God Save the Queen: The Acts and Days of Elizabeth II Windsor by Ivan Canu (Centauria) is the first, maybe only, picture book dedicated to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, pop icon, conservative symbol and image of Western culture’s movements and changes. While Canu is known for his nuanced interpretations of historical figures, the subject of the Queen comes as a bit of a surprise.
She married her lover, Philip—opening Westminster Abbey to television for the first time in history—and started her reign with Churchill as Prime Minister. She has been spectator of the fastest century ever, slowly changing her life: the Swinging ’60s of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, the punk culture, glam, the bloody war for independence in Ireland, the terrorism in the ’70s, the miners’ strikes during Thatcher’s long government, the economic crisis and the diminution of the British influence in international affairs.
I asked Canu to clue us in on his affection for Her Majesty.
Your book is in Italian, for Italians (at the moment). What is the connection?
Her family has become a public show, with their affairs, divorces, human fragilities, putting in risk the existence of the monarchy itself. And always Elizabeth found the solution, in her resistance, her style, her “inhuman” tolerance, and always reanimating the suffering institution, incredibly more appreciated, adumbrated, loved not only in England, but incredibly worldwide. The book tells her story, personal and public, coming inside the palace, the institutions, the politics and going around the world where she lived and still lives, with a language mixing words and images, ironic, brilliant, surprising.
Do your pictures of, if I may, Queen Liz II, as pop-culture figure, have deeper significance than simply having fun with who she is?
One thing I realized, reading books, biographies, magazines and watching documentaries and various materials, is that Elizabeth II didn’t follow any trends during her long life. Many cultural movements raised, grown and ended in music, in figurative and abstract arts, in the costume, inside the UK and outside. Elizabeth is a curious person, always well informed, but she is also shy, introverted or reserved and she doesn’t like the changes, the movements in her routine. Looking at her pictures, portraits, dresses, public messages and talks, she looks like nothing can move her image from a specific standard. She see herself like someone who needs a specific style, a peculiar image which reflects her personality behind her public rule. She truly believe in her rule as Queen and as Servant of British People.
So, I thought at last she didn’t live like common people—or like her sister Margaret did—the great changes during the years. Even revolutions passed around her, quite never touching Elizabeth and her image. So, if it’s true, she said: “I cannot dress in beige, because no one could recognize me.” I realized to dress her over her color palette, more like Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, who passes through the ages, never old, unforgettable, original, a superior idea of a person, more than a living character. Elizabeth in my imagination is the multiple, contradictory, fascinating, rock, punk, pop icon of a century.
Have you sent a copy to Her Royal Highness?
Yes, it’s something definitely easy to do: The Queen receives letters, emails, greetings and many requests. All are filtered by the Buckingham Palace staff. As Chief of State, she can’t receive gifts, but a book is considered a different category … if something catches [her staff’s] attention, [it] can be considered finally by the Queen and the answer could be signed by her. In my case, the answer arrived quickly, as a surprise, with kind words from the communication manager. Very appreciated.