Since ascending the throne as a youthful beauty half a century ago, Queen Elizabeth II has presided over epic change, commanded the ear of 10 Prime Ministers and won the praise of world leaders from John F. Kennedy to Bill Clinton and Kofi Annan. WILLIAM SHAWCROSS explores the heart of this unique woman: her triumphs, her sorrows, and her enduring power to inspire a nation.
As usual, George Orwell got it right. In 1941 he wrote an essay called 'The Lion and the Unicorn,' in which he identified the failure of the English - or at least the intellectual and left-wing class - to take pride in their heritage.
Orwell wrote, 'England is perhaps the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their nationality. In left-wing circles it is always felt that there is something slightly disgraceful in being an Englishman and that it is a duty to snigger at every English institution, from horse racing to suet puddings. It is a strange fact, but it is unquestionably true that almost any English intellectual would feel more ashamed of standing to attention during 'God Save the King' than of stealing from the poorbox.'
Sometimes it is necessary to counter this tendency head-on. The Queen of the United Kingdom, Elizabeth II, has now been on the throne for exactly 50 years; her Golden Jubilee is being celebrated this summer. It seems to me that this is an appropriate time to say that Britain has been extremely lucky in having her as head of state during half a century of astonishing, endlechange - by no means all of it for the better. Her job is not easy. It encompasses not just being the non-executive head of government, with a close relationship to the prime minister of the day, but also all the more complicated aspects of being head of state - representing the nation and interpreting it to itself. It is also a lonely position, becoming more and more solitary as her closest relatives and many friends have died. This year her sister, Margaret, and her mother, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, died within weeks of each other. The Queen Mother was a full 101 years old, but her daughter is said to have felt the loof her and Margaret - just before her jubilee celebrations began - very sharply, though she was immensely heartened by the outpouring of popular affection that greeted her mother's death. Through it all, she has continued to perform her job with devotion, honor, discretion, and constancy. The debt she is owed is incalculable.
A republic needs no enchantment and rarely possesses it. Monarchy, an ancient rather than outdated system, requires sentiment, belief, and imagination. The cliché is to say that it needs magic, and there was certainly something magical about this Queen's accession to the throne. She is the only woman known to have gone up a tree a Princeand come down a Queen.
The tree in question was a fig tree in the bush in Kenya. It stood over a salt lick to which the animals came at dusk, and there was a tree house in it, a tiny lodge called Treetops. The 25-year-old Princess Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Philip, spent the night of February 5, 1952, at Treetops, an early stop on what was scheduled to be a long Commonwealth tour. In the dusk the Princehad filmed the animals and early the next morning she climbed to the top of the tree to see the sunrise. With her was Michael Parker, Prince Philip's equerry, a good-natured Australian who recalled to me that a white eagle had hovered over the two of them in the dawn. 'I later realized that that must have been the moment at which the King died.'
The King, only 56, had been ill, but his doctors had concealed from everyone, including his family, the severity of his condition: lung cancer. The news came as a terrible shock in Britain - it had been the King and his Queen, Elizabeth, together with Churchill, who had led the country through the agony of the war.
When Churchill, now 77 and in his second prime-ministership, heard the news that morning he was still in bed, smoking a cigar, surrounded by papers. 'How unimportant these matters seem now,' he said, pushing the papers away. One of his aides, Jock Colville, tried to cheer him up by telling him he would get on well with the new Queen. According to Colville, 'All he could say was that he did not know her and she was only a child.' That would pass: the romantic old warrior would soon fall in love with this beautiful young woman.
It was hard in those days to get through from London to Kenya - the preknew before Elizabeth that she had become Queen. Mike Parker heard the news on the BBC shortwave broadcast and told Prince Philip, who 'looked as if I'd dropped half the world on him.' The Prince took his wife into the garden to break the news to her. It was devastating on two levels: she adored her father, and suddenly, at the age of only 25 and with two young children, she had become Queen.
