Graham Reid | | 3 min read
Because there was no news.
It was the absence of Queen Elizabeth II from public duties.
Clearly she was unwell – not unexpected, she was 95 at the time – but the news media was cautiously respectful, simply noting her absence and those many other royals capable of standing in for her on ceremonial and civic occasions.
No one wanted to say the obvious because that would have seemed disrespectful at best, and tasteless at worse.
But in late March the Sunday Times flagged the idea that the Prince of Wales could step in and read the Queen's Speech at the state opening of parliament if necessary.
Until an appearance shortly after at the Westminster Abbey commemoration for her late husband Prince Philip, she had been mostly out of the public eye for five months.
At her husband's funeral in April the previous year she was a lonely figure, seated apart . . . and who knows what would have been going through the mind of the longest reigning monarch in British history?
At the time of this writing, the Queen has just invited yet another prime minister to form a government in her name – Liz Truss the 15th in her reign since Sir Winston Churchill, the incumbent when she was crowned. But she did it at Balmoral for the first time, the royal family's retreat in the Highlands of Scotland.
(Nice place incidentally, it opened to the public the day we were in the area so we dropped by for a look.)
The Queen is apparently now so frail
For all my long life Queen Elizabeth II has been there and so when the inevitable happens there will be pause for thought and maybe even reflection on an extraordinary life in which she has not only dealt with her own prime ministers but world leaders from madman Idi Amin to measured President Obama.
She has overseen constitutional crises and on a personal level had to deal with the disappointments of her own family: divorces, affairs, scandals . . .
No doubt when she dies there will be some who celebrate for their own anti-colonial or anti-monarchy reasons.
But this queen didn't preside over colonies, in fact she saw the break-up of the Commonwealth: India had already gone and the flag came down across the African continent and in Hong Kong; the steady loosening of ties to Britain in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific . . .
There have been home rule movements in various parts of what was once called “the United Kingdom” but which is plainly disunited today.
The Queen sometimes appeared to be the glue holding it together and even anti-monarchists would grudgingly concede she was a decent woman.
Those who leap forth with their anti-colonialism or anti-monarchy sentiment on this occasion miss the moment through their myopia: her passing is an event in world history of the kind none of us have seen in our lifetime, and which our children may never see.
Prince Charles who will inherit the throne is currently 73 and – even given the sturdy royal genes which see them live to advanced ages – he won't be the king for long. Then it will pass to his son William who has already said that any relationship between the Crown and the Commonwealth will evolve.
He has hinted openly that he might not lead the Commonwealth.
Given it is pulling apart, albeit gently, and a time frame of perhaps 20 years before he is crowned – think of the political world in 2042 – that seems highly likely.
“The Firm” – as Prince Philip used to refer to the monarchy – has survived wars, abdication, assassination and such . . . but indifference can kill just as effectively.
Queen Elizabeth II has been an extraordinary woman committed to service and duty, and – whether we like the notion of royalty or not – we'd have to concede she did a decent job in a demanding and often thankless role.
“Her majesty's a pretty nice girl but she doesn't have a lot to say”? Ironically, that's not her job.
Mistakes and missteps? Of course.
Remote and removed as well? Almost inevitable in that crucible of protocol, history, precedent and class privilege.
Exactly the personality required for such a job.
And when she goes there will be a gap – just 5' 3'' – in history which is impossible to fill.
HRH Queen Elizabeth II died at Balmoral Castle, Scotland two days after this article was published: September 8, 2022 (UK time)