The Queen’s Green Planet ****


THE Queen is an expert in soft power, murmured Sir David Attenborough on voiceover as he accompanied the monarch on a tour of her private garden at Buckingham Palace. I’ll say. In the space of an hour the 91-year-old bolstered her grandchildren’s succession, acquired millions of trees for charity, and gave climate change deniers one in the eye.

When it comes to soft power, HM the Queen is a cross between Peter Rabbit and a guided missile.

ITN productions had been offered the chance to give the monarchy an hour’s free publicity for the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy, a project aiming to protect forests across the globe, and who could refuse?

While much of the programme was padding, complete with footage of William, Kate and Harry planting trees all over the world (“It’s what our family do,” said Prince Harry, as if introducing a firm of jobbing gardeners) the main double act of Windsor & Attenborough did not disappoint. Spying two London plane trees planted at at the garden’s entrance by Victoria and Albert, Sir David mused: “One really wants to climb them.” The Queen smiled. Now that would be appointment television.

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Nearby were the trees she had planted for her children. They had “plucks” beside them, she said, leaving the audience to work out she was saying “plaques”. Sir David duly hurried off to read the plucks, coming back to say one tree was Andrew’s … and so was the other. “They can’t both be Andrew,” the Queen ruled, and off he trotted again. Tree number two was in fact Edward’s. We also found out the royal dogs hate conkers (“too prickly”), and the Queen is no fan of ‘elf and safety (“Wasn’t it recently somebody tried to stop children playing conkers,” she gasped as Attenborough commiserated).

We also learned what a useless lot politicians can be. Frank Field MP, who had the original idea for the canopy, revealed Tony Blair had been “enthusiastic but nothing happened”, Gordon Brown made “no response at all”, and the Tory-LibDem coalition were “hopeless”. The Queen, in contrast, “jumped” at the plan.

At hour’s end we were back in the garden, with Attenborough musing what a difference the canopy could make. “It might change the climate again,” said the Queen, quietly as a bough waving in the summer breeze. “It might indeed,” said Sir David. Swing on that, climate change deniers.

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Such was the pull of their double act, Angelina Jolie turning up to plant trees in Namibia seemed like an intrusion. When it comes to the Queen of the desert, and further afield, a certain old lady in her garden showed it takes a lot to put the original in the shade.