Keep Calm and Carry On Her Majesty the Queen con­tin­ues to do just that

Her Majesty the Queen keeps do­ing just that

ZOOMER Magazine - - CONTENTS - By El­iz­a­beth Ren­zetti Pho­tog­ra­phy by Bryan Adams

IFIRST MET THE QUEEN in 2005, at a party at Buck­ing­ham Palace for Cana­di­ans who lived in Lon­don. I re­mem­ber this day well, as you may imag­ine; she al­most cer­tainly does not. In that year, when she was 79, she car­ried out 378 of­fi­cial en­gage­ments in the United King­dom, and 48 abroad. In other words, open­ing up the palace and dust­ing off the Ti­tians for some nice Cana­di­ans was all in a day’s work. She did not seem ex­hausted by this sched­ule, or per­haps it’s more ac­cu­rate to say that she has be­come ex­tremely good at put­ting on a game face. She greeted each one of us with a po­lite smile, touched our hands lightly with her black-gloved one, and mur­mured a few an­o­dyne words. I’m not sure I even heard what she said; I was mes­mer­ized by her flaw­less skin.

I am no monar­chist. In fact, as a dual Bri­tish-Cana­dian cit­i­zen, I think both coun­tries would be bet­ter off with an elected or ap­pointed head of state. The royal family seems an an­tique rit­ual too quaint for this sav­age world. That said, in the eight years I lived and worked in the U.K. and en­coun­tered the Queen on sev­eral oc­ca­sions, my ad­mi­ra­tion for her grew ev­ery year.

Here was a woman who, after the ab­di­ca­tion of her un­cle Ed­ward VIII in 1936, was placed in the di­rect line of suc­ces­sion. God, in her world­view, has anointed her to guide her family, her coun­try, and the coun­tries of the Com­mon­wealth. Re­tire­ment is not an op­tion in those cir­cum­stances; long af­ter­noons of golf are not on the hori­zon. Long af­ter­noons open­ing flower shows in Skeg­ness very much are.

Could the Queen, in her own ex­tra­or­di­nary way, be a model for late-life pro­duc­tiv­ity? Lifes­pans con­tinue to ex­pand, es­pe­cially for those for­tu­nate enough to live in in­dus­tri­al­ized coun­tries. Ac­cord­ing to the 2016 Cana­dian cen­sus, the fastest-grow­ing de­mo­graphic group in the coun­try are cen­te­nar­i­ans. The old rules of re­tire­ment have to be rethought, be­cause there’s a lot of liv­ing to be done after we leave the of­fice for the fi­nal time. The Queen will never leave her of­fice; the Queen Mother, who lived to be 101, was mak­ing pub­lic ap­pear­ances al­most un­til the end.

As jour­nal­ist An­drew Marr wrote in his 2011 book The Di­a­mond Queen: “It has been a life of turn­ing up.” If the Queen ever gets bored or im­pa­tient or does not want to shake the hand of the mayor of Bog­nor Regis or the pres­i­dent of the United States, she does not show it. She would never show any of th­ese emo­tions in pub­lic; that would be com­mon. And the Queen is, by def­i­ni­tion, sin­gu­lar rather than com­mon.

Marr gives a good sense of the Queen’s ef­forts to knit the coun­try to­gether: “It is a sur­pris­ingly gru­elling rou­tine. It in­cludes grand cer­e­mo­nial oc­ca­sions and light­footed, fast-mov­ing trips to meet sol­diers, busi­ness peo­ple, vol­un­teers and al­most ev­ery other cat­e­gory one can imag­ine.” Ev­ery day – after she break­fasts to the sound of her per­sonal bag­piper and reads the horserac­ing news – she is con­fronted with a large box of

brief­ing doc­u­ments keep­ing her up to date on gov­ern­ment busi­ness. When she hosts guests for state vis­its, she su­per­vises all the meals and ar­range­ments her­self – down to the flow­ers in the guest bed­rooms.

It would tire a woman of a quar­ter of her age. Or, as Sheila Fitz­patrick said to me, “I’d just like to know what she’s on.” I met Sheila at the Queen’s gar­den party at Buck­ing­ham Palace in 2012. Sheila was 85, a year younger than the Queen, and she was sit­ting eat­ing cake while Her Majesty moved un­der the swel­ter­ing sun with the im­pla­ca­bil­ity of a small, laven­der tug­boat, greet­ing dig­ni­taries here and vol­un­teers there, lis­ten­ing care­fully to ev­ery­one. Ev­ery year, thou­sands of wor­thies at­tend the Queen’s gar­den par­ties. Ev­ery year she dons a dif­fer­ent, brightly hued dress and hat (fas­tened with pre­cisely three pins) and chats with her sub­jects.

A month after that gar­den party, I saw the Queen again as she rode the glo­ri­ously fes­tooned barge Spirit of Chartwell down the Thames, as part of a grand river flotilla mark­ing her Di­a­mond Ju­bilee. It was lash­ing with rain – “chuck­ing it down,” as the Bri­tish like to say. Prince Philip scowled, but his wife seemed im­per­vi­ous to the weather. She is Queen of this icy, windswept rock in all sea­sons, even when there seems to be only one sea­son called mis­er­able.

Queen El­iz­a­beth has now reigned for more than 65 years, best­ing Queen Vic­to­ria’s rule by al­most two years. Un­like Vic­to­ria, El­iz­a­beth has never dis­ap­peared from sight – not dur­ing the IRA bomb­ings of the 1970s and early ’90s or the furor that sur­rounded the death of Princess Diana in 1997, when the Royal Family’s pop­u­lar­ity was griev­ously harmed by its fail­ure to un­der­stand the coun­try’s grief.

Now, she has scaled back her du­ties some­what, es­pe­cially con­cern­ing in­ter­na­tional travel. She is leav­ing more and more of the rib­bon cut­ting and hand­shak­ing to her chil­dren and grand­chil­dren, as a way of pre­par­ing them – and the coun­try – for the in­evitable. Still, “scal­ing back” is rel­a­tive. She con­ducted 341 pub­lic en­gage­ments in 2015 and 332 in 2016, the year she turned 90.

Even as she slowly lim­its her en­gage­ments, the Queen is still ever-present, es­pe­cially when the coun­try is reel­ing. We saw it ear­lier this year as she vis­ited the bed­sides of ter­ror at­tack vic­tims in Manch­ester, and survivors of the dev­as­tat­ing Gren­fell Tower fire in Lon­don. The or­di­nary Brit may not know ex­actly what the Queen does, but can be as­sured she does it a lot, and with­out com­plaint.

There is much to be learned in this for those of us sail­ing – okay, drag­ging our feet – toward our se­nior years. We may not have the Queen’s riches or re­sources, we may not have cas­tles in Scot­land for re­cu­per­a­tion, but we can keep our brains and our hands busy till the end. We can carry on.

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