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Thursday, 21 August 2014

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60 years as monarch is a remarkable achievement

She has seen them come and she has seen them go. There may well even have been a few she’d have liked to have had seen off the premises.

But – in public anyway – the Queen has kept her own counsel on her opinions of the dozen prime ministers she has known during her 60 year reign.

And that can’t have been easy.

There’ll have been much in the job-for-life rule of the serving monarch that will have tested her patience and stretched her legendary powers of confidentiality.

Consider Tony Blair’s “People’s Princess” manoeuvrings after the death of Diana.

Margaret Thatcher’s “We are a grandmother” more-royal-than-royalty moments. Surely not easy to stomach for the one legitimately in the hot-seat.

How many more of those tricky times will there have been over six decades of maintaining a smiling dignity in the face of red-flag-to-bull provocation?

Much of what the Queen has witnessed, learned, endured or struggled with during good times, bad times, tragic times, changing times and an annus horribilis, will clearly have pushed her close to the edge of screaming tantrums.

But one doesn’t do tantrums. One doesn’t stamp one’s foot and swear at one’s ministers. It’s in the contract.

Her Diamond Jubilee year kicked off properly yesterday – the anniversary of her father’s death and the day she prematurely accepted the role she’d known she must one day take on from the tender age of 10.

Having seen her parents thrown into reluctant sovereign service by the abdication of Edward VIII – who gave up the throne for American divorcee and socialite Wallis Simpson – she’d learned early the value of devotion to duty.

Perhaps more particularly, she understood painfully at a very tender age the damage a lack of devotion could wreak.

No other child could have been expected to consider the concept of duty. She had to.

And so, as a young woman, she made a promise to her country. Whether her life be short or long, she would give it all to the service of her people.

Not in her lifetime would they have to experience that upheaval of a runaway monarch again.

Most of us, at some point in our lives, go through a vaguely Republican stint.

We flirt with the idea of a presidency, toy with thoughts of the Americanisation of our democracy, wonder about the point of all those gold carriages, tiaras and royal weddings with kisses on the balcony.

We wouldn’t be human – at least not intelligently so – if we didn’t feel inclined to question, on occasion, the monetary value of a figurehead family, occupying a collection of palaces, spending a good deal of our money, dressing up, waving from posh cars, playing polo and living what gives the appearance of the life of Riley.

But most of us tend to grow out of that flirtation with alternative UK. Soon enough we come to realise that Riley’s life isn’t necessarily so cushy after all – at least not all of the time.

Soon we begin to understand the monarch’s crucial role in protecting our democracy from dissolving into dictatorship. And from the prime ministers the Queen has seen come and go, we learn of her extraordinary insight, her firmly delivered advice and her wisdom honed over long years of experience.

It soon emerges that, whatever we have thought of wayward, wasteful young royals in years gone by, the country tends to collect the better part of the monarchy deal from the Queen’s lifetime promise of absolute and limitless duty.

Elizabeth II hasn’t always enjoyed the wholehearted support and love of all of her people. The royal family’s attempts to modernise the monarchy hit shocking and tragic traumas with a string of divorces, affairs, widely exposed adultery, taped scandalous phone calls and finally the death of Princess Diana.

Having been criticised for being too remote and aloof for too long, the Queen had later to accept hurtful criticism for her children being anything but – for conducting their indiscretions in the glare of a harsh, judgemental tabloid newspaper spotlight.

And then, when she withdrew again to comfort her grandchildren Princes William and Harry after the death of their mother, she was targeted again for her remoteness. Hundreds of thousands of people who had poured into London to mourn and grieve to camera on a worldwide stage, expected her to do the same. They were outraged at her resistance; furious that she was putting her grandsons before a public hysteria played out around Buckingham Palace gates.

The reign of Elizabeth II is the second longest in British history and it has seen social, industrial, political and technological shifts like no other.

In the summer Diamond Jubilee celebrations will be underway in earnest. There’ll be pomp and ceremony, flotillas and flag-waving. Street parties, singing and dancing – because that’s the way we like to celebrate great events here.

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh will travel widely across the UK, through the 15 other countries where the Queen is head of state, and to some other Commonwealth countries.

At 85 years old, she has no intention of relaxing her work ethic or slowing her pace. The Queen made a promise to her people to serve them until death. And it is a vow she considers sacred,

That in itself is a remarkable mark of a stubbornly determined woman who, though she wasn’t born to be Queen, gave her life selflessly to a monarchy of which she hoped her country could grow to be proud.

And that’s quite an achievement – even for a Queen.

Have your say

I'm quite happy having the royals although I do understand the other point of view...I do think it's a tradition that we accept and like. As someone pointed out, the tourism the royals generate probbably outweigh the costs to the tax payer to "keep" them. I can also see why some people say why should they be born in to privelage etc...but to be fair, her job prob isn't half as glamerous as what we might imagine. All those state visits, I don't know if I could be bothered.
Although priveleged, I do like the way Wills and Harry have jobs in the armed forces, its a good example to set. William obviously done a degree for 4 years then had to complete his training for his pilots licence so it makes hime more in touch with reality I think.

Posted by Rosa on 22 February 2012 at 16:30

@Mike: A 10 year old child could see what's fundamentally wrong with having an unelected head of state, but royalists, like yourself, seem happy to delude themselves that the royals have a place in a mature society.
Think about it. Somebody is born and automatically becomes commander of our armed forces, head of the church, and has the final say on important legal issues - following that 'logic' why not have families born to become Doctors, scientists and engineers, regardless of their lack of talent?!

As for your assertion that they somehow help out with diplomacy; Presumably the royals are doing some behind-the-scenes work in relation to the increasingly hostile Argentinians, or Iran's pursuit of a nuclear weapon.....I'm sure as soon as the Queen turns up in here sparkling dress that hard-headed politicians will become 'all smiles' and will bend to her will.

'Inspired more people than any President out there'?! Presumably you've never heard of Nelson Mandela - and if it's inspiration that bothers you, then why not make David Beckham a royal? He's been far more inspirational than any royal I can think of.

I personally think that the only reason we still have the royals is because it seems they've always been there, and we feel comfortable with the tradition. Imagine a Republican President proposing that his country should have a particular family as head of state, that they should be immensely priveleged, effectively above the law, commanding the armed forces, and that this family's descendents should be afforded the same rights, regardless of talent, and all of this at the taxpayer's expense - he'd be laughed out of office.

Posted by B. Spinoza on 22 February 2012 at 00:37

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