A Fairy Story

By Terence and Dominic Frisby

There was once a country ruled by a powerful family. The head of this family was a woman, known as the Queen; and the Queen had a son, known as the Prince; and the family called themselves the Firm.

The Firm displayed their prince as a dashing heir to the throne, a Prince Charming, but he was a gentle and retiring man who talked to his plants. And one day he fell in love. She was a young noblewoman after his own heart: quiet, loyal, loved horses, and with virtues that might have made her a competent queen. And she returned the Prince’s love. But it was rumoured that she was not quite innocent, and the Firm was jealous of its reputation, lest a former lover sold her secrets to the pamphleteers and brought shame on their house.

So the Prince was ordered to one of the Firm’s most distant dominions. He had neither the conditioning nor the character to resist this royal command and so, broken-hearted, he went. And the young noblewoman, seeing that her love was futile, married another and disappeared from view.

While the Prince was abroad, the Firm began the search for a suitable mate for him: a virgin from the nobility, a beauty, a brood-mare to ensure the future of the house.

And they found her. She was nineteen, a blank sheet on which they could write, and tall, which pleased the Firm for they were short. She was fair and charmingly shy. She loved children, and seemed as pliable as the Prince. She had even failed all her O-levels. She was a flawless rose. The wedding, a majestic, international celebration, made the story of Cinderella look like social realism. The Princess was radiant and the Prince wore a sailor’s uniform. A billion people – more than ever before – switched on their sedation-boxes to watch the spectacle.

The new Princess took her duties seriously. She gave the Firm an heir, then a spare, both sound of wind and limb. And the world applauded. But, oh, how the Prince longed for his former love, so he went to her from time to time; and, oh, how his lack of love for the Princess hurt her. For she was a vulnerable girl with a well of affection to give. But nobody near her – except her children – wanted it.

Miserable, the Princess set about doing what she did best – she lent herself to those who were as helpless as she. And the people were glad to have some small part of her because she was a Star. She was shot at from the left, who called her Woodentop, and from the right, who called her interfering, but she ignored them and became the tactile Princess. She shook hands with an Untouchable and changed the world for that unfortunate caste. And the Friends of Dorothy loved her. She cuddled the damaged children; she hugged the old and the ill and the unwanted; she comforted the victims of war and held the stumps of the Amputees; she proclaimed her own disorders and the people felt less inadequate, for they felt she was one of them. And the Princess grew strong.

Meanwhile, the people saw that the Prince and the Princess did not love each other. Gossips tattled, presses rolled, airwaves crackled and the world gobbled it all. The snoops and the pamphleteers hounded the Princess across the world. Deep cracks in the face of the Firm appeared for all to gawp at, and both the Prince and the Princess hired Busy Bodies to fight their corners. The Prince’s affair became public, the Princess had liaisons with unsuitable partners, and there was much public sniping between her team and the Firm’s as each spouse tried to blame the other for the wrecking of the dream marriage. The Prince spoke of his love for another, but the people looked at the Princess’s dress. He was vanquished in the public brawl; a Star will always outshine its satellite. The Firm could keep the Prince and Princess together no longer, so let them divorce.

Relieved, the Prince rushed back to the arms of his true love, who, in turn, divorced her convenience-husband. And the Firm offered private terms to the Princess, which she publicised, for she was no longer pliable. And she was eventually pleased to accept a very different sum, which was agreed by all to be most generous. With her new-found single status she plunged with even more enthusiasm into her good works and earned enormous praise – but fulsome derision too. No matter, charities fought for the dazzling, still-shy smile and elegant persona that opened hearts and coffers. She was the money-raising phenomenon of the world; a symbol for women everywhere. But the snoops stalked and harassed with renewed vigour, for the people were greedy for her every breath.

Yet there were some who wished that the Prince and his true love, the Princess and her lovers, indeed the whole Firm and their lickspittles, would all just go away and leave the money in the till.

Then fate put in its bloody oar. The Princess was killed, suddenly, in a shocking and unnecessary accident, as she and her lover were fleeing one night from the snoops. Many said that these tattlehounds had killed her, some said it was the Firm, but surely it was the insatiable hunger of the multitudes, and of her for their love. It could be said that she died of love, the very quality she sought to give and receive, the love of millions who could not have enough of her. It could be said she died of market forces. And we all know that the market must prevail.

The world stopped for a moment in numbed horror. Then, as the full meaning sank in, the grieving started on a scale that no soothsayer could have foreseen. Some said it was just hysteria and sentimentality, so pens were sharpened and the clichés were dusted off. The Firm observed the formalities according to their traditions: they showed no emotion, went to ground and waited for the sorrow of the people to pass. All would be all right, that turbulent woman was gone, the old order would reassert itself.

But it didn’t.

The people had let out a sigh of anguish that was echoing round the world. Even the indifferent looked into themselves and were surprised to find pain, or guilt, or at least a sense of loss. And the absence of any cries of pain from the Firm was bitterly noted.

The Firm at last joined in the chorus but it was too late, though they tried. Once again the battle to gain the people’s favour was engaged, only now there was no Princess to fight her corner, so the people fought it for her. Their hearts were hardened against the Firm, possibly for good. The English rose had become England’s rose; the timid girl had turned into a diffident colossus that had bestridden this narrow world while it had not even noticed.

In this struggle between power and love the Princess was but one of five victims. The affection of the people now centred on the Princess’s sons. Yes, they were indeed victims, although they owed their very lives to the misalliance. And then there was the Prince and his love. Their lives had been wrecked and they could never now inherit the crown as a couple, but nobody cared. The two boys asked their father, ‘Daddy, why did the whole world love Mummy and you didn’t?’ How could he explain? ‘Erm, boys, you see,’ he said, ‘The whole world didn’t have to sleep with her.’ The people came in their multitudes to say goodbye to their Princess. Two billion people – more than ever before – switched on their sedation-boxes and watched and wept as she was carried through the streets. And the Princess’ brother – a man of temporarily-inflated consequence – stood in the pulpit in the greatest temple in the land and poured scorn on the Firm in revenge for his wronged sister. And the country held its breath as the Firm sat still and stony-faced before him. It seemed like one of those moments in history depicted by the Great Playwright when one mighty family challenges another for control of the country.

Then, from outside the temple, came a noise like the patter of many running feet. It swept across the parks, down the avenues, round the square outside and was irresistible. It was the sound of growing applause. And it surged through the open doors of the temple, was taken up by the congregation and engulfed the nave. And the Great and the Good joined in enthusiastically. The people had spoken.

And the applause turned into a cheer which became a roar which reverberated across the land. It was the sound of protest against a deeply felt wrong. This earthquake of emotion which had possessed the people was meant to swallow up the Firm and all its works, leaving justice and equality and liberty and love in command in our country. But it didn’t. It was just a noise, and soon it died away and all was eventually forgotten. The people had spoken, but they had not acted.