They flew back to London that night and were greeted at the airport by Churchill and Clement Attlee, the leader of the Labour opposition. She managed more smiles than one might expect and then sat in the corner of her car, looking utterly crushed.
In his own car, Churchill was in tears as he wrote a radio speech; he was at his most eloquent. 'The King walked with death as if death were a companion.... In the end death came as a friend.' Churchill declared that when the King's death was announced 'there struck a deep and solemn note in our lives which, as it resounded far and wide, stilled the clatter and traffic of twentieth century life in many lands and made countlemillions of human beings pause and look around.' There was great truth in this. English men and women of a certain age (a category in which I must include myself) tend to remember the moment they heard of the King's death - perhaps almost as intensely as people also remember where they were when President Kennedy was shot. I was in the garden at home with my mother, who began weeping. Like millions of Britons she wore a black armband for a month after the King's death.
Churchill said he now looked forward to working with the second Queen Elizabeth: 'I, whose youth was passed in the august, unchallenged and tranquil glories of the Victorian Era, may well feel a thrill in invoking once more, the prayer and the anthem, 'God Save the Queen.''
She and Philip were an extraordinarily dashing young couple, and she was exquisite - at least as often on the cover of magazines as PrinceDiana decades later. Her regular Tuesday meetings with Churchill were filled with charm and instruction. Each was overawed by the other - he by her lovelineand eagerneto learn, she by his long and victorious life. Later she said that the Tuesday talks were 'always such fun.' Once, when he was asked what they talked about, he replied, 'Oh, racing.'
All of her nine prime ministers since Churchill have testified to the value of those meetings with the Queen, which are an essential part of the relationship, governed by no formal, written rules, between monarch and prime minister. Her memory is astonishing, and as her experience has lengthened, her ability to advise on the basis of precedent has grown. Remarkably, not one of the 10 has spilled the beans on what has happened in the meetings; no one has revealed what the Queen herself thinks. At the lunch given in 1997 to honor her golden wedding anniversary, Tony Blair, her current prime minister (who wasn't even born when she came to the throne), said, 'There are only two people in the world, frankly, to whom a prime minister can say what he likes about his Cabinet colleagues. One's the wife, the other's the Queen.'
That discretion, coupled with the fact that she never ever gives interviews, means that even after 50 years her views remain cloaked in privacy. She did recently allow herself to be filmed at work and relaxing on the Scottish moors with her dogs for Queen and Country, a BBC television series I have just made, but she would not take questions. It's rather a neat trick in the age of celebrity to be perhaps the greatest international celebrity of all and yet to remain an enigma. It's a large part of the secret of her success.
f it is always true that the past is another country, Britain in 1952 is another world. It was still a nation recovering from the immense exertion of World War II; there were bomb sites all over London and other great cities. Sugar, chocolate, and other foods were still rationed. It was a time of cladivisions, but also courtesy; of hardiness, but also hope.
Politicians were towering figures. Churchill had won the war, and Clement Attlee, the Labour prime minister from 1945 to 1951, had begun to build the welfare state. They had vision; they did not speak in sound bites. People had far lereason for cynicism about their political leaders than they would later.
When the Queen was crowned, she could make a world tour and scarcely leave her own territories. But the age of empire was over and the question was whether it could be transformed into a commonwealth of independent nations recognizing the Queen as its head.
Britain itself was still an overwhelmingly white society. There were only about 36,000 immigrants, most of them from the West Indies. The country was still a Christian land. The Church of England, a pillar of the monarchy and society for centuries, was reviving after the war. The British crusades of the American evangelist Billy Graham in the early 50s were a great success. A third of the population thought the Queen had actually been chosen by God. Children who did not believe in God might be denounced as 'heathen' in schools.
The country was dominated by values which today are seen as old-fashioned. Duty and service were among them - and these were values to which the Queen adhered completely. Thrift and sexual restraint were still taught and, for the most part, adhered to. The armed forces were a huge part of national life - every boy expected to do two years of national service before the flag.
