WELCOME TO FEBRUARY

I must have blinked because here we are in February. This is good news in my opinion as it means the days are lengthening and we are slowly getting closer to my favorite seasons of spring and summer.

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THE ROYAL RIFT

The British and American media have been full of news about Prince Harry and Meghan Markle (aka the Duke and Duchess of Sussex). In case you have been living in a cave, this has centered around last week’s publication of Harry’s memoir Spare and the recent Netflix series about the couple.

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A NORTH CAROLINA NEW YEAR

My husband says I have two speeds: go as fast as possible for as long as possible – just like the “Energizer Bunny”, he says – or a complete and total stop.

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LIGHTING UP THE WORLD THIS HOLIDAY SEASON 

While the holiday season is a time of celebrations with family and friends, my regular readers will know that winter is not my favorite time of year.  This is partly because of my love of summer and all that it entails, but the primary reason is because of the reduced amount of daylight. So it is no surprise that the holiday season is a time for bringing light to the darkness – literally and symbolically. Many cultures around the world have winter festivals that are in fact celebrations of light.

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THE HISTORY OF BREAKFAST TIME

I am not a big breakfast person, preferring to ease into the day sustained by black coffee and a glass of water. I was curious how breakfast developed as one of our three square meals a day, so I decided to do a bit of reading on the subject.

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A WINTER TRIP TO MINNESOTA

I love exploring new places in the USA. After living through Covid, like many Americans I have the “travel bug” again. I have been to perhaps half the US states, but I am now developing a desire to visit all the states and to seize travel opportunities whenever I can.

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KING CHARLES III’S PLACE IN HISTORY

Upon the death of the longest-reigning monarch in British history on September 8, 2022, Charles who was the Prince of Wales and the heir to the throne, became King Charles III. He is the first king to be called Charles since the seventeenth century, and to say that King Charles I and II had mixed success is a real understatement. In fact, this might be the reason that it took a few centuries until the name was once again given to the heir to the throne by the late Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, Prince Philip.

Looking back at English royal history, Charles I ascended to the throne in 1625 and slowly but surely alienated his subjects. In the first year of his reign, Charles offended his Protestant subjects by marrying Henrietta Maria, a Catholic French princess. He later responded to political opposition to his rule by dissolving Parliament on several occasions and in 1629 decided to rule entirely without Parliament. In 1642, the bitter struggle between King and Parliament for supremacy led to the outbreak of the first English civil war. The Parliamentarians, led by Oliver Cromwell, fought the Royalists in many bloody battles.  By 1648, King Charles I surrendered, was convicted of treason and then beheaded early the next year. Many Americans do not know that the English monarchy was abolished and for a period of about ten years, there was a Republic known as the English Commonwealth.

However, the English people soon became sick of the restrictions Cromwell placed on them. He banned all celebrations, feasting, football, the theatre, dancing, and finally Christmas festivities. People were instructed to wear very plain clothes, with women in particular required to wear modest dresses, linen caps or black hoods.  Make up was outlawed. Many people hated this ‘no fun’ regime especially after Oliver Cromwell died in 1658 when his son Richard took over.  Richard’s rule did not last long, and by the following year he had fled to France and the monarchy was restored. Oliver Cromwell was posthumously convicted of treason, and his body was disinterred from its tomb in Westminster Abbey and hanged from the gallows in London.  King Charles II, the son of Charles I, returned to London on his 30th birthday and was crowned in in 1660. He quickly restored all the fun activities that had been banned under Cromwell and personally indulged in plenty of earthly pleasures.  He reigned for 25 years but his wife, the Portuguese Catherine of Braganza was unable to bear him children and suffered many miscarriages. However, the King had an extensive number of mistresses and left at least 14 illegitimate children.

Turning back to the present day, the coronation of King Charles III will take place on May 6, 2023 at Westminster Abbey in London.  Charles and his wife, Camilla, the Queen Consort, will be crowned in the traditional ceremony, which the palace said “will reflect the monarch’s role today and look towards the future.”  At 73 years of age, King Charles III has had 70 years to prepare for his new role and the general consensus seems to be that his is doing OK so far. Things are already changing, from the symbolic phasing out of the image of Queen Elizabeth II from currency, stamps, post (mail) boxes to the change of the national anthem from God Save the Queen to God Save the King. Most royal watchers agree that the new King will ‘slim down’ the monarchy.

King Charles is expected to continue to ostracize his brother Prince Andrew and give greater recognition to his other two siblings, Princess Anne and Prince Edward. Of course, his eldest son William has become the new heir to the throne and Prince of Wales with his wife Catherine becoming the Princess of Wales, just as William’s mother Diana was before her tragic death. 

