She doesn’t need a passport. Nor a driving licence or number plate. Her profile is ubiquitous in the money carried in wallets and coins in pockets across the United Kingdom, in letters that travel the world. Her name adorns bridges and buildings, hospitals and ships.
If someone cared to calculate the total length of the ribbons she has cut to open things, it would undoubtedly stretch around the world; those buildings themselves together creating a large city.
Yes, it is hard to imagine a world — certainly a UK — where there is no Queen Elizabeth II. Few in Britain can remember any other head of state, and only two other monarchs anywhere at any time in the world have ruled for longer. And that’s why, now, Britons and those in the Commonwealth nations around the globe are celebrating her 70 years on the throne.
Think of it. She came to the throne when her father, George VI died — itself a sad passing for and milestone for everyone who loses a parent. 1952 was still in the shadow of the Second World War, a Cold War that was unfolding in hot fashion across the Korean peninsula, upheavals and ideological struggles worldwide, and food and clothes rationing was a reality for every Briton, and television — never mind the internet, mobile phones or any other sort of hand-held device was but the stuff of science fiction and a future that few dared dream of.
She is a symbol of British soft power around the world. She is the Head of State. She is the titular leader of the government, and Boris Johnson serves as her “prime” or first minister — the 14th such in her reign. She is the head of the Church of England and ‘Defender of the Faith’ as is written in Latin on the side of coins.
She is the head of the UK’s armed forces. She is patron of most charities and organisations formally. She is one of the richest women in the world. She is owner of dolphins that are in British waters. She is the person who appoints the walker of the sands across the vast tidal inlet of Morecambe Bay. She is theoretically responsible for so much.
She simply ‘is’.
And she is ageing. She is 96.
This jubilee weekend is likely the last time there will be tea parties and concerts, pomp and pageantry in her honour. And yes, it is a time when Britons will think of a time when she no longer ‘is’.
Over the past decade, she has visibly become frailer. That is natural. And the loss of her husband Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh last year has undoubtedly reminded her of the definitive nature of our being, high or low born.
And she is loved by many. More so those of an older generation — the young more questioning but respectful.
Sunday is the centrepiece of this year-long jubilee — a pageant at Buckingham Palace, a military parade, a celebrity-packed carnival celebrating British cultural and technological innovation during the queen’s reign, and a pack of puppet corgis created in the image of her famous pets.
Meanwhile, an estimated 16,000 street parties will kick off all over the country, with people popping commemorative sparkling wine and eating sandwiches from special imprinted jubilee plates.
Though few say it out loud, the nation is aware of the monarch’s health.
The ageing monarch has cancelled appointments, is fragile, and her absences or missed appearances are reported with appropriate solemnity by Royal Correspondents on the BBC.
Britain Queen Elizabeth II Mall London Revelers on the Mall in London watch Britain Queen Elizabeth II appear on the Buckingham Palace balcony as part of a four-day Diamond Jubilee celebration to mark the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II accession to the throne, in London, June 5, 2012.
The wider Royal Family is not without controversy. After a relatively successful decade buoyed by the wedding of her grandson and second heir, Prince William to Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, and the popularity of the Netflix series The Crown, the royals’ rough ride began in early 2020. William’s brother Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, announced they were stepping back from frontline royal duties, culminating in an interview with Oprah Winfrey a year later in which they portrayed the royal “firm” as uncaring.
Meanwhile, Prince Andrew, the queen’s son and Prince Charles’ brother, has faced allegations of abuse that involved an underage girl who had been trafficked by the financier and sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. The case was settled out of court.
The jubilee comes as the UK is still searching for its full place on the world stage after Brexit, some of former colonies have opted to become republics with elected heads of state, and are embittered by what they believe is a shameful legacy of slavery and repression. And even in Elizabeth own realm, the Act of Union that ties her United Kingdom together is under strain, with Scotland pushing for a second referendum on independence, nationalism on the rise in Wales, and Northern Ireland have elected a republican party intent on reuniting the island of Ireland as the majority partner in its power sharing administration.
But Elizabeth endures. A YouGov poll last week found 62 per cent of Britons want to keep the monarchy.
Elizabeth actually reached her platinum jubilee Feb. 6, exactly 70 years after her father, King George VI, died while she was in Kenya on a Commonwealth tour. Since then, her life is one of remarkable service to her nation and commonwealth, and for that alone she has deservedly earned the respect of millions around the world and at home.
There is a line in the UK anthem, God Save the Queen, that notes: “Happy and glorious, long to reign over us”. Yes. This weekend is a celebration of that.
Mick O'Reilly Is Foreign Correspondent at Gulf News. Source: Gulf News