The service and media industries were in their infancy. There was only one television channel, the BBC. Few homes yet had sets. The industry took off with the televising of the Queen's coronation in June 1953. The service itself was an act of national communion; its essence was of course Christian, but it contained elements of older, almost primeval rituals of sacrifice and dedication. The Queen took a series of vows to govern her peoples at home and abroad, was anointed with holy oil, and was 'consecrated,' which means 'set aside.' The solemnity of those vows has informed her life ever since.
At the core of the paradox that is constitutional monarchy is the sovereign's relationship with the prime minister. Since the days of Queen Victoria (who was very opinionated), it has become established that the monarch can act only on advice of ministers. The monarch retains the right to be consulted by the prime minister on his or her plans, and to advise and to warn. No more.
Her grandfather George V's most important contribution to public life was his benign acceptance in 1924 of the first Labour government because, he said, 'they should be given a fair trial.' Her father, George VI, was perturbed by the actual arrival of socialism after 1945, but although he privately told the prime minister, Clement Attlee, of his concerns, in public he was duly supportive.
Elizabeth II was lucky in having Churchill as her first prime minister. When he retired, in April 1955, he gave her and Prince Philip dinner at 10 Downing Street. In an emotional toast, he said, 'We thank God for the gifts He has bestowed upon us, and vow ourselves anew to the sacred causes and wise and kindly way of life of which Your Majesty is the young, gleaming champion.'
Consider that phrase 'wise and kindly way of life.' It was a delightful if romantic way of describing Britain in 1955, but it was a description which would seem increasingly archaic as the reign progressed.
ach of the five decades since has been dominated by different agendas. If the 50s were still largely deferential, in the 60s the Queen had her first left-wing prime minister, and the country went through massive liberalizing change, the effects of which are felt to this day. Some in the royal court feared that the Labour government that took office in 1964 would be anti-monarchist. The Queen did not have to worry. The new prime minister, Harold Wilson, loved to gossip with her, and he made sure that the world knew they got on famously. Surrounded by jealous colleagues, he came to see the Queen as the only senior official with whom he could discuproblems without fearing that he was handing over a knife to be plunged in his back. Some of his more radical ministers thought that he kowtowed.
The 60s were, in Britain as in America, a time of ferment. As the poet Philip Larkin famously observed, 'Sexual intercourse began in 1963.... Between the end of the Chatterley ban and the Beatles' first LP.' The age of voting was lowered; homosexuality and abortion were made legal; church attendance went into free fall. The education system was changed in ways intended to make it leexclusive and leacademic; literacy and numeracy subsequently declined.
The Palace knew that the changes would affect the monarchy. Prince Philip said in 1968, 'The monarchy is part of the fabric of the country. And, as the fabric alters, so the monarchy and its people's relationship to it alters.' Deference began to die in the 60s; television and newspapers became more powerful, more intrusive, and more demanding.
At the end of the decade the Queen and her husband were persuaded (by friends initially) to allow a BBC camera crew to have a year's acceto their official and private lives. It was intended to make the royal family seem lealoof, more accessible. The result, a one-hour documentary, Royal Family, was a sensation. For the first time, the Queen was shown both at work - receiving the prime minister, ambassadors - and backstage enjoying the sorts of mundane things we all enjoy: having a family barbecue, shopping for sweets with her youngest son, Prince Edward, and so on. But at least one member of the family, PrinceAnne, then 18, hated the whole thing. More media intrusion was the last thing a teenager wanted.
Looking back, one can argue that the film was the first step down a slippery slope that led to the media rampage of the 1980s and 1990s. 'I'm at a loss,' PrinceAnne says today, 'to be able to define what that impact was and whether it was wholly positive. I think there's still a debate to be had on whether it was a good idea, whether it's in fact opened everything up too much, whether that expectation of opennehas been abused.'
David Attenborough, the anthropologist, agreed in effect. At the time, he warned the director of the film, 'You are killing the monarchy, you know, with this film you're making. The whole institution depends on mystique and the tribal chief in his hut. If any member of the tribe ever sees inside the hut then the whole system of tribal chiefdom is damaged and the tribe eventually disintegrates.'
