It’s impossible to imagine the Queen “moaning about a leaking pen”, as Charles III did recently, says Tomiwa Owolade in The New Statesman. But it’s telling that so many people reacted with sympathy to the King’s mishap. It’s a reminder that, “in terms of culture and character”, Britons have a strong emotional streak. “We love melodrama and the tabloid press.” Charles Dickens dreamt up “effervescent characters” and read out his novels in public “with the verve of a matinée idol”. Georgian Britain, out of which came the industrial revolution and Empire, was full of political and religious riots. “Winston Churchill cried often and many of his speeches were mawkish.” One of the most iconic images of English football is of Paul Gascoigne bursting into tears after being booked during the 1990 World Cup semi-final.
Similarly, Britain’s love of eccentrics upends the stereotype of “oppressive class hierarchy”. It is why, for many centuries, the UK has been one of “the leading havens in the world” for those who defy the status quo. From the Huguenots to Voltaire and Émile Zola, Britain has frequently welcomed exiled French dissidents, and radical philosophers like Karl Marx have made their homes here too. We loved the Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi so much “we named a biscuit after him”. Tolerance and a sense of humour go hand in hand; that’s why the pen incident was simply laughed off. “A free society needs to be able to laugh at itself.”