responsibilities.’
It was at this precise moment, a time when I was listening to the most profound words I’d ever heard spoken, that I felt a sudden and unaccountable urge. Getting up from under the Queen’s desk, I walked some distance towards a bookshelf, where I squatted and began to relieve myself.
And it wasn’t just a puddle.
As it happened, both Winston and Margaret were dozing next to the Queen’s desk. But Her Majesty and Michael both looked at me.
‘Oh, dear,’ said the Queen.
Michael chuckled. ‘A reminder to keep our feet on the ground.’
‘Hmm. He’s still very little and in training,’ said Her Majesty. ‘There’s no point trying to stop them mid-way through …’ She was far too polite to refer directly to what I was doing.
‘Quite so, Your Majesty,’ agreed Michael. Before adding, after a pause, ‘He has yet to become an alchemist.’
The Queen looked puzzled. ‘A corgi? Turning base metal into gold?’
‘A metaphor for personal transformation. The true purpose of alchemy is about reining in our baser instincts –’ he nodded towards me ‘– and realizing our highest potential.’
‘I never thought alchemy had anything to do with me. Or corgis,’ she replied. ‘It seems I was mistaken.’
Michael nodded. ‘It’s another universal archetype. The idea actually comes from an ancient Egyptian word for the black earth of the Nile. It was only from such darkness that life, in all its richness, could spring forth. In the East there is a similar concept – no mud, no lotus. Only through suffering is transcendence possible.’
‘So we should all strive to be alchemists?’ confirmed the Queen.
‘Indeed.’ Outside, great banks of grey clouds suddenly lifted, and for the first time that morning, a shaft of sunlight broke through. ‘We can give purpose to our dissatisfaction when we find a way to use it, when it gives rise to a flowering of exquisite beauty.’
They seemed to have come the full circle, back to Her Majesty’s feelings when Michael had first stepped into the room, except that now there were the stirrings of new possibilities.
‘Thank you, Michael, for your inspiration.’ The Queen smiled, rising from her chair. ‘You bring fresh hope.’
Opposite, Michael brought his palms to his heart and bowed briefly.
They turned to where I crouched, ashamed, beside my deposit.
‘I’d better summon help,’ said Her Majesty.
As they walked to the door, I joined the two other corgis following them. Winston shot me a consoling glance which made me feel only worse. Margaret ignored me completely.
‘Just one thing.’ The Queen paused for a moment in the reception room outside her office. ‘The transcendence you speak of, that’s public service, is it not?’
‘It may well take that form, Your Majesty. And you use your position to give comfort and inspiration to many. But it doesn’t have to be about the grand gesture or the trappings of state. It is my deep conviction –’ Michael seemed to be communicating with more than words alone ‘– that doing small acts with great love is our most precious gift, and not only for those we are helping. It is a wonderful paradox that when we help others, we, ourselves, are the first to benefit.’
To snap up your own personal copy of The Queen’s Corgi: On Purpose, go to:
USA Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01LPBOP2G
UK Kindle: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01LPBOP2G
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Canada Kindle: https://www.amazon.ca/dp/B01LPBOP2G
(The gorgeous featured image of shafts of light in the forest is courtesy of: https://www.theodysseyonline.com/the-most-beautiful-present)
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