Writing in the Evening Standard, Milton Shulman, the theater critic, felt that the Queen's young family was a public-relations man's dream. 'Yet is it, in the long run, wise for the Queen's advisers to set as a precedent this right of the TV camera to act as an image-making apparatus for the monarchy? Every institution that has so far attempted to use TV to popularise or aggrandise itself has been diminished and trivialised by it.' These warnings turned out to be prescient.
he Queen's job is not just a domestic one. When she came to the throne, the Commonwealth had just 8 members; now it has 54 and is seen as such a successful international organization that countries such as Cameroon and Mozambique, which were never British colonies, have joined. The Queen sets great store by the Commonwealth, and its leaders line up to praise her.
Kofi Annan, the U.N. secretary-general, who was born in Ghana when it was still part of the British Empire, says, 'Her leadership has been remarkable. Everyone is touched by her knowledge, her sensitivity, and her incredible humor. You know you are dealing with someone who understands the world and who has a calmneand a serenity that are very impressive.'
Similar encomiums have come from presidents of the United States, a country which she loves. The first American president to meet her and Prince Philip was Truman, who announced after their 1951 visit, 'Never before have we had such a wonderful couple that so completely captured the hearts of all of us.'
In 1961, John and Jacqueline Kennedy dined at Buckingham Palace; there is a photograph of the two glamorous heads of state and their spouses, all of them symbolizing, with their youth, the hope of those days.
Later that year the Queen was due to make an official visit to Ghana. The trip was called into question after bombs went off in Accra, the capital. The stakes seemed high: Cold War competition was fierce in Africa, and the British prime minister, Harold Macmillan, was concerned that Ghana's first president, Kwame Nkrumah, might take his country into the Soviet camp.
Macmillan thought that a visit by the Queen (which Nkrumah had been very keen to arrange) along with Western support for Ghana's Volta Dam project would help keep Ghana on the side of the West. The Queen herself pooh-poohed the risk of the bombs, saying that the world would be shocked if Khrushchev went to Accra and she did not. 'What a splendid girl she is,' Macmillan said.
Once the visit had taken place, Macmillan called Kennedy and said, 'I have risked my Queen - you must risk your money.' Kennedy replied that he would match 'the Queen's brave contribution' with his own. The U.S. invested in the Volta Dam project, and Ghana stayed within the Commonwealth.
Her relationship with Richard Nixon was more awkward - but then he was more awkward with everyone. In the Royal Family film he is seen paying a call in 1969 and offering a formal photograph of himself, which the Queen accepts with a smile. He then says that he would like to send her one of him with his wife, Pat, because that would be much nicer to look at. The Queen laughs. The two were undoubtedly conscious of the film crew and had a stilted conversation. 'You sound as if you're going to have a really busy few days - and the world problems are so complex now,' says the Queen. To which Nixon replies, 'I was just thinking about how much more complex they are than when we last met.'
Closer to the Queen was Ronald Reagan. 'They both loved horses,' Nancy Reagan told me. 'That is how they bonded, really.' After they rode together at Windsor in 1982, Reagan invited her to ride with him at his ranch near Santa Barbara. The Queen accepted, and the following year, after she paid a state visit to Mexico - important because Britain wanted to exprefriendship for Latin America after the recent Falklands War against Argentina - she sailed on the royal yacht, Britannia, up the coast to California.
Unfortunately, the state was experiencing some of its worst storms in years. The Reagans' ranch was up long winding roads. Nancy Reagan: 'We were sure that the Queen wouldn't come, because it was terrible to get up the roads, and once you got there, it was all foggy - you couldn't see your hand in front of your face. But she was determined to come. When they got there, we were full of apologies to her for the weather and the fog and you couldn't see anything, and she kept saying, 'Oh, no. No, no. This is an adventure.'' She loved the informal lunch the Reagans gave her. 'It was wonderful,' she said. 'No one talked politics.'
