Three Cheers For Her Majesty
For those of you who have spent the last three years in solitary confinement, there are two fairly significant events happening in summer 2012. The first is some kind of over-hyped sports day. The second is an iconic celebration of the reign of one of the world's most beloved, most inspiring blue-blooded ladies: HRH Queen Elizabeth II – and for those who haven't guessed, it's the latter I'm most excited about.
Sunday 3 June will find me and maybe a million others flocking round the Thames to watch her Majesty be rowed by. The following evening it’s the Buckingham Palace concert, and I’ll be glued to the television. Come 5 June, I shall don my tiara, say the specially commissioned Diamond Jubilee prayer and head out to a street party bearing Union Jack-themed cupcake. I might be a left leaning 20-something-year-old, but I’m as royal as they come.
It’s an interesting question, not least because my position goes against the popular notion that royalists are over 50 and Conservative. Nevertheless the number of Jubilee parties on Facebook at the moment suggests that I’m not alone. Friends on both sides of the political divide are eagerly anticipating an event for which many of their parents feel only apathy or resentment, even, at the fuss and the expense of it. The queen might not really rule any more, but she certainly has the power to divide her people.
For girls of my generation and below, however, it’s simple: from the moment Kate Middleton promised to love and honour Prince William we agreed with her, wanting not just the glossy hair and stylish wardrobe, but the life to match it. Like Diana’s, her smile was beautiful, but, unlike that of her star-crossed predecessor, it was borne out of real happiness – and that cast the Royal Family in a totally new light.
Suddenly the queen, once a distant and pious monarch, became a kindly grandmother with funny headgear. Habits that once spawned headlines were dismissed with a knowing smile. Feed dogs under the table? Dress in head-to-toe canary yellow? Ah, bless, we chuckle: that’s granny. She might drive a golden, horse-drawn carriage but we’ve seen that tartan rug tucked around her knees. In part an age thing (it’s easy to hate mothers-in-law, much harder to hate old ladies), in part a result of ‘common’ Kate joining the family, our estimation of the queen has grown enormously since Diana knew her. If nothing else, we’re told she’s actually nice to Kate. Nevertheless, although this revelation has won round many hearts, there remains a strong cohort of people for whom the 60-year reign of Elizabeth II is either irrelevant, or actively malign.
The reason? Princess Diana herself, whose popularity and heartbreaking story lived on by everyone whose lives she touched. As we well know, this is a lot of lives: her marriage, affairs, divorce and death were the obsession of the 1990s. Not a day went by when her face wasn’t in the Daily Express. Yet while by no means oblivious to the princess, the reality of her life for those younger than 25 is either non-existent or confined to a series of hazy memories. What was I doing when Diana died? Flicking the remote, looking for kids programmes, wondering crossly why every channel was devoted to the news…
In short, by the time I and my peers were old enough to really understand who the queen was, the cloud that Diana had cast on the monarchy was no more than a shadow. We grew up with Harry and William, not Charles and Andrew and their various antics. If Diana figured at all, it was as her sons’ dead mother – and that could only increase our feelings for them as fellow humans who had suffered many people’s worst nightmare – and, what’s more, kept a stiff upper lip.
Which brings us back to Elizabeth II, the rigidity of whose upper mandible is legendary. From the moment when, at 25, she received the news of her father’s death, she has borne her crown with a degree of stoicism that should impress royalists or republicans alike. In her reign, she’s seen major terrorist attacks, met with a total of 12 prime ministers, and lived through a technological and social revolution for which there is really no historical comparison – and yet, despite all of this (and a succession of family scandals that make Coronation Street seem a stable community), Her Royal Highness has not wavered once in sixty years.
“Throughout all my life and with all my heart I shall strive to be worthy of your trust” was her Coronation promise. Saturday 2 June marks its culmination – and with it a recognition that such words are worthy of respect. There isn’t much that’s constant these days. There aren’t many prizes for simply plodding onward without a re-branding, face lift or upgrade of some description. If there is one, the Diamond Jubilee is it.
In this way Queen Elizabeth II contains our nation’s heritage, while at the same time, through Kate and Wills, keeps a slippered foot in the future. Both as a grandmother and as a monarch she is someone to be celebrated.