By Sarah Pridgeon
Details tend to define us all. For me, aside from a love of scones and cups of tea, there is also the fact that I am an Elizabethan. I’ve always thought it must be awfully peculiar not to have one’s own monarch but, in the wake of the news that HRH Elizabeth II is beginning to cut back on her duties, perhaps it’s as well to have been spared this particular heartache.
Our queen performs a slightly different role to your president. Strictly non-political, she is less the conduit for governmental decisions and more the shepherdess keeping an eye on her flock. She has been elegantly shaking the hands of dignitaries for almost twice as long I’ve been on this or any other planet.
In the old days, our monarch was responsible for everything from fighting crusades, to making nice with other European crowned heads, to poking the monasteries to see if any money fell out. Today, the Queen might spend the majority of her time being dignified and ceremonial, but she is still where the buck stops. She is our nation’s mother.
Nor does she merely oversee formalities within the borders of the United Kingdom, but across the face of the planet. Two billion people accept both her leadership and exciting array of hats across 54 countries as the symbolic head of the Commonwealth. It’s a voluntary association of mostly ex-British Empire colonies, including Canada and Australia, that comprises a third of the world’s population.
That’s a lot of pomp and ceremony to fit into a day’s work and it’s difficult to blame her for wanting to slow down a little. After all, she’s 87 years old and deserves a few Sundays off to lounge in her slippers and gown. It’s simply sad to see the beginnings of the end of her era.
So far, all that’s been announced is that Her Majesty will not be attending the next meeting of the heads of government of the Commonwealth. She hasn’t missed a single one since 1973.
In the coming months, she will be handing more of her duties over to her son, Prince Charles, and evaluating how much long-haul foreign travel she really ought to be doing. Having spent considerable time on planes myself, I can understand her growing dislike of tin foil-covered chicken and really bad movie selections.
I’m sure it must seem ridiculous to be mourning the loss of a monarch to a citizenship that long ago decided it didn’t want one, but I can’t think of a suitable comparison through which to help it make sense. It’s obviously not so harrowing as losing a real parent but, at the same time, it’s a little bit different to the loss of a president.
Though most are beloved long after their time in office, prime ministers and presidents come and go by their very nature – the very fundaments of democracy deem that this must be so. Kings and queens, on the other hand, stick around for decades; I have never known a time when Queen Elizabeth II was not the head of my state. Her first prime minister was Winston Churchill.
I’m a big fan of Prince Charles – I have been since he looked down his nose at the extension built on a major museum and deemed it to look like a carbuncle – but it’s not going to be the same. The face that adorned every coin I slipped into my piggy bank as a child and was on the other side of every stamp I ever licked will slowly be retreating from view.
I wasn’t at all sure what anyone born once Charles ascends to the throne will be called. Charlesian? Charlestons? Charlie’s Angels? And so I did what any self-respecting daughter always does: I asked my father. Apparently, he is expected to follow the tradition of taking a new name and will choose George VII in homage to his grandfather.
The Royal Family may seem an antiquated concept and of little use in a modern world, but they serve an important purpose. There is a reason that they seem to be somewhere near the front page of every weekly gossip magazine and constantly in the news for doing normal human things like having babies: they are the most recognizable ambassadors my country will ever have.
They represent the centuries of tradition that made us a people and eventually led to the curious few making their lives here in the New World. They are the last guardians of the sort of pomp and circumstance that once made us the builders of the world’s greatest empire.
Without them, we would have to do without palaces and jubilees. If there were no queen, there would be no royal guards in silly hats and no children doing their best to make them crack a smile.
The Queen presides over us all, quietly and with unfailing grace. She carries out somewhere in the region of 430 public engagements each year, not to mention her trips around the world, private audiences, responses to letters from the public and meetings with members of government.
She has the final word when things go wrong, such as during the last general elections when the country couldn’t make its mind up which party it liked best. As benevolent matron, she exists to allow her children make our own mistakes but to save us from the worst of the fallout.
It’s a busier life with more emphasis on duty than most of us would enjoy. The fact that Her Majesty prepares meticulously for each appointment and has not once been heard to complain both pleases and amazes me.
Of course, hers is also the ultimate love story and the perfect example of how a marriage can sustain both halves of a couple for all the decades of their lives. She has a wicked sense of humor, which you might already know if you witnessed her parachute into the Olympic Opening Ceremony alongside James Bond. Or at least I assume it was really her – I certainly wouldn’t put it past her.
For these reasons and more, since moving to the States I have genuinely but unexpectedly felt the lack of a monarch. I’ve always been a sucker for tradition, but I hadn’t realized what an important place the Queen has held in my life for all these years. I am no longer in the shadow of her protection, and I’m not sure that I like it.
You’d have thought this would have prepared me for the inevitable day when a dozen engagements a week would start to take its toll but, alas, a small part of me assumed her immortal. With a heartfelt hope that she will be with us for years to come, I have just one thing to say: God Save My Queen.