That same trip offered a glimpse of the Queen's gift for crisp one-liners. A member of her staff recalls, 'People kept coming up to the president and saying things like 'Mr. President, your thinking on Nicaragua this morning is as follows. And if you're asked about the Middle East, Mr. President, this is what you should say. And, Mr. President, if you're asked about the Federal Reserve Bank's policy, this is your thinking on that.'' Somebody who was standing near the Queen heard her say, 'And they call me a constitutional monarch?'
ill Clinton first became aware of the Queen's role when he was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford in the late 60s. He told me she and her husband had struck him as 'elegant and stoic. I used to wonder what it would be like to have a job that you can never be dislodged from, that had, on the one hand, great sweep, and at the same time no power. And I was fortunate that later in life I got a closer look at it.'
In 1994, on the eve of the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of D-day, the Clintons spent the night with the Queen and Prince Philip on the Britannia as they sailed acrothe Channel to the Normandy beaches, just as the Allied troops had done a half-century before. The two couples talked of the historic alliance between the U.S.A. and Britain - from the Blitz to the 90s. 'It was comfortable, it was easy, and there was a lot of kind of relaxed banter,' Clinton said. 'I loved it. I thought it was a kind thing for her to do, something she didn't have to do, to ask us to stay there that night. And I'm sure it was done in larger measure for symbolic reasons, because of what D-day meant to both of our countries and how we did it together. But it meant a lot to me, both as president and as a person.'
The next day it was profoundly moving to see the Queen and the British veterans on the beach together at Arromanches reveling in one another. This woman, who is often accused by the tabloid preof failing to show emotion, was clearly stirred by the spectacle of the old men marching stiffly acrothe sandy expanse they had liberated 50 years before.
Clinton formed a view of her: 'I think she has a strong sense of duty. I think she loves her country, and I think she loves its history, and I think she understands that even though many people may think the position is an anachronism it serves quite a useful purpose, particularly at critical times in the nation's history. And she has, I think, done everything she possibly could to elevate her role in the best sense, but to still try to show a common touch, a sense of being in tune with the people. I don't think it's very complicated. I think she has done her duty. You know, life thrust her into certain circumstances, and she did an excellent job of dealing with the hand she was dealt in life. We should all do so well.'
If the 60s were the decade in which the whole country liberalized, the 70s were dominated by the failure of all governments, left and right, to confront the economic decay of the country and in particular the overweening power of the labor unions. The Queen's Silver Jubilee, in 1977, came at an unhappy moment, when the Labour government had to be bailed out by the International Monetary Fund. Ministers were reluctant to call a jubilee party, fearing that no one would come. The punk-rock group the Sex Pistols then had a hit record with the lyrics 'God save the Queen / She ain't no human being,' which was taken to represent the view of the young. It did not, and, in the event, the country surprised itself with the depth of the affection expressed for the Queen acrothe land. The Queen herself was moved and delighted.
The task of tackling Britain's problems was left to Margaret Thatcher, who took office in 1979 and invented a new style of leadership for Britain: apparently uncompromising, and destructive of the easy consensus which had obtained till then. The monarchy abides by consensus, and there were those who believed that the Queen found Mrs. Thatcher's confrontational style of government unsettling. But others argue that she must have been happy that someone was at last coming to grips with the very real economic problems of the country.
Mrs. Thatcher saw herself as a radical, but she was a devout monarchist; her curtsies would reach Australia. She was desperately upset when newspapers claimed that the Queen disapproved of her relentless battle with the miners' union during its long and bloody 1984–85 strike. The prereports upset the Queen too - whatever she really felt, she did not want to be seen to be undermining her prime minister. And what did she really feel? Typically, no one knows. But she was very kind to Mrs. Thatcher after she left office in 1990.
he monarchy has not been spared upheavals of its own. The 80s began with the triumphal marriage of Prince Charles to Lady Diana Spencer and ended with their union already in tatters. The 90s were worse. The marriages of three of the Queen's four children, starting with PrinceAnne's in 1992, ended in disillusion and divorce. Newspapers had a feeding frenzy. The standing of the royal family declined, though polls showed that that of the Queen herself remained remarkably constant throughout.
