I’ve never been a fan of the Royal Family.
But then I heard an episode of Desert Island Discs that gave me pause for thought.
The guest was a top London surgeon, David Nott.
He regularly took time off from his practice to work in war zones: Darfur, Sierra Leone, Congo, Syria.
He talked about the gunfire, the bombs, the missile attacks, the lack of equipment, the lack of blood for transfusions.
He talked about his first time in Sarajevo, when the lights went off in the middle of an operation, leaving everything pitch black.
When the lights came back on he was alone, all the operating staff had just disappeared, leaving him to do the operation alone.
He talked about Syria in 2013 when he was operating on the open chest of an ISIS fighter.
Six men entered and trained their AK47s on him while he worked.
He operated for half an hour with legs like jelly.
He talked about Gaza in 2014 when he was operating on a little girl whose bowels, stomach, bladder, and spleen were hanging out from shrapnel wounds.
Suddenly everyone was told to leave because the hospital would be blown up in 5 minutes.
He thought, “If I leave the little girl dies”.
And he thought, since he didn’t have a family to worry about, he would risk it, stay and finish the operation.
Luckily, the bomb didn’t explode and he saved the little girl’s life.
But he didn’t realise, all of this had given him PTSD, and ten days after all this he was at Buckingham Palace sitting next to the Queen for lunch.
But the contrast was too great, too sudden, he froze, he couldn’t speak.
And this is where, he said, the Queen showed great human insight, she asked the butler to bring the corgis in, then she asked for some biscuits.
Then she asked David Nott if he’d like to help her feed the corgis.
And he said that interacting with animals, stroking them and feeding them, was the perfect response to his PTSD.
He calmed down, he was able to sit with the Queen quietly chatting for half an hour.
He says it showed real human understanding.
The very smallness of the gesture allowed him to reconnect with reality, where the overpowering opulence of the palace had completely alienated him.
This was a case of less is more, and it’s something we all need to learn.
I’ve recently seen two short pieces of film that resonated more than all the expensive Cannes award winners.
One was during the early days of the Covid pandemic.
A teacher wanted to demonstrate to her class of small children why washing their hands was important.
She had a saucer of water and she sprinkled black pepper into it, the pepper represented germs.
She put her finger into the water and pulled it out, the children could see some pepper was stuck to it.
Then she washed the finger in soap and put it back into the saucer.
All the pepper was immediately repelled and rushed to the other side of the saucer.
All the children gasped as the finger came out without a speck on it.
That simple demonstration was more effective than all the government propaganda.
The second one I saw was on TikTok, no spoken words just subtitles:
Two lighters are held up, each subtitled: A HUMAN BEING.
One lighter is dropped into a glass, s/t: WHAT YOU DON’T SEE.
Water is added to glass, s/t: CHILDHOOD TRAUMA.
More water is added, s/t: ABUSE.
More water added, s/t: INSECURITY.
More water, s/t: LONELINESS.
The wet lighter is taken out, it can’t light, s/t: LIFE IS HARD. WE CAN LOSE OUR SPARK.
The dry lighter enters and lights the damp lighter, s/t: SOMETIMES WE NEED HELP.
The damp lighter is now fully alight, s/t: YOU DON’T KNOW THEIR STORY
Then the end title: HELP SOMEONE TODAY @mindbodysouluk.
And those two powerful little demonstrations probably cost less to make than the catering budget on a single Cannes award winner.
Just like the Queen’s gesture to the doctor: small and human beats big and boastful.