As for his youngest son, the King has publicly declared his love for Harry and Meghan as they continue to build their lives in the USA, but clearly there are tensions there. How long this civility will last remains to be seen as Prince Harry has already sparked widespread debate over his choice to name his upcoming memoir ‘Spare’ – a reference to the British saying that a monarch’s key duty is to secure the future of the monarchy by producing “an heir and a spare.” It is reported that the King is concerned about the tone, conflicting memories, and revelations in this book which will be launched in January 2023.  But that is for a future column.

There is more information at www.history.com and www.bbc.com

I say goodbye this week with an insightful quote from King Charles III himself.  “As human beings, we suffer from an innate tendency to judge people too quickly and to pronounce them failures or heroes without due consideration”

God Bless America and God Save The King!

– ENDS –

Lesley grew up in London, England and made Georgia her home in 2009.  She can be contacted at lesley@lesleyfrancispr.com  or via her PR and marketing agency at www.lesleyfrancispr.com

POLITICAL LEADERS – NOW AND THEN

With the mid-term elections fast approaching, everyone here in the USA is focused on our political leadership. Meanwhile, back in the land of my birth, the UK’s Prime Minister, Liz Truss, resigned after only 45 days in office. During her short time as the country’s political leader, she served under two monarchs, appointed two different Chancellors and two Home Secretaries, and attended the UN general assembly in New York. Her big mistake was to quickly introduce a very aggressive budget, cutting taxes and increasing borrowing against a background of inflation at a 40-year high and rising recession risks.  The markets reacted dramatically, and the British pound fell to its lowest ever level against the American dollar. It was a big gamble at the wrong moment and led to her swift downfall with a new Prime Minister soon appointed. Rishi Sunak, former Treasury chief, was asked by King Charles III to form a government, as is the British tradition. He will be the third Prime Minister this year, the first British leader of color and needs to stabilize the UK after a time of economic and political turbulence.

While this was going on, I happened to be thinking about British leadership during the dark days of World War II. I have long been a fan of the author Erik Larson and a friend recently lent me a copy of his 2020 book, ‘The Splendid and the Vile’. Larson was inspired to write this when he moved to Manhattan a few years ago and realized how different the experience of 9/11 had been for New Yorkers than for those of us who watched the news reports from afar. This made him consider anew how different WWII must have been for the British than for most Americans.

My grandparents fought in the Second World War, and I was raised on reports of when Britain stood alone against Hitler and the rise of Nazism before the USA joined the war in December 1941 after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. This was two years and three months after England declared war on Germany and eighteen months after France surrendered to the Nazis. It was a long and hard war for the British and Larson’s book focuses on Churchill’s first year as Prime Minister from May 1940 to May 1941. Churchill is revered in the UK as a brilliant and brave wartime leader. Most Brits, like me, believe it is unlikely the British would have held out against the Nazis without Churchill and his leadership. The decisions he made were crucial and, combined with his talent for inspiring and patriotic speeches broadcast by radio across the country, made all the difference to world history.

The challenges Great Britain faced under Churchill were intense and the courage and stoicism he inspired were remarkable. Soon after becoming Prime Minister, the Dunkirk evacuation of the British and Allied troops from this French seaport saved vital numbers of soldiers to fight another day. Many patriotic individuals took their small fishing boats across the English Channel to Dunkirk to join the Royal Navy vessels to rescue as many troops as they could fit onto their boats. Only a few weeks later, the Nazis occupied the British Channel Islands, located between England and France.  

Later that summer, Hitler announced ‘Operation Sea Lion’ to invade Great Britain. First, he ordered the German air force, the Luftwaffe, to establish dominance of the sky but he underestimated the Royal Air Force. Churchill had foreseen the importance of building up military airplanes and training pilots as well as developing an excellent early warning radar system. Having said that, the bravery of the young men who fought the might of the German pilots saved the day. Larson makes the point that they knew that the future of democracy depended on them, and they literally fought for and with their lives.  Churchill summed it up with his memorable speech, “Never was so much owed by so many to so few”. Then came the Blitz – the wholesale bombing of London and other major cities throughout the country by the Nazis. By that time, Hitler had decided to invade Russia in the east and put his invasion of Britain on hold. 

During this terrible year, Churchill was repeatedly in touch with President Roosevelt who was not unsympathetic to Britain’s situation. However, at that time and after the losses of so many American soldiers in World War I, most US citizens wanted to remain neutral. That changed, of course, after the attack on December 7, 1941, and the rest as they say, is history.