After Windsor Castle, perhaps her favorite of her several homes, caught fire in 1992, there was a storm of protest, led by the press, when the government announced it would pay for the repairs. John Major, the conservative prime minister, was shocked. 'I have to admit,' he recently told me, 'I completely misjudged the way people would react. I had thought there would be a tremendous outbreak of sympathy.'
The Queen heeded the outcry; to pay for the repairs she decided to open Buckingham Palace to the public in the summer. A few days after the fire, she made an extraordinary speech. Her voice hoarse from the flu, struggling with a temperature of 101, she said that 1992 had been an annus horribilis, and acknowledged that no institution, including the monarchy, 'should expect to be free from the scrutiny of those who give it their loyalty and support, not to mention those who don't.' Her humility and grace under pressure led the audience to give her a standing ovation. Newspapers were legenerous; the tabloid The Sun headlined its coverage of the speech, one's bum year.
There was a new complaint that was increasingly made: that even if she was a good Queen, the unhappineof her children must mean she was a bad mother. She was certainly the opposite of Diana, who needed to show her feelings in public. The Queen by contrast was of a generation brought up to believe that public displays of emotion were bad form. During the war, when she was a teenager, people learned to accept their constant losses with stoicism.
Like many of her age, she finds it hard to confront her children's crises face-to-face. One friend says that if people do try to talk to her about painful topics she might look embarrassed or change the subject or play with the dogs. That does not mean that she does not care, but rather that she cares too much and is afraid of her own emotions. Her restraint, and Prince Philip's more argumentative and assertive personality, must have played a part in the emotional development of their children. But surely a larger point is that all families have their own internal dynamics, which are usually impossible for spectators to understand. In the case of this family, however, commentators and critics are legion and observe no restraint.
I asked PrinceAnne what she thought about such criticisms. Her reply was typically robust: 'Astonishing, isn't it, the ability of people to comment on other people's private lives without any information to go on? I simply don't believe that there is any evidence whatsoever to suggest that she wasn't caring. It just beggars belief. I mean, we as children may have not been too demanding in the sense that we understood what the limitations were in time, and the responsibilities placed upon her as monarch, for things that she had to do and the travels that she had to make. But I don't mean she didn't care for us in exactly the same way as any other mother did. I just think it's extraordinary that anybody can construe that that might not have been true.'
I said that these days, unlethere are photographs in the papers, people don't believe it. She replied, 'Yes, the sort of touchy-feely generation, which means that if you don't have a photograph of everybody hugging each other constantly, then you don't care for each other. Completely untrue. Completely untrue.'
I asked what she thought of the preassertion that hers was a dysfunctional family. 'Well, if somebody could define dysfunctional for me I could maybe answer the question. I think families are all different, and the relationships with each other are all different, and it is usually impossible to understand any other family's relationship.'
The Queen is sometimes criticized for not laying down the law to her children. PrinceAnne noted, 'If she'd been a disciplinarian and said no to everybody, we'd have all been psychoanalyzed out of existence on the basis that we had too controlling a mother. We've been allowed to find our own way, and we were always encouraged to discuproblems. We were always encouraged to talk them through, to discuhow they affected other people. People have to make their own mistakes, and I think she's always accepted that. I think we're all on pretty good speaking terms after all this time, and that's no mean achievement for quite a lot of families.'
y the late 90s the country to which the Queen returned from Kenya in February 1952 had been utterly transformed. Britain is more prosperous than at any time in its history; more people have more freedoms than ever before. The country has undergone the extraordinary transition from a homogeneous, structured imperial power to a much more individualistic, heterogeneous member of the European Union without serious civil unrest.
But there is a downside. Towns and cities have been ruined by carelemodernization; regions have lost their traditional identities. Education is more widely available, but it is shallower. Tolerance has led to irresponsibility: Britain has the highest rate of teenage pregnancies in Europe as well as one of the highest rates of drug use.
