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Is this the end of US fascination with the Crown?

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Image source, YUKI IWAMURA

For those fascinated by America’s relationship with the monarchy, few weeks in history could compare with this one.

The American flag has been lowered to half-staff, flowers and tributes have been left outside the British Embassy, and news channels have carried wall-to-wall coverage of the death of a monarch few Americans have ever met: Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

“I frequently refer to the British royal family as the longest-running reality show on the planet. It’s been a thousand years of marriages, divorces, beheadings, affairs,” said Kristen Meinzer, co-host of Newsweek’s The Royal Report podcast.

“We kicked them out of here – and proudly so – but like a lot of people, we break up but sometimes we still want to keep an eye on what they’re up to.”

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So why is it that despite launching an entire revolution to cast off British rule, some Americans still nurse an enduring fascination with the Crown? Is it purely down to a love of pomp and a weakness for the British accent?

Americans mourn death of Queen Elizabeth

Image source, Getty, Alexi Rosenfeld

Definitely not, said Gayle Stever, a psychologist who specialises in researching celebrities and their fandoms. She argued that because Her Majesty the Queen lived every high and low of her 70-year reign in the public eye, people around the world developed a genuine sense of connection to her that can be just as strong as any other relationship.

“It’s completely normal and natural to grieve the loss of someone – even someone you’ve never met – if they were somebody you came to know,” she said. “For many people she provided a sense of comfort and stability that we have now lost because she’s gone.”

While certainly not all Americans are obsessed with the Queen and country, for the most ardent royal watchers, the feeling ran very deep.

For the last week, Donna Werner has been reluctant to answer her phone. Instead, at her Connecticut home thousands of miles away from London, she quietly grieved.

A self-described “superfan” of the Queen and the royal family, Ms Werner, 70, estimated that she’s visited the UK a hundred times in nearly 40 years, often to celebrate milestones in the monarchy.

She was pregnant with her son when she first slept outside Westminster Abbey on the eve of Prince Andrew and Sarah Ferguson’s wedding. And, despite having health issues of her own, she was among the sea of well-wishers who celebrated the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee last June.

Donna Werner smiles at the Queen's 70th Jubilee

Image source, Chris Jackson, Getty

But as she watched the Queen’s coffin make its final procession through the streets of Scotland, Ms Werner told BBC News the monarch’s death has left her feeling “sad and empty.”

“Over here, my friends think I’m crazy. But I don’t care,” she said with a self-aware laugh.

“She was like a mother and a rock star all rolled into one.”

That sense of magic and majesty still lingers for some Americans who met the Queen in person. It’s been more than 15 years since Lee Cohen, a former US congressional adviser, had a brief encounter with Elizabeth II, but his voice still shakes with excitement.

Despite being given strict instructions not to bow or touch the Queen during her 2006 state visit, Mr Cohen said he was so nervous he automatically stuck out his hand – and was overwhelmed when she promptly shook it.

Lee Cohen meets the Queen

Image source, Lee Cohen

“I think I was weak-kneed and tongue tied, but I managed to squeak out ‘Your Majesty, it’s a great honour to meet you.’ I will take those memories to my grave,” he said.

“[Americans] have this irresistible fascination because we have Hollywood glamour, we have the bluster of being American, but what we lack is the dignity and the majesty that comes with [a] monarch.”

The question now is whether King Charles will be viewed with the same lens. As well as fond personal reflections, the Queen’s passing is driving debates over the legacy of colonialism and the British Empire within North America and the world at large. He will have to reckon with that legacy – and with an approval rating that sits lower than his mother’s did.

While the Queen enjoyed overwhelming approval in the US – nearly 70% of Americans said they viewed her favourably – a 2021 YouGov poll found views of her eldest son and heir were dim. Nearly half of Americans (47%) said they held an unfavourable view of Prince Charles, as he was then. In a more recent survey by Leger, a majority – about 61% of Americans – said they were indifferent that he was now king.

Ms Meinzer, the podcaster, attributed King Charles’ unpopularity to disapproval of how the royal family responded to the death of his first wife, Princess Diana. Like many Americans, Ms Meinzer said she initially fell in love with the fairy tale of a princess who was plucked from obscurity, destined to be Queen.

As that fairy tale unravelled, Ms Meinzer said her interest in the royals developed a critical lens that perhaps only an outsider can have. She now worries the royal family could be repeating the same missteps with Prince Harry and Meghan.

A 2018 photo of Americans watching the Royal Wedding

Image source, KYLE GRILLOT, Getty

“I think a lot of Americans felt and still feel very protective of Meghan and Harry, we feel like that is our princess,” she said. “Here’s somebody who looks a little bit more like the Commonwealth – you had all these great things in one package, and you just blew it. And why? Because you never complain, never explain?”

Amanda Matta, an American royal watcher with a cult following on TikTok and Instagram, agreed that many American fans of the royal family soured after Meghan and Harry took a step back from royal duties.

“It did end up making people stop to think about the institution, probably more than they want us to,” she said. “For me, I realised, we can think critically, not only about what the royals have done in the past, but what they are continuing to do now, and in the future.”

Though she understands the monarchy traditionally maintains neutrality and stays above the political fray, Ms Meinzer said she was interested to see if this new generation will take a more public stance to address issues like racism and colonialism.

“I think people are going to continue to be fascinated with the Royal Family,” she said. “King Charles and Prince William have very big shoes to fill – no one will ever be the Queen again.”

“But maybe they can weave a new set of shoes that are a little bit more modern.”

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