Princess Anne: a sassy, smart royal... or is that just the TV version? | Rebecca Nicholson

Again and again, she puts her sorry siblings to shame

The presence of Princess Anne at the Nato summit has proved to be a choose your own adventure in the style of the Queen’s “EU flag” hat. Standing with the group of world leaders caught chortling along to Justin Trudeau as he smack-talked President Trump, Anne had her first viral moment of the week. The second came when the Queen, while greeting Trump, gestured to her daughter, who then shrugged and pointed behind her. She was, as the internet will have it, a mood.

It doesn’t matter that Anne was not heard saying anything about Trump, or that she was not snubbing him, as quickly became clear. Just as people grasped for 12 yellow stars in five feathery flowers on a hat, so we grasped for regal disdain in the direction of the US president. Whether it existed or not was irrelevant, if we could believe that it might be the case for just long enough to share it.

A devoted royalist friend of mine explained that Anne was “the insider’s royal”. “If you know, you know,” he said, knowingly. Certainly, the evidence suggests that if the royal family were, for some reason, to need to put forward an alternative to those conducting themselves, say, in a manner unbecoming, for whom being too honourable is a terrible burden, then Anne is the one to do it. Low key, hard working, she refused titles for her children, which makes her seem eminently sensible. On being ordered out of the car at gunpoint during a violent attempted kidnapping in 1974, she infamously replied: “Not bloody likely.” Her main interest is horses, which is better than 17-year-old girls.

There is, too, a matter of timing. The Crown continues to inform the national conversation, for better or worse, evoking the humanity of the royals at a time when belief that such a thing exists is in shorter supply. It bleeds into what we believe to be true about the royal family, regardless of whether it is or not. The heir to the throne emerges as a sympathetic figure; a New Yorker interview with the actor who plays him, Josh O’Connor, was headlined “Can The Crown make us crush on Prince Charles?” I shuddered.

It works even more to Anne’s favour that fictional Anne is the best character in it. Erin Doherty plays her with eyebrow-raising sass, as the kind of woman who tells her maudlin brother to “chin up, nobody likes a misery guts” as she listens to records in bare feet. If Anne is dragged out as window dressing for this year’s Queen’s speech, which should have plenty of dramatic twists, then surely even Jeremy Corbyn will be setting a reminder.

Jonathan Van Ness: pretty peachy for a historic Cosmo cover

Jonathan Van Ness
Jonathan Van Ness: the history man. Photograph: Brian J Ritchie/Hotsauce/REX/Shutterstock

Jonathan Van Ness, AKA Jesus in knee-high boots, is the runaway star of the makeover show Queer Eye. The non-binary hair stylist turned TV and podcast host, who prefers he/him pronouns, has become the first non-female cover star of Cosmopolitan UK since Boy George in 1984. “[Cosmopolitan] showing more variations of beauty for young LGBTQ+ people YAS QUEEN,” he tweeted, along with the cover, which showed him dressed in a peach ballgown and trainers. “Yep. We did it. You’re totally welcome,” read the coverline.

Van Ness has had quite a year. He published his memoir, Over the Top, in September, and it became a bestseller in the US. Anyone expecting the exuberance of his on-screen persona, which first appeared in his outstanding and much-missed recap show Gay of Thrones (on occasion, it was better than the series itself), was presented with a balanced and nuanced portrait of a human being who has experienced considerable pain in his life: addiction, disordered eating, homophobia and an HIV diagnosis at the age of 25. The New York Times profiled him when the book came out and, as he told the interviewer about the trauma of being a sexual assault survivor, a stranger came over to tell him that she loved him on TV.

Over the past few months, he has publicly navigated being both a character and himself. He is working to destigmatise what it means to live with HIV. He loudly fights for equal rights. And he does so while being honest about his limitations. “Henny, I don’t know how to fix the world,” he told Cosmopolitan. But making history with a magazine cover like this starts to fix it, in its own small way.

Billie Eilish: they’re a popular beat combo…

Billie Eilish
Billie Eilish: so what if there are gaps in her musical knowledge? Photograph: Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

Billie Eilish is 17, and was born in 2001, a notion that is somehow more ageing than the fact that her latest single is called “xanny” and is about how boring the drug Xanax makes people at parties.

So it is little surprise that she doesn’t know who Van Halen is. In an interview from November that reared its head online last week, for reasons that belong in the time-space disruption of social media, she was asked by Jimmy Kimmel to name “a Van Halen”. “Who?” she replied. (Huey Lewis and Run DMC also had her stumped.)

Oddly, this appears to have stoked the kind of online debate where everyone is on the same side, which is to say that people are merrily defending Eilish’s right to not know about a hard rock band that formed several decades before she was born, against almost no apparent opposition to that point of view. Even US presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren was roped in, when Jimmy Fallon asked her if she knew of Van Halen. “Yes, but you don’t have to. Let’s ease up on Billie,” the senator replied.

Effectively, this non-fuss has turned us all into angsty, Eilish-esque teenagers, rolling our eyes, drawling: “Seriously, Dad, who cares?”

• Rebecca Nicholson is an Observer columnist


Rebecca Nicholson

The GuardianTramp

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