In all the unending change only the Queen has remained the same - a small voice of calm at the vortex of the storm. But the calm seemed at first to work against her when PrinceDiana, now divorced from Charles, was killed in a Paris car crash as her drunken driver sped to get away from pursuing paparazzi. A sort of mahysteria gripped part of the nation and a large segment of the press. It showed how much the country had changed since the Queen came to the throne.
That Saturday night and Sunday morning, August 30 and 31, 1997, the Queen and Prince Charles and his sons were on holiday together at Balmoral in Scotland. To everyone's astonishment huge crowds of people, most of them young, began to gather in London outside the Princeof Wales's home, Kensington Palace, and Buckingham Palace, bearing flowers and other tokens of grief. Nothing like this collective display of emotion had ever been seen before. The Queen elected to stay at Balmoral, looking after her grandsons, and was within days subjected to a tirade of tabloid abuse for not showing and sharing her own grief with the people.
show us you care, shouted the Daily Express. speak to us, ma'am, demanded The Mirror. The Sun went as far as to declare, 'There has been no expression of sorrow from the Queen on behalf of the nation. Not one word has come from a royal lip, not one tear has been shed in public from a royal eye.' Serious accusations were made by the media: that the Queen did not want Prince Charles to fly to Paris to bring home Diana's remains, that she did not want the body to lie in the chapel at St. James's Palace, that she did not want a public funeral. There is absolutely no evidence for these accusations. In fact, one could argue that such media attacks on the Queen were deliberately made to deflect attention from the accusation by Diana's brother, Charles Spencer, that preharassment had led to Diana's death.
he day before the funeral, the Queen flew back to London. Outside Buckingham Palace she stopped her car, stepped out, and talked to people in the crowds of mourners. This took some nerve - no one knew whether she would be well received or hissed. But among the crowd there was almost a sigh of relief. She then walked into the palace and made a live television broadcast in praise of Diana. It relieved the pressure, easing pain and anguish - as a monarch is supposed to do.
There were those who thought that Diana's life and death would change the monarchy forever. But the spasm of emotion surrounding her funeral has not been repeated. The anniversaries of Diana's death have passed with little recognition. One could say that the events of the week between Diana's death and her funeral showed a yearning for the ideal of monarchy. In demanding that the Queen share their grief, Rowan Williams, the Anglican archbishop of Wales, suggested that Britons exhibited 'a potent lament for a lost sacredness, magical and highly personal.... The lost icon was not simply the dead princess; it was a whole mythology of social cohesion around anointed authority and mystery - ambiguous, not very articulate and not easy for either right or left in simple political terms.'
Whatever accusations were made by newspapers and those mourning in the streets, there were other opinions. The Queen received thousands of letters from ordinary people all over the country. Many said that they felt they must expretheir sympathy and outrage for the way in which she had been attacked by the press. 'We do not feel like this' was the common message.
Altogether, it seems clear to me the week showed that people did not want leof the Queen - they wanted more.
couple of months later, at her golden wedding anniversary, the Queen showed she knew that the monarchy is a living thing which must always change. She said that monarchy 'exists only with the support and consent of the people.' Consent to politicians, she noted, is expressed through the ballot box. 'For us, a Royal Family, however, the message is often harder to read, obscured as it can be by deference, rhetoric or the conflicting currents of public opinion. But read it we must.'
She thanked people for their support during the troubled days after Diana's death, and went on to say, 'It is you, if I may now speak to all of you directly, who have seen us through, and helped us to make our duty fun. We are deeply grateful to you, each and every one.' Tony Blair used the occasion to affirm his monarchist credentials, calling the Queen 'a symbol of unity in a world of insecurity where nothing stays the same.' He said that her advice was worth having not just because of her experience but because 'she is an extraordinarily shrewd and perceptive observer of the world.'
