Royals use Olympics to shape image

Remarkable moments from the opening ceremony.
Remarkable moments from the opening ceremony.
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Greg Couch

Greg Couch has been a national columnist at AOL Fanhouse and The Sporting News and an award-winning columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times. He was featured twice in "Best American Sports Writing" and was recognized by the US Tennis Writers Association for best column writing and match coverage. He covers tennis on his personal blog. Follow him on Twitter.



You saw the queen walk off with James Bond and jump out of a helicopter into the Olympic stadium. After a late night, she was at the swimming event Saturday morning.

And here’s a little scoop for you: On Sunday morning, the queen plans to be at the women’s bicycle road racing event giving a break-dancing exhibition. I’m pretty sure.


The Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, certainly turned heads at the London Games.

What in the world is happening here? For the past 20, 30 years, the queen has been a museum piece. Now, she’s a Bond girl. So it’s Halle Berry, Ursula Andress, Denise Richards and the Queen of England.

These Olympics were supposed to be about the swagger and speed of Usain Bolt, the rivalry between Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte. Ha! The star of the London Olympics so far has been ... the queen.

You saw the opening ceremony. “Hmm mmm,’’ James Bond says, clearing his throat. Then the queen turns around from her desk: “Good evening, Mr. Bond.’’

“Good evening, your majesty,’’ he says.

And it really was the queen, too. Not just some actress imitating her, as you thought, as I thought, as all of England thought at first. “When she turned around,’’ a female security guard at the Stratford underground station told me, “I started saying, 'No wait. That’s ... really ... HER.'’’

It was. It was the first time the queen had done something like that. England loved it.

Eventually, the queen and Bond jumped out of helicopter (an actress ... probably). So what if she looked exhausted by the end of the night. She is over 1,400 years old, like all the buildings around here.

And it’s not just the queen. It is all of the royals, actually. She’s just the one who stands out because they had to dust her off first. But it’s almost as if all the royals are trying to be cool after what seems like centuries of hiding behind Buckingham Palace. It’s working, too. They are already everywhere at the games, and planning to keep it up.

There is something telling about the beach volleyball venue being placed right next to the palace. It’s a good bet Prince Harry had something to do with that.

Harry, who — for noble reasons, I’m sure — spent some time during the Olympic buildup in Rio with Brazil’s women beach volleyball players, has front-row seats in the sand.

The Daily Telegraph wrote there are “no prizes for guessing who bagged a ticket to the beach volleyball.’’

olympic royals


Even royal family members enjoy competing in the Olympics.

The Mirror wrote, “The cheeky Royal will get an eyeful of serves, spikes, digs, and erm, sandy bums, as he watches scantily-clad athletes at the Horse Guards Parade next Wednesday.’’

For noble reasons.

Harry, also during the Olympic buildup, went to visit Bolt and “raced’’ him. Harry cheated to win, and they mugged for cameras together. William and Kate plan to go to the men’s 100-meter final, tennis, swimming, gymnastics, men’s diving, sailing, soccer, field hockey and equestrian, where they can see their cousin, Zara Phillips, compete.

It’s clear that there is a big-time effort here to change the royal image. They are relying more and more on Kate, William, Harry ... and the Olympics.

Kate is a natural to build a PR effort around, and didn’t need propping up to be cool. William had already been known to show up in regular clubs.

They represent the next era of royals. But the shocking thing has been the queen, who always remained stiff and formal. Even about 20 years ago, I visited England, and the queen was the cover story of a Readers Digest here entitled, roughly: The Queen’s Travel Tips.

For sure, one of the tips was to always have your Lady in Waiting carry an extra pair of white gloves in case yours get dirty or roughed-up. (I have followed that advice ever since, by the way.)

But the point is that for so long, she seemed too inaccessible. Now, she’s willing to go along with letting people make fun of her image. The queen and James Bond jump out of a helicopter. Who possibly could have thought she’d be up for that?

Danny Boyle, the "Slumdog Millionaire" director who put together the ceremony, told NBC that the queen was “very helpful and very sharp. You don’t have to tell her something twice. She is up right away, about cameras and angles. And she was very gracious in giving us access, really.’’

The ratings showed that huge numbers saw the whole thing, too. The queen, then Mr. Bean.

After the break-dancing Sunday, the queen will be doing some hip-hop thing at a sailing event, and then jamming some Zeppelin with Jimmy Page before the table tennis semifinals.

I’m pretty sure.

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