Larson is a brilliant author who makes history read like fiction and his research is extensive. He has a real talent for combining personal details and the political landscape to paint a full picture of what it must have been like for Churchill and that generation before me who lived through those dark days. I highly recommend Larson’s book, and there is more information at www.history.com and www.bbc.com

I say goodbye this week with a wise quote from Winston Churchill, in 1940 at the funeral for Neville Chamberlain, his predecessor as Prime Minister: “It is not given to human beings – happily for them, for otherwise life would be intolerable – to foresee or to predict to any large extent the unfolding course of events.”

God Bless America and Great Britain!

– ENDS –

Lesley grew up in London, England and made Georgia her home in 2009.  She can be contacted at lesley@lesleyfrancispr.com  or via her PR and marketing agency at www.lesleyfrancispr.com

DO YOU THINK HE’S STILL SEXY? AN EVENING WITH ROD STEWART

A few years ago, my husband and I decided that we should try to see some of the ageing rock stars of our youth while, putting it tactfully, we still could. In other words, before it was too late for either them or us! We made a good start by seeing The Rolling Stones in both Paris and Jacksonville, and my husband bought me a 2019 Christmas gift of tickets for a concert by Rod Stewart and opening act Cheap Trick for the summer of 2020. 

Then of course the pandemic hit, creating a two-year delay! In recent months we have enjoyed concerts by The Eagles and Foreigner in Savannah and, almost three years after buying the tickets, we travelled to Atlanta to see the ageing baby boomer Rod Stewart strutting his stuff!

Rod Stewart was born in January 1945 and although his father was Scottish and his elder four siblings were born in Scotland, by the time Rod arrived they had moved to England where his mother was born and raised. Many people think he is Scottish due to his extensive wearing of plaid (which the British call tartan) and his love of the Scottish football (soccer) team Glasgow Celtic. He also supports Manchester United, the English team. He compares his love of this British national sport to his feelings for girlfriend of two years, the Swedish actress Britt Ekland, immortalized in  his 1977 mega-hit You’re In My Heart: “You’re in my heart, you’re in my soul, you’ll be my breath should I grow old; You are my lover, you’re my best friend.  You’re in my soul.”  Now that is a real soccer fan!

It is fair to say that Rod Stewart was more faithful to football in his earlier years than to the women in his life.  Extensive press coverage of his infidelities over the decades report that Rod’s “type” appears to be tall, attractive, blonde, younger women. After breaking up with Ekland, he married actress and model Alana Hamilton, the former wife of actor George Hamilton, from 1979 to 1984. He had two children with her, Kimberley and Sean, and then after extensively and very publicly playing the field, he went on to marry New Zealand model Rachel Hunter in 1990, and had two more children, Renee and Liam.  Hunter was 21 and Rod was 45 at the time of their wedding and shockingly she left him in 1999, finally divorcing in 2006. He soon met English model Penny Lancaster and they have two sons together, Aiden and Alastair. The two married in 2007 and in spite of a 26-year-old age gap appear to still be happy together. Rod Stewart has a total of eight kids including a daughter with girlfriend Susannah Boffey in 1963 before he became famous, and another daughter, Ruby in 1987, while Rod was dating American model Kelly Emberg.

In addition to his womanizing, Rod Stewart somehow found the time to build his music career during the 1960s and, after singing with the Jeff Beck Group, he released his first solo album in 1969. He was one of the most popular British rock stars of the 1970s and has enjoyed decades of fame, fortune and is a Grammy Award winner. His distinctive raspy voice has been heard in rock and roll, folk music, ballads and frothy pop and disco music. He has maintained his mischievous “working class lad” persona into his seventies, and demonstrated a lot of energy at the Alpharetta Amphitheatre, although he did rely fairly heavily on his outstanding backing singers and band members. In spite of his own advancing years he cheerfully performed his 1971 mega-hit “Maggie May”, the story of a young man trying to tear himself away from a consuming romance with a more mature woman. Rod Stewart combined a solo career with singing in the band The Faces, but this broke up in 1975 when band member Ronnie Wood famously went on to join the Rolling Stones. By 1979, Rod’s sound was pure disco with “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?”, a hit on both sides of the Atlantic.

Rod’s career, like his love life, has had its ups and downs, and his ability to reach the high notes was permanently impaired when he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 2000. He had to learn to sing again and became active in raising funds for charities to find cures for all types of cancer, especially those affecting children. Just before the pandemic, Rod Stewart revealed that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2017 but had received the “all-clear”.

Rod Stewart was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2007 new year list for services to music. Also, the late Queen Elizabeth II knighted him in her 2016 Birthday Honors List for his services to charity and music. With mansions in California and Essex, England, Rod collects luxury cars and model railways and is estimated to be the 12th wealthiest person in the British music industry.  There is a lot more information at www.biography.com

I say goodbye this week with a quote from Hot Rod Stewart himself, one that is very appropriate in these challenging times: “Optimism is my best defense!”.

