Job for life

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIVING - Sto­ries by ANNA TOM­FORDE

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

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