Job for life
FROM the moment she was called upon to accede to the British throne at the age of 25, there was no doubt in the mind of Queen Elizabeth II that hers would be a job for life.
“She sat upright at her desk, accepting her destiny. Her feelings were deep, deep inside her,” reported her private secretary at the time.
The news that her father, King George VI, had died in his sleep in England reached Princess Elizabeth during a safari holiday at Kenya’s famous Treetops Hotel – literally around the treetops – during the night of Feb 6, 1952.
“For the first time in the history of the world, a young girl climbed into a tree one day a Princess, and after having what she described as her most thrilling experience, she climbed down from the tree next day a Queen,” wrote a fellow-traveller in the visitors’ book.
But for Elizabeth, the gravity of her task seemed clear.
“I pray that God will help me discharge worthily this heavy task that has been laid upon me so early in my life,” she said.
Sixty years on, royal observers agree that Elizabeth began her reign as she was to continue it – with a strong sense of duty, stoical commitment and unshakeable faith.
Queen Elizabeth is currently the longest-serving monarch after Queen Victoria, her great-greatgrandmother, who reigned for more than 63 years, and could be on course to beat her record.
Seemingly in good health, the queen, a mother of four and wife to Prince Philip for 64 years, shows no sign of slowing down.
The monarch has seen a dozen prime ministers come and go and lived through the collapse of the British Empire, the Cold War, the first moon landing, the creation of the European Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall.
“There is no one in the country more familiar to us than she is. But we have little idea of what she real- THE closest most Britons will come to catching a private glimpse of the queen is perhaps on unofficial newspaper photographs showing the 85-year-old monarch astride a horse in a headscarf and brightly-coloured riding boots.
Readers may be informed that – just like Helen Mirren in the award-winning film The Queen – the monarch had taken to the wheel of her Range Rover to drive herself to the stables.
The enigma that surrounds Queen Elizabeth II is, partly, due to her being an intensely private person who balances her invariably well-rehearsed moments in the public eye with her private passions of horse breeding, riding and being with her Corgi and Labrador dogs.
Despite the glamour of her official role, her private frugality and hatred of waste are legendary, a trait royal observers have attributed to her personal experience of World War II and the austerity of the postwar years.
Her sense of duty was instilled in her from an early age by the example of her father, King George VI, to whom she was very close. It was his premature death on Feb 6, 1952, that brought the young Princess Elizabeth to the throne.
Although surrounded by traditions and customs, the queen has kept up with the latest trends, helped by her grandchildren, insiders report. ly is like. This means we are free to endow her with whatever characteristics we would like her to have,” said journalist Alexander Chancellor about the queen’s staying power.
The Daily Telegraph once went as far as calling her a “superstar”.
“Her behaviour, from moments of the gravest national crisis to when a weeping tot presents her with a dead-head bouquet, is always nothing less than impeccable,” the paper wrote.
If the sudden and premature death of her beloved father shaped Elizabeth, so did her experience of World War II.
As young princesses, Elizabeth and her younger sister Margaret spent the war years at Windsor Castle, where they remember retreating to the dungeons below as Luftwaffe bombers screamed overhead, royal biographer Jennie Bond recorded.
Elizabeth, keen to “play her part in the war effort”, persuaded her parents to allow her to join the Auxiliary Territorial Service, which she finally did in April 1945, serv-
In the six decades of her rule, the queen has seen the advent of popular colour television, mobile phones and the Internet.
When e-mail technology was in its infancy, the queen became the first monarch to send an electronic message, in 1976.
She is now reported to have a Blackberry, and a number of ipods. The royal family launched its own website in 1997, and the annual Christmas address can be viewed on Youtube, which also proved a hit during last year’s royal wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton.
Between 2009 and 2010, the Queen strode into the social media sphere and allowed aides to create a Facebook page and Twitter account. More than half a million people subscribe to the royal household’s Facebook page, while 300,000 follow the Twitter feed.
But the queen’s ability to move with the times goes far beyond keeping up with the latest technology, according to a number of recently-published biographies to mark her jubilee.
In his book, the Diamond Queen: Elizabeth II And Her People, author and journalist Andrew Marr argues that, “under her watchful eye, the monarchy has been thoroughly modernised and made as fit for purpose in the 21st century”.
Bowing and curtseying, says Marr, are now no more than signs of “simple politeness” as the monarchy has responded to challenges to become a “continually selfinventing institution”.
British historian Sarah Bradford, in her ing as a mechanic and army truck driver.
In November 1947, Elizabeth, in a fairytale wedding at Westminster Abbey, married her distant cousin, the dashing Prince Philip of Greece, whom she had met – and by all accounts fallen for – 10 years earlier during her father’s coronation.
The Duke of Edinburgh, of Greek, Danish and German descent, has, despite turbulences in their longlasting marriage, always been the queen’s “rock”.
That support was needed in particular during the late 1980s and 1990s, when the monarchy was plunged into a series of scandals and crises that culminated in the divorce of three of the queen’s four children.
In 1992, when the unrelenting scrutiny of the royals was at its peak, and the separation of Prince Charles from the late princess Diana was announced, the queen said the year had turned out to be her “Annus Horribilis”.
Worse was to come with the death of Diana, in 1997, and personal criticism of the queen, seen then by 72% of the population as being “out of touch” for not joining in the public grief for Diana.
Years of scandal and controversy surrounding Charles’ affair with Camilla Parker Bowles were ended when he finally married his mistress in 2005.
The marriage marked the slow revival of the royal family’s fortunes, which reached new heights with the fairytale wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in April last year.
“The comforting thing about the queen is that she hasn’t changed at all,” said commentator Chancellor, something that would explain the continued support of a steady 70% of Britons for the monarchy.
The queen, he said, made Britons feel secure, and even those who opposed the system of monarchy could “find nothing for which she deserves punishment”.
“For so long as she lives, we will be spared the constitutional crisis that will one day confront us. Long may she reign,” Chancellor said. – Dpa/mcclatchy-tribune Information Services new book Queen Elizabeth II: Her Life In Our Times, wrote: “Our world has changed more in her lifetime than in any of her predecessors’. The queen has remained a calm presence at the centre, earning the respect of monarchists and republicans.”
A new biography by US author Sally Bedell Smith, Elizabeth The Queen, has won praise for “bringing to life one of the world’s most fascinating and enigmatic women”. – DPA/ Mcclatchy-tribune Information Services