God Bless America and British rock stars!

– ENDS –

Lesley grew up in London, England and made Georgia her home in 2009.  She can be contacted at lesley@lesleyfrancispr.com  or via her PR and marketing agency at www.lesleyfrancispr.com

INTRODUCING THE UK’S NEW PRIME MINISTER – LIZ TRUSS

Back in the land of my birth there is an old expression about noticing that you’re getting old when police officers start to look younger.  This resonated with me recently as I realized that the UK’s new Prime Minister is almost a decade younger than me!  Of course, here in the USA I don’t have those kind of worries since our President will be 80 years old this November.

I admit to being rather pleased when, for the third time in history, a woman became Prime Minister in the UK, having won the recent leadership contest to become Leader of the Conservative Party.  Liz Truss follows in the footsteps of Margaret Thatcher who was Prime Minister from 1979-1990 and Theresa May from 2016-2019. In the UK there is no general election among citizens to decide who the next Prime Minister will be, as we do here to elect the President of the USA.  That is because the UK has a parliamentary democracy – a form of government in which the party (or a coalition of parties) with the largest representation in the parliament (similar to the House of Representatives) forms the government, with that party’s leader becoming Prime Minister.  So, in simplistic terms, the Members of Parliament (MPs) decide among themselves who will lead them.   If the electorate doesn’t like the Prime Minister, they simply vote that party out at the next general election.

Liz Truss, at the age of 47, replaced Boris Johnson as the UK’s leader of the Conservative party (which is closest to the Republican party here).  It is fitting that another inspirational female leader, Queen Elizabeth II, did her duty until the end by formally inviting the incoming Prime Minister to form a new Government just two days before she passed away.  This ceremony and tradition were so important to the late Queen that Liz Truss flew to the royal residence of Balmoral in Scotland as the Queen was not well enough to travel back to London, the traditional meeting place. Here is an amazing reminder of the Queen’s long reign: Liz Truss, her fifteenth Prime Minister, was born in 1975 and her first Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, was born over 100 years earlier in 1874!  It was also very poignant that one of Ms Truss’ first duties as Prime Minister was, on September 19, to represent the British government by reading a bible passage at the Queen’s funeral in Westminster Abbey.

So what is the story behind the UK’s new ‘Prime Minister, First Lord of Treasury, Minister for the Civil Service, and Minister for the Union’?  Mary Elizabeth Truss was born in Oxford in the South of England, raised in Scotland and then later Yorkshire in the North of England.  Her mother was a nurse and teacher and her father a Professor of Mathematics.   She attended the local comprehensive schools (what Americans call public schools), studied in Canada for a year and then went to England’s top-tier Oxford University.  She started her career as an economist and accountant and then joined the Conservative party.  She met her husband, Hugh O’Leary, in 1997 and they married in 2000.  They have two teenage daughters. 

Her political life began when she was elected as a local councilor in London’s Greenwich in 2006, and then elected as an MP (a “Member of Parliament, which is the UK equivalent of a member of the US House of Representatives) for Southwest Norfolk in 2010. She was one of the first MPs of her “intake year” to enter Government just two years later and rose rapidly up the ranks, serving as Foreign Secretary before her election as Prime Minister.  She is a huge fan of the USA and is committed to cutting taxes, enforcing law and order and cracking down on illegal immigration.  She was very much elected on her own merits, achievements, and policies, and not because of the fact she is female.  As the third female Prime Minister, I think I can safely say the UK has largely moved on from gender-based politics.

Liz Truss faces some pretty tough challenges entering office since Britain’s economy is stagnant, inflation is over 10% and the price of energy is predicted to rise by a massive 80% from a year ago.  The new Prime Minister is committed to cut energy prices and has already made controversial decisions to cut income taxes and property taxes for both citizens and businesses.  She believes that by cutting taxes, her government is “incentivizing businesses to invest and also helping ordinary people….”.  After an interview with the UK’s Guardian newspaper, they reported that “The prime minister embraced a Reagan-style ‘trickle-down’ approach to the economy throughout the Conservative leadership contest, arguing it was wrong to view all economic policy through the ‘lens of redistribution’”.  There is more information at www.elizabethtruss.com and www.bbc.com.

I say goodbye this week with a quote from the new Prime Minister herself: “Britain and the US remain the Wild West for ideas, where pioneers push each other towards ever greater heights in the white heat of free enterprise. No one knows their place, no one fears failure and no one is ashamed of success!”

God Bless America, and go Liz Truss!

– ENDS –

Lesley grew up in London, England and made Georgia her home in 2009.  She can be contacted at lesley@lesleyfrancispr.com  or via her PR and marketing agency at www.lesleyfrancispr.com.