If anyone deserves a break, it’s the Queen
On the surface, it was just a quiet announcement from Buckingham Palace, a little notification of change in accepted practice. the Queen will not be laying the wreath at the Cenotaph next month, as she has done for 65 years. Instead, Prince Charles will take over the pivotal duty that lies at the heart of Britain’s Remembrance Sunday commemorations. Yet it was so much more than that. to me, it was a moment of national melancholy. It was a cloud passing across the house of Windsor, a portent of what is to come, the mission creep of the end of the Queen’s reign. And what will come after that, God knows.
Perhaps the very first thing will be Charles rolling up at Balmoral with a dozen skips in tow, into which all the Queen’s frugal two-bar fires, china corgis, tupperware containers and twee thistle print curtains will be heaved.
to be replaced with organic oak log fires, giant silver urns brimming with caviar, rich brocades, six-star luxury and tasselled tassels on the silk tassels.
But I digress. the significance of the proclamation is clear.
HM the Queen is now 91 years old and despite her tweedy fortitude and inviolate sense of duty, she is simply no longer physically capable of enacting all the ceremonial rigours that are part of a monarch’s life. We can all see that, with our own eyes. She can’t go on for ever.
Remembrance Day involves standing outside on a cold november morning and the tricky laying of the wreath, which must be perfect. then those little buckled Queen shoes must edge backwards down the Cenotaph steps, forever on the precipice of calamity. Over the past few years, I’ve barely been able to watch.
HOW much longer before a trip or a stumble? Yet there have been criticisms of her decision to watch from a balcony this year, alongside 96-year-old Prince Philip.
One royal commentator claimed: ‘She should walk or crawl there to honour our war dead.’ Another former royal aide took to social media to air his grievance. ‘Walking backwards? there will be people older than her that have had to go on the Underground to get there,’ he fumed.
Which seems — to put it mildly — unfair and unwarranted. especially towards someone who has never shirked her duty. Off with their disloyal heads!
Instead of complaining that the Queen has perhaps laid a wreath at the Cenotaph for the last time, perhaps we should say a gracious thankyou for all the times that she did. (And understand her touching wish to stand next to now-retired Philip, the husband who has been at her side for all these years.)
For in royal life, as in ordinary life, the last time we do anything has a habit of creeping up unawares, the unacknowledged anniversary of the relentless march of time.
So much fuss is made about life’s firsts — the first birthday, the first deal, the first home. Yet surely what is much more important, and carries more emotional resonance is the last time you do something.
It’s not the first kiss but the last dance that really matters. It is not the first steps but the last ones you take that are so critical.
So sound the Last Post for the Queen’s last stand, although it is far from the dereliction of duty that some suggest.
She has always done us proud, and I am not sure that is something you can say of her children and grandchildren, who are now being increasingly asked to step forward in her place.
however, even as all good and sentimental things must come to an end, her being a Remembrance Day observer is still going to seem strange; a national spectacle without its star player.
the Queen understands there is no bigger, nor more important task for a monarch than to honour her nation’s war dead.
there is no way she would have retired from this, the most serious and sombre of all her ceremonial roles, unless there was a very good reason.
I think it behoves everyone to accept that with grace. Charles will do his best, of course. however, he didn’t live through the last war, like his mother and her generation did. he doesn’t have that visceral connection.
no one has ever doubted the sincerity of the Queen’s bowed head, or the sentiment in her heart. Can we say the same about Charles?
On ceremonial duty, he always has the air of a man who wishes he’d worn his cashmere long-johns after all, and can’t wait to get out of his wet bearskin and dive into a dry martini.
Anyway, on the big day, all eyes will be on the couple on the balcony. As long as they are still here, we’ve got to make the most of them. As I said, you never know when the last time is a-coming.