Yes, she’s the child of hereditary privilege, and one of the world’s richest women. On the other hand, not many people today are still working in their mid-eighties. Or have worked at the same job for sixty years.
But the little old lady (86 years old and, officially, 5’4″–but people say she looks much shorter now) who lives in Buckingham Palace is. And has.
She is Head of State, Head of the Armed Forces, Head of the Church of England, and Head of the Commonwealth.
Her days continue to be filled, as they have been for sixty years now, with ceremonies, receptions, audiences, meetings and briefings, as well as with reading and responding to everything from letters from the public (three-and-a-half million responses, over the years) to government policy papers. Virtually every day of the year, even on vacation, she receives, reads, comments on, signs and returns briefing papers from the government on a range of issues.
So this week Britain is celebrating Elizabeth Alexandra Mary, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and of her other Realms and Territories, Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith.
Saturday, the Queen attended the annual Epsom Derby. She’s been going since she was a little girl, and hasn’t missed it since her coronation in 1952.
Sunday the Queen stood, in the rain, for four and a half hours (did I mention she’s 86?), on the Royal Barge as it led over a thousand vessels down a seven-mile stretch of the Thames River, waving to a million and a half well-wishers on the banks.
Today there’s a smaller affair–a picnic for 10,000–in the gardens of Buckingham Palace, followed by a concert on the front lawn featuring Paul McCartney and Elton John.
And tomorrow, there’s a Service of Thanksgiving at St. Paul’s Cathedral for the Royal Family and 2,000 invited guests, and of course the obligatory family appearance on the balcony at Buckingham Palace.And even in this, she serves. Her almost-91-year-old husband, Prince Philip, was taken to the hospital this morning with a bladder infection, and is expected to remain there for several days. But the Queen is soldiering on.
From all accounts, the Queen is a shy and deeply private woman who would have loved a quiet life in the country with her dogs and horses. (In 1945, the 19-year-old Princess Elizabeth was quoted by Life magazine as saying, “I should like to be a horse.”)
Instead, she was thrust at a young age into a busy life in the public eye, and, at the tender age of 25, into the heavy and ostentatious trappings of constitutional monarchy: public service devoid of all real political power.
But not of all power.
With a net worth of close to half a billion dollars, the Queen could have spent her life on a beach on the French Riviera, or clubbing in Monaco or London, or in a country house breeding Corgis and thoroughbreds. Or all of the above.
Instead, with dignity, courage, humor, and a profound sense of public duty, she has led by example, giving over seventy years of loyal service (she gave her first radio broadcast at 14) to the people of Britain and the Commonwealth.
In April, 1947, on her 21st birthday. then-Princess Elizabeth, in a radio broadcast from Cape Town, South Africa, pledged:
before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service. . . .
She has her own webpage now, not to mention a Facebook page and Twitter account. She is rumored to use email, and love Wii. But at the bedrock level, she has not changed. For sixty-five years, her country has been in decline–politically, economically and morally–but hers has been a long and splendid reign, because she has kept her promise.
Congratulations, Ma’am, on a job well done, and a life well lived.
♦ ♦ ♦
I enjoy this collection of clips of the Queen, Some of them are pretty random, but many of them show a side of her rarely seen: an animated and joyful woman with a beautiful smile. Notice her practicing dubbing knights with a pencil at 3:17.