In a recent interview with me Blair said that in his weekly meetings with the Queen he may tell her, 'Look, this is what I'm trying to do, and why I'm trying to do it.... There is, partly because of the experience she has, an ability there to give advice and counsel which can be in certain circumstances extremely helpful and to the point.' After September 11, he said, 'obviously there was a huge focus on the Arab world, and that is something she has immense experience of. She's dealt with many of the ruling families over a long, long period of time, and she has a lot of real insight into how they work, how they operate, how they think, the best way of trying to make sure that we reach out to them. So I mean, that's just one example of where that accumulated experience is important.'
Publicly, she was quick to react to the terrorist attacks on the United States. Americans were touched when she ordered the Guard at Buckingham Palace to play 'The Star-Spangled Banner.' She wrote a letter for the British victims of the attacks that was read at a service in New York. It ended with the memorable phrase 'Grief is the price we pay for love.'
Bill Clinton, who was in the congregation, said to me, 'It was a stunning sentence, so wise and so true. It somehow made people feel better, making us understand that we were grieving because we had had that love.'
Recently, Clinton made a point of seeing her when both of them were in Australia. Afterward he said that he had always liked her, that she was wise, and that whenever he visited her he came away feeling better.
There is an alternative to the Queen if the British people want it - as Prince Philip has often said. It is a republican president, a nominally elected head of state. Perhaps that will arrive. Perhaps the intrusive, prurient, judgmental, and celebrity-obsessed society which we have become cannot sustain a monarchy. It is hard to know whether it is fair to ask Prince William to surrender his life to this particular constitutional system in a country that may no longer be emotionally capable of supporting it.
In the end the survival of the monarchy depends on the importance to public life that people accord history, emotion, and belief as well as reason. The monarchy has been with Britain for a thousand years, and I believe ending it would cause enormous disruption and pain.
Harold Macmillan, the Queen's third prime minister, fantasized about the republican alternative. 'Imagine,' he once said, 'if at this moment, instead of the Queen, we had a gentleman in evening clothes ... who had been elected by some deal made between the extreme Right and extreme Left! Then we would all have to wait for the next one, another little man, who is it going to be? ... 'Give it to X, you know he's been such a bad Chancellor of the Exchequer, instead of getting rid of him, let's make him the next President ... ' Can you imagine it? I mean, it doesn't make sense, that would be the final destruction of colour and life and sense of past in this country, wouldn't it?'
I think it would.
Until a few weeks ago it was fashionable, at least in the London media, to predict that the jubilee would be a damp squib. But the hundreds of thousands of people of all ages who turned out to honor the Queen Mother in early April gave the lie to that. I joined the long lines of people waiting up to six hours to file past the Queen Mother's coffin in Westminster Hall. It was an extraordinary sight as mourners walked quietly through the huge 11th-century hall where Sir Thomas More, Anne Boleyn, and Guy Fawkes had all been tried and condemned, where coronation banquets were held until 1821, and where George VI and Winston Churchill had also lain in state. The procession was part of that continuity which monarchs can bestow. People were quiet but happy; they said they wanted to remember the Queen Mother for her long and cheerful presence in their lives. The Queen herself was applauded by the crowds when she drove away from the hall. It was a wonderful moment, which finally laid to rest the ghosts of Diana's death. The Queen was hugely touched and said to friends that it was one of the most moving responses she had ever experienced. Publicly, she thanked the British people 'from my heart for the love you gave [the Queen Mother] during her life and the honor you now give her in death.' A million people turned out to watch the funeral cortège.
Street parties and other celebrations are now being planned all over the country for the jubilee holiday - the first weekend in June. It seems pretty certain that Britain will once more be in the mood to rejoice in our luck in having as head of state, through 50 turbulent years, a woman inspired above all by her sense of humble duty to God and her country. The philosopher Roger Scruton put it well recently: 'If ever the word 'irenic' could be applied to a public figure, it must surely be to her, who has placed herself and her office at the service of her country during 50 years of cultural decline.... The emotion that the Queen inspires is one of unbelligerent tenderness.... She was born to her office and could not avoid it. Her duties were not chosen and she symbolises through her dedicated life the sacrifices upon which nations depend and of which they become conscious when threatened.' She is and she should be cherished.