The Daily Telegraph
‘IT WAS A GRANDER VERSION OF A MILLION MOTHERS’ FUNERALS’
Despite the glorious surroundings, pomp and ceremony, this was a modest Christian service of comfort and hope, says Allison Pearson
It had to be a fitting end to a remarkable reign, the last page of the final act of one of Britain’s most enduring and beloved dramas. We wanted so badly to do her proud (as she did us proud). Thousands upon thousands of people lining the Mall partook of an almost mystical togetherness (“It’s like the Queen is the crowd or the crowd is the Queen,” marvelled a friend who was there). And the millions of us watching at home, on tenterhooks, all wanting a great funeral that would honour the best monarch any country could wish for. And so it proved.
For too long, we have thought that nothing in this country works any more. Boy, did this work. It is, we were glad to be reminded, what we still do best. Pageantry, precision, the click of spurs, the hypnotic death-beat of the drums, the crunch of synchronised boots, the flashes of scarlet and gold, fluttering plumes of swan feathers, heralds as colourful and intricately-patterned as playing cards, the skirl of the advancing pipers in formidable formation, the full-moon circles of naval caps when a hundred sailors’ heads were bowed.
Hands up, who cried who didn’t expect to cry? Maybe it’s easier to ask, who didn’t shed a tear? Sorrow fought with elation in the nation’s breast, grief with gratitude, at the sheer majestic glory of it all. Emotions went up and down (sad, happy, sad, happy). If the wreath containing myrtle cut from a plant grown from Princess Elizabeth’s wedding bouquet didn’t turn you to mush, there was the sight of those eight Grenadier Guards carrying that wonderful lady in their arms. Shiny young faces solemn with effort, they hefted the late Queen’s coffin onto their shoulders before – a moment of maximum peril – raising it aloft then swivelling it onto the gun carriage, pulling Her Majesty’s standard out of the way lest it get caught. (These things can go wrong. During the funeral of George V the orb rolled off into a gutter.) Once the coffin was safely aboard, the naval ratings snapped together in a protective phalanx, perfect West-end choreography, the monarch’s children marching behind. (Prince Andrew looked like a prep-school boy trying not to cry, perhaps fearing his own public life will be buried with his mother.)
“She is in good hands,” one veteran commented approvingly on Twitter. Yes, she clearly was. There was a sense, hard to describe, easy to feel, that although our sovereign has departed this life, she must still be shown the most tender and reverent care.
Inside Westminster Abbey, the most powerful people on Earth had come to pay tribute to Queen Elizabeth II. Amidst a dark forest of hats, you spotted Arab head-dresses and fezzes.
The President of the United States showed up late because he had refused to take the shuttle bus with other world leaders and, predictably, got caught up in traffic. If Japan’s Emperor Naruhito, an actual god, could board the Hoppa then Biden might have done as he was bidden. But we forgave him because he said, unimprovably, of our beloved departed monarch, “The world is better for her.”
Her Majesty had an awful lot of history with that sacred place. She married darling, dashing Philip there, her happiness more dazzling than the diamonds in her tiara. It is where she became Queen 70 years ago and where she watched her dear papa’s own coronation. “I thought it all very, very wonderful and I expect the Abbey did too,” 11-year-old Lilibet wrote in her diary on May 12 1937, “the arches and beams at the top were covered with a sort of haze of wonder.”
Some questioned whether nine-year-old Prince George and Princess Charlotte, aged just seven and in a lovely hat to rival her beautiful mother’s, were too young to attend Gan Gan’s funeral. They have forgotten that, on January 27 1936, a nine-year-old Lilibet, wearing a new black coat and a black velvet beret, was taken to the lying in state of George V in Westminster Hall. The next day, the future Queen clutched her mother’s hand as the man she called Grandpa England was lowered, in his coffin, into the family vault beneath St George’s Chapel, Windsor, where Lilibet now joins him.
Exactly the age his great-grandmother was then, Prince George yesterday looked
with solemn, childish eyes upon his destiny. He begins to learn, from this day forward, that royal life is a series of tableaux. (As it happens, both children were impeccably behaved, requiring only the occasional hand of reassurance from their parents.) The BBC’S commentator, a mellifluous Fergal Keane, summed it up perfectly as “all part of the recurring seasons of death and renewal”. A profundity and sense of continuity that politics never gives us, but monarchy can.
Despite the grandeur of the surroundings, the service itself was notably homely, even modest. Queen Elizabeth’s choice of hymns were firm favourites that even her most agnostic of subjects could sing along with. (Everyone can have a crack at The Lord’s My Shepherd; the descant was even attempted in my house.) Belted out by choir, congregation and country, Love
Divine, All Loves Excelling raised the roof of the sky, let alone the Abbey.
It was a grander version of a million mothers’ funerals. And that felt exactly right for a modest woman who lived to serve. Our late Queen never liked a service to go on a minute longer than was necessary, and this one didn’t. Marvellously, she once ticked off a bishop for a service that had been too mournful; people should leave a church with hope, she said.
Prime Minister Liz Truss read a lesson well (she has visibly grown in confidence, a good omen) although I admit to a pang when thinking how her predecessor would have knocked it out of the park. Boris, nearby and once again comb-less, would not be human if he didn’t feel the same.
Above all, this was a Christian service of comfort and hope for the British people, rooted in what the Archbishop of Canterbury called the dear departed’s “allegiance to God”. For Elizabeth being Queen was never about her. People of service “are rare in any walk of life”, said Justin Welby. “Leaders of loving service are rarer still.”
And the world fell silent at 11.56am. An overhead camera looked down at that glowing coffin on the chequerboard floor, granting a perspective from heaven. We were left in no doubt that was where our late Majesty believed she was going. At the very end, when they started singing God Save The King, the face of her son, who has performed so valiantly since her death, crumpled in weeping; Charles’s accession the proof that she was gone.
As her parting gift, Elizabeth the Good bequeaths a vast reservoir of affection for the monarchy which her successor can draw deeply upon. In these past 11 days, she has taught a fractious nation a new and delightful sense of togetherness. That strangers in a queue can become friends.
“The Queen has spoken gently to the better angels of our nature. Hers has been the quiet heroism of service, the dignity of dedication to the common good, the good that’s so much bigger and nobler than self-interest,” said the late great Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. Quite. Honestly, we loved her so much she may even have persuaded us to like bagpipes.
It was indeed a very, very wonderful funeral. Thank you. Take it easy now. You’re in the best of hands.
Queen Elizabeth II spoke gently to the quiet angels of our nature. That voice is gone forever, but if we listen hard enough we may hear it still.