It is sixty years since the death of King George VI in England; sixty years since the accession of Princess Elizabeth. How has the Queen put up with it for sixty years?
I spent ten days at Saint George’s House in Windsor Castle five years ago. It was a time filled with a sense of history, a sense of beauty, and a sense of wonder at how someone could live their entire life in public gaze.
Saint George’s Chapel, the cathedral-sized place of worship in the castle with its own bishop as dean, is a place steeped in history, tracing itself back to the 13th Century; it is filled with the graves of English monarchs. One morning, I stood at the grave of Edward IV of England, 1442-1483. I didn’t suppose there were many who now grieve Edward’s passing.
But not far from Edward’s grave was the grave of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth and their daughter Princess Margaret, there were plenty of people left to grieve their loss. At the time, I wondered if the Queen of England, who was then over 80, stood at the grave of her parents and sister and remembered happier times. I wondered if there was a moment for saying a few words and for shedding a tear, I wondered if she was ever given space and peace and quiet?
I don’t understand the relationship of the English with the Royal Family, on the one hand they declare themselves avid supporters of the monarchy; on the other hand, they seize upon every piece of gossip and rumour carried by the tabloid press. If people did not read such stories, the press would very quickly cease to run them, yet the slightest story sparks flurries of excitement on the front pages and on the television and radio news. Does the Queen ever have recourse to the press complaints body, or the broadcasting standards authorities, over the stories that are distortions and the others that are simply lies?
It is confusing, if you respect someone, then you respect their right to privacy and their right to having their own inner life; you can’t claim to respect someone if you splash every piece of tittle tattle all over the newspapers.
To have remained in office for sixty years must have demanded incredible powers of perseverance. If I had been in the Queen’s place, I would have called it a day a long time ago. I would have taken my family money and told the State that they could take what was theirs and I would have gone to live in Paris, where they at least have respect for style.
Sixty years, it’s some achievement.