Yearly, O’Donovan releases a comparative desk itemizing the variety of engagements attended by the highest-ranking royals, setting off a flurry of barbed commentary within the British media. The feeding frenzy comes as a result of O’Donovan, deliberately or not, has successfully invented a metric of how a lot the members of the royal household work.
The tabloids, seizing on these statistics each January, pit the royals towards each other like prized greyhounds. There are winners and losers.
“The Queen’s Annus Relaxicus,” sniffed the Day by day Mirror one yr, when Queen Elizabeth carried out 407 engagements. “Guess Who Does All of the Arduous Work?” requested the Day by day Specific. (Princess Anne, on this event, with 624.) “Camilla ‘Laziest’ of the Household,” sniped the Day by day Star in 2011, when she confirmed up for 243. In 2017, when Prince William dropped to ninth within the “league tables,” the Solar referred to as him “Workshy Wills,” opining, as one columnist put it, that he “clearly feels he’s accountable to nobody.”
All this, within the view of some palace officers, has made O’Donovan an irritant. They argue that the statistics don’t precisely replicate the royals’ precise workload, particularly within the case of the youthful members of the family, who’ve held jobs (William labored as an air ambulance pilot) and are elevating younger households.
“He is doing it fairly innocently, on the premise that he is , however he isn’t taking into account that it has an onward journey,” mentioned Dickie Arbiter, who served as a spokesman for Queen Elizabeth and media marketing consultant to Prince Charles. “He is dedicated to it, and good on him, however the finish consequence just isn’t a passable one.”
What makes it all of the weirder, Arbiter added, is that O’Donovan does it for enjoyable.
“It is his pastime,” he mentioned, in a tone of delicate amazement. “Some individuals exit and play tennis.”
Others see O’Donovan as an unsung hero, compiling a report of occasions that will in any other case be misplaced to historical past. Andrew Defty, a political scientist on the College of Lincoln, in contrast him to 19th-century students Erskine Might, a Home of Commons clerk who wrote the definitive work on parliamentary follow; and Walter Bagehot, a journalist whose accounts of process are the closest factor Britain has to a written structure.
“I would not wish to overplay this,” Defty mentioned, however as a chronicler of the monarchy, O’Donovan “is in a small approach a part of the UK structure.”
As for O’Donovan himself, he speaks about his mission —”my tables,” he calls them — as one in every of his life’s nice endeavours.
“One began this factor as a result of one was curious,” he mentioned. “One has had an enormous quantity of enjoyment out of doing it, as a result of one has met individuals one would by no means have met earlier than. It has widened one’s life, in a approach.”
Born right into a household of avid collectors, O’Donovan hungered in his 40s to undertake a statistical mission. He had been impressed by a person who used public information to tabulate the waxing and waning recognition of child names, publishing his findings yearly in a letter to the editor of The Instances of London.
O’Donovan discovered his fodder within the Court docket Round, an account of the royals’ engagements that seems in The Instances. He determined to clip every one, paste it in a ledger and run the numbers, releasing his first outcomes on the finish of 1979.
“It was only a fascination with what they really did,” he mentioned. “A few of them work extraordinarily laborious.”
One began this factor as a result of one was curious.
It didn’t take lengthy for Buckingham Palace to take be aware. A couple of years in, the dean of St George’s Chapel in Windsor, the place O’Donovan and the Queen each attend providers, pulled him apart to cross on a message: palace officers wished the information mission to cease. O’Donovan went to see the Queen’s non-public secretary in an effort to steer him of its usefulness.
“I suppose one was anxious as a result of one didn’t wish to cease doing it,” he mentioned. “If that they had mentioned, ‘Mr O’Donovan, we do not need you to go on doing this,’ I might have obeyed them.”
There isn’t any public report of their dialog, however O’Donovan says he persuaded the Queen’s secretary of his good intentions. To deal with his worries, O’Donovan added a clause saying that the tables shouldn’t be used to stoke competitors. That the tabloids proceed to do exactly that, he mentioned, is “actually very uncalled for.”
“All I am doing is recording their actions,” he mentioned. “It is only a easy desk of occasions, actually.”
Nobody coming into O’Donovan’s residence might doubt his devotion to the Queen, who, at 92, is 5 years his senior. They know one another just a little from church. As soon as, he mentioned, when he fell off a ladder and confirmed up with a bandage on his head, she warned him sternly, “You might be by no means to go up a ladder once more.”
With the Queen turning 93 subsequent month, he mentioned, we’re nearing the top of a golden age.
“I believe we have now been amazingly fortunate to have such a beautiful monarch,” he mentioned. “Continuity is a superb factor, and I believe there has by no means been any query of impropriety, like there are amongst different heads of state all over the world. She has had an unblemished report.”
O’Donovan has been acutely conscious, as properly, of his personal advancing age. He strikes with issue round the home. His spouse, Veronica, who has Alzheimer’s illness, moved two years in the past to an assisted-living residence.
His sons, who each work for insurance coverage firms, have no real interest in carrying on his royal chronicle. He has thought-about asking his 15-year-old grandson, however he says he would not wish to burden him throughout exams. He worries what’s going to occur if he dies in June, for instance, proper in the midst of a yr which is simply half tallied.
“I do not know what’s going to occur after I die,” he mentioned. “In the meanwhile, I’ve made no preparations with anyone. Little doubt it’s going to simply peter out.”
One factor he doesn’t count on to report is the Queen’s loss of life. “We are supposed to dwell longer than our dad and mom,” he mentioned. “Her mom lived to 102. So the queen has one other six years, by which era I’ll have handed away.”
Till then, although, he shall be on the job. “So long as I can write and use a pair of scissors,” he mentioned, “I am going to stick with it doing it.”