Monday, 19 September 2022

Freewheeling - Farewell Queen Elizabeth II (Elizabeth Mountbatten-Windsor)

Ride in Peace Elizabeth II (Photo: Getty images)

It has been a surreal 10 days or so since the death of the Queen was announced on 8th September. That day is definitely another of those "Where were you when....." moments. 

The news is not quite as shocking as with Princess Diana, when we really didn't see that coming and woke up to the shock news, one Sunday morning in August 1997, of the fatal car crash.

Also, with the Queen being 96, increasingly frail and cancelling more and more engagements you got a sense that the end was coming sooner or later. even if, as Boris Johnson said, people had a child-like belief that she could live forever. Sadly it wasn't to be.

So when I saw Prime Minister Liz Truss and Labour opposition leader Keir Starmer suddenly leave the House of Commons during an important televised debate, I realised there was a serious issue. It was underlined even more by the fact that during the lunchtime news that followed, the BBC News readers wore a black tie and jacket and all television programmes were cancelled as we watched continuous news about Her Majesty. We received updates on various members of the royal family travelling up to Balmoral to be with her - even Prince Andrew and Prince Harry.

Finally, when newsreader Cathy Newman of Channel 4 interrupted the episode of Hollyoaks I was watching, to deliver the solemn news I felt a combination of sadness and loss. It was like we had come to the end of an era. I had only ever known of the Queen as our head of state. As a child, whether it was at school or even at the Brownie Guides we were taught to respect the Queen. I recall as a child loads of fanfare around the Silver Jubilee in 1977. We lived in Nottingham at the time, and I have happy memories of me my mum and my sisters standing and waving at her as she drove past on a visit to our city. 

I must say that she seemed much more of a figurehead for the United Kingdom than any of our Prime Ministers. She always conducted herself with great dignity and correctness, and clearly demonstrated an enormous sense of duty by the way that she always turned up at events come rain or shine - be it to visit a hospital, open a community centre, a supermarket, or presenting folks with their medals - as well as visiting and welcoming heads of states of all hues and characters - from Nelson Mandela to Nicolae Ceau┼čescu.

I hadn't expected to be as saddened at her passing as I thought I would be. There was a sense of the country being slightly rudderless as we had a new Prime Minister and a departed monarch. 

With Queen Elizabeth II now laid to rest we can begin to get some closure and get used to our new monarch. I fully support Charles III becoming the new sovereign, but the fact is with the best will in the world he can't be like his mother. For a start, given his advanced age when commencing the job he'll do well to get to celebrate a Silver Jubilee. 

Charles is a king for the modern era and with that comes very different styles and ways of doing things. Elizabeth was of that era where things were much more formal, with a strong sense of protocol and duty, and you never really knew exactly what she was thinking. She just got on with what she needed to do, never complaining or explaining.

You couldn't imagine her getting into a strop and shouting "Oh this bloody pen" when signing an official document! It was against protocol to touch the Queen apart from to shake hands. But the King has allowed well-wishers to hug him, and he even let one woman kiss him. So we are already seeing a different type of monarch. 

Looking at the various tributes and stories about the Queen, I have learned how physically active she was. We all know about her love for horses and corgies - it was a sorry sight seeing her pets outside Windsor Castle as her coffin was carried into the Chapel. 

But it was very interested to learn about the other activities she did. She had been a car mechanic, and had learned how to strip down an engine. She learned to ride a motorbike too. There is a photo of her practicing riding around cones on what looked like a Royal Enfield motorbike. Prime Ministers have also told tales of how they clung on for dear life in her Land Rover as she drove them around the grounds of Balmoral like she was in Rally race! And of course she liked to spend hours hiking around Balmoral too.

My favourite picture, has to be this one of the teenage Elizabeth, taken while out cycling with her younger sister Margaret. I must say Elizabeth does look stylish on the bike. She would have looked well at home on one of the Tweed Run rides that is organised around London!

Without being really overt about it, Queen Elizabeth was a bit of a feminist. She was one of the earliest examples of a working mum - becoming Queen while Prince Charles and Princess Anne were toddlers. She ended up spending a lot of time away from them, but by the time Andrew and Edward were born she had got to know the ropes of the job and did take on the role of juggling "stay-at-home" mum while carrying out her duties. 

It was also under Elizabeth's reign that the laws of accession were changed so that women could become the direct heir to the throne, rather than being placed behind the men in the family. So Princess Charlotte (her great grand-daughter) is now third in line to the throne, where previously she would have been placed behind her younger brother Louis. 

I have a lot of admiration for the subtle influence the Queen had on our lives and I will miss having a monarch as dignified as Elizabeth II. 

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