Hard-working servant of her loyal subjects
PRINCESS Elizabeth was in Mombasa preparing her horse for the next stage of a Kenyan safari when news eventually reached her from Buckingham Palace that her father had died, and she had inherited his throne. Just 25, and not long married, she had been scheduled to travel from Africa to New Zealand, a deliberately punishing tour that had the feel of a regal hazing ritual.
Whereas George VI had sobbed for an hour on his mother’s shoulder on hearing of his brother’s abdication, Elizabeth reacted very differently. Rather than indulge her grief, she started to write letters to officials in New Zealand apologising for the abrupt cancellation of her trip. The young monarch had been raised to believe that duty was everything, and this small act of selflessness showed her determination to live by the words of her first radio broadcast on her 21st birthday: ‘‘ I declare before you that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service.’’
Duty, convention, ritual and family are the recurring themes in The Diamond Queen, a biography by BBC broadcaster Andrew Marr penned in time for the Diamond Jubilee. Marr sketches a portrait of the 85-year-old monarch that her admirers will find pleasingly familiar. Elizabeth is rendered much as Buckingham Palace would wish: as a woman of extraordinary stamina, decency, kindness and bravery — a hardworking servant of her loyal subjects.
A ‘‘ naturally shy and quiet person’’, she has a ‘‘ wry wit’’, a talent for mimicry, a ‘‘ shrewd intelligence’’ and a keen appreciation of the enormous privilege of her position and also of its many constraints. Notes Marr: ‘‘ With only one significant exception, her marriage to Prince Philip, she has done nothing against the grain of what was expected. She has uttered not a single shocking phrase in public.’’
Displaying the same dutiful approach, Marr also skirts controversy, most notably the Queen’s emotional aloofness from her children. He also offers an uncritical account of her response to the death of Diana, princess of Wales. During the week in which the House of Windsor seemed momentarily to totter, she is portrayed as a fiercely protective grandmother who refused to give in to ‘‘ media-stoked’’ demands. Prince Philip is also treated kindly, and presented as a shrewd moderniser, rather than the gaffe-prone liability of tabloid lore, who pushed for many of the incremental reforms