The Queen is ninety. Her sixty-four year reign has broken the record of longest-serving British monarch previously held by her great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria. Her Majesty and Queen Victoria are the only British monarchs to have lived long enough to see the next three generation of royal male heirs in place. She is the most well-travelled woman in the world, surely the most photographed and, by virtue of her age and the British Empire, has appeared on more stamps, coins and banknotes than any other monarch in history.
As rather a seasoned sartorial royal watcher, I would also hazard a guess that HM The Queen has the largest collection of couture tailoring, millinery and evening dress ever made for a monarch. While the Sultans of Brunei, Oman or Qatar may collect priceless coloured diamonds as large as gob-stoppers, the historic provenance of the Crown Jewels and The Queen’s personal collection make hers the most important magnificent jewellery still ‘in commission’.
Can you recall that scene in Titanic when aged Rose casts her eye upon a mirror she had owned that went down with the ship in 1912? Her response was to say that the mirror was exactly as she remembered but, alas, the reflection had changed a little. I do wonder if The Queen has similar thoughts when her dresser Angela Kelly sets one of her favourite tiaras in preparation for the dinner to be held at Windsor Castle tonight?
I suspect ‘alas’ doesn’t enter Her Majesty’s mind. Of late The Queen appears to be in very good spirits due in no small part to her consort, Prince Philip, having remained by her side since 1947. With all her heirs in line and a nursery-full of great-grandchildren, The Queen must feel that hers is a job well done as head of both state and family. The institution of monarchy is more popular today than it ever has been since 1953.
Amidst all the walkabouts, gun salutes, torch-lighing and celebratory dinners, it is easy to forget the annus horribillis of 1992 when three of her children divorced or the death of Diana, Princess of Wales five-years later when thunder rolled around the throne. The Queen’s personal dedication to her duty as monarch could have been undone by the maelstrom following the death of a princess. Perhaps Her Majesty’s restoration of the public’s trust and affection in the monarchy after Diana’s death will be looked on as her finest hour.
The effect of the Abdication Crisis on the then Princess Elizabeth has, I think, been overestimated. Would ‘Uncle David’s’ desertion of the British throne for the love of Mrs Simpson really have sunk the good ship Windsor? In 1936 reverence for the institution of monarchy was still universal in Britain and I can’t imagine Queen Wallis was ever a serious proposition.
One would imagine seeing King George VI and Queen Elizabeth remain at Buckingham Palace throughout the Blitz, at the cost of The King’s fragile health, set the tone for their daughter’s reign. Grace under pressure seems to be Her Majesty’s stock in trade and has served her well as England and the wider world change around her. Being a constant presence in the national consciousness for decades and holding both respect and affection cannot have been an easy task.
But as regimented as her life must have been, The Queen’s is a life that must on occasion be rather fun. Her Majesty’s life is one of certainties and there is some comfort in that. She will open Parliament, attend Royal Ascot, lead the Garter Ceremony and observe Trooping the Colour every year of her life. State Visits, ribbon-cutting, tree-planting and speech making are obligatory. Her Majesty’s professional life is run with military precision by an army of staff.
One would agree that being asked to meet her subjects en masse in a calendar of public appearances that would defeat a twenty-year old might prove taxing for Her Majesty at this great age. But according to courtiers, The Queen has no intention of abdicating because she is utterly engaged and thoroughly enjoys being Queen. As busy as The Queen’s working diary is, time is allowed for Her Majesty to enjoy her private residences Sandringham and Balmoral, her beloved Windsor Castle and spend increasingly less time in ‘the office’ as Buckingham Palace is known.
As one who thoroughly enjoys formal day dress and changing for dinner, I imagine that even at ninety it must be terrific fun for The Queen to plan her wardrobe with Mrs Kelly and have the privilege to choose whether to wear the Girls of Great Britain & Ireland, Kokoshnik, Fringe or Grand Duchess Vladimir tiara on any given night. Also, it must be heaven to travel when you’re The Queen.
I suspect many would like to be queen for the day but I doubt there’d be many people who would have the stamina to endure Her Majesty’s schedule for even a month let alone sixty-four years. England has always done rather well in the reign of a queen. When the present queen was crowned, monarchists predicted a new Elizabethan Age. Golden ages under constitutional monarchs depend on government, events and luck. The Queen has presided over a personal new Elizabethan Age but the more recent of her twelve Prime Ministers haven’t made her reign particularly easy.
Many people express an interest in meeting The Queen. Though I have seen Her Majesty on countless occasions in the Parade Ring at Royal Ascot, I have never been formally introduced. At this stage in her reign, what could a new acquaintance possibly say to her that would be of interest or novelty in under five minutes? Far better, I think, to admire and applaud from afar.