Like me, you were probably watching the telly on Thursday afternoon, or tuned into the radio, or keeping a close eye on social media for the news we knew must be coming but were collectively dreading. TV cameras were trained – rather ghoulishly, I felt – on the railings of Balmoral, and the royal palaces in Edinburgh and London.
It seemed that a nation – indeed, a Commonwealth – was collectively holding its breath.
Just 48 hours earlier, Her Majesty had invited Liz Truss to form a new government; the photographs of her beautiful, warm smile betrayed no hint that we would lose her so soon. Surely, she would rally? Surely this was an over-reaction from the nation’s broadcast media?
The final pages of her story
And then the news came. Was it really true that she had died? Although we might all have anticipated that this 96-year-old mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother was nearing the final pages in the story of her life, it was hard to grasp that she had actually slipped away.
And then Huw Edwards’ words, ‘God save The King.’ Goodness, yes. It must be real, then. The end of an era and the beginning of something new. A King. King Charles III. New stamps, new money, Kings’ Counsel, new passports. That’ll all take some getting used to.
Unable to tear myself away from the screen, I was surprised by my feeling of sadness. It wasn’t grief, as of course, like most of us, I never even met The Queen. It was more a feeling of loss. Of disbelief. Of ‘what next.’ Compelled by the need to talk to someone, I phoned my husband, my mum, and I spoke to my daughters. We all said the same thing; “I can’t believe it.”
A delicious sense of humour
Elizabeth was a woman who lived her whole life in the public eye, and yet seemed intensely private. She did all the right things, said all the right things, and was diplomatic and dignified to the end. But throughout the endless duty and the ceremony, we occasionally caught a glimpse of a delicious sense of humour, and a silently subversive personality.
Her ‘sky-diving’ arrival with Daniel Craig’s James Bond during the opening ceremony of London’s 2012 Olympic Games was a beautiful example of her desire to connect with people, and to embrace the spirit of the Games. I loved that stunt. We all did. But the later revelation that she kept it secret even from her own family, lest it be leaked, and that it was her idea to keep James Bond waiting, made me love it more.
And of course, we saw that personality peeking through again this summer when she took afternoon tea with Paddington as part of her Platinum Jubilee celebrations. Did she really keep a marmalade sandwich in each of her shiny handbags? She may well have done. I like to think so.
Pro-Europeans may remember the blue hat that she wore to Parliament for The Queen’s Speech in 2017. Then, Brexit was top of the agenda, and how Britain might extricate itself from the EU. Was it a coincidence that the blue of her hat was the same blue as the EU flag, and the pattern of yellow flower centres mirrored its golden stars? I doubt it. A silent political message that she regretted the way the vote had gone? That’s far more likely.
And Trump’s detractors were quick to notice that the brooch she wore when she first met the US President in Windsor was the one gifted to her by Obama. Pure chance? I don’t think so.
A life of duty and service
Our Queen’s life was one of duty and of service, and whether you are a monarchist or not – and I’ve made no secret of my views on this in the past – there is still room to separate the woman from the institution, and to see much to admire and to try and emulate.
While us lesser mortals might usefully work for 40 or 50 years then retire to a life of dogs and gardening, she stuck to the promise she made on her 21st birthday, and steadfastly served. Monarchy wasn’t a life she chose, but one she was chosen for, by accident of birth, and an abdicating uncle. I wouldn’t have swapped places with her for all the wealth in, well, Buckingham Palace.
Dignity, grace, humour, service. That’s how I’ll remember the only monarch my life has ever known. Ma’am, you did us proud. Thank you.