The most recognisable woman on the planet was once told by a customer in a shop at Sandringham that she looked like the Queen. ‘How reassuring,’ came the reply from the headscarf-wearing head of state.
Reassurance is what the Queen has provided to millions of people and what she will be rewarded for during the Platinum Jubilee festivities. A significant chunk of the population revere someone they don’t really know. For decades, a shy woman who’s not a natural ‘people person’ has been in our midst, yet set apart. When she opened the Elizabeth Line last month, the Queen was given a travelcard. She last commuted on the London Underground as a princess in 1939.
Oversharing isn’t in the lexicon of the fast-dwindling wartime generation for which the Queen remains a figurehead. The monarchical upper lip doesn’t droop and, according to her cousin, she keeps things buried. When she allowed the BBC to broadcast previously private home movies, the footage stopped in 1953. Elizabeth: The Unseen Queen is a very accurate programme title.
Remaining enigmatic is part of her success. So too is the fact she enjoys performing the role she wasn’t born to undertake. There’s a cushion in her sitting room at Balmoral that’s embroidered with the words: ‘it’s good to be Queen’. She has thrived on the regimented nature of the job and chafed during the lockdowns. Even in the darkest days, of which there were plenty in the Nineties, the red box was opened, and the job done.
She is sustained by her deep Christian faith and her belief that the coronation had a divine dimension. She has only thought about abdication once, a friend told me, and that was during a bad storm on the Royal Yacht Britannia.
Her rollercoaster reign began with Prince Philip by her side and when butter was still rationed. The nation is savouring her achievements at a time when she is adjusting to widowhood and war is once again raging in Europe. Sheer longevity has ensured several milestones have been passed. What she most wants to do is embed the Windsor line. A probable Buckingham Palace balcony appearance at the climax of the weekend events alongside Prince Charles, Prince William and Prince George will satisfy her greatly.
The widespread celebrations will prove a pleasing antidote to the ongoing challenges on the royal horizon. Increasing frailty and a job for life are uncomfortable bedfellows. In the months ahead, a virtual Queen will be complimented by in the flesh princes, Charles and William.
What to do with Prince Andrew remains unresolved. Lock the door and throw away the key isn’t the approach she favours. Harry and Meghan have gone, but the nature of their departure continues to inflict damage. They’ve abandoned their full-time positions in a family that will have to come up with an answer to the question of reparations for slavery in the former colonies where the Queen is still head of state. Laughing awkwardly, as Prince Edward did in Antigua, was toe-curlingly embarrassing and best not repeated.
For now though, a humble woman not given to pomposity can revel in the adoration she will receive. On her seventy-year long watch, the House of Windsor has suffered fractures, but no irredeemable faultline has appeared. The Queen has succeeded in being a unifying figure during times of dizzying change.
Her successors may struggle to pull off the same trick.
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