What does a world without Queen Elizabeth look like? - opinion

Queen Elizabeth died fulfilling her duty to the very end. Two days earlier, she was pictured in the media appointing a new UK prime minister. In her death, she exemplified her life.

 THE WRITER is awarded an MBE at the 2006 Queen’s Birthday Honours at Buckingham Palace. (photo credit: screenshot)
THE WRITER is awarded an MBE at the 2006 Queen’s Birthday Honours at Buckingham Palace.
(photo credit: screenshot)

Born and raised in England, I am one of the rapidly reducing number of people who remember the world before the second Elizabethan age. Unlike the vast majority of fellow Brits, the sound of “God Save the King” is no novelty in my ears. In fact, in my 91 years, I have witnessed five monarchs on the British throne, four of them kings. The most recent, of course, is Charles III.

I was four years old in 1935 when my parents took me to join the crowds to see King George V and Queen Mary drive through the East End of London to celebrate their Silver Jubilee, and I remember to this day seeing them sweep by us – a full 15 seconds-worth of contact with royalty. 

Then followed the disastrous year of 1936, which witnessed not only the death of King George but the brief reign of his son as Edward VIII, which ended in abdication. Before 1936 ended, however, we had witnessed the accession of King George VI, the late Queen’s father.

When I joined the British Army in 1950 to undertake my National Service, which was compulsory in the post-war UK, I pledged my loyalty to His Majesty, the King. By the time I left in 1952, the new Elizabethan age had started.

As the Queen began her reign, many remembered the extraordinary broadcast she had made back in 1947, the year she turned 21. As Princess Elizabeth, heir to the throne, she spoke to everyone in the UK and what was still the British Empire but also a developing Commonwealth – a vast agglomeration of peoples spread across the globe.

 Britain's Queen Elizabeth is greeted by former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as she arrives at Thatcher's 80th birthday celebrations at a hotel in London, Britain, October 13, 2005. (credit: KIERAN DOHERTY/REUTERS) Britain's Queen Elizabeth is greeted by former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as she arrives at Thatcher's 80th birthday celebrations at a hotel in London, Britain, October 13, 2005. (credit: KIERAN DOHERTY/REUTERS)

Broadcasting from Cape Town in South Africa, she spoke long and feelingly, especially to “all the young men and women who were born about the same time as myself and have grown up like me in the terrible and glorious years of the Second World War.” She asked for their support in carrying the burden she was preparing herself to bear.

REITERATING THE motto borne by many of her ancestors, “I serve,” she said: “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong… God help me to make good my vow, and God bless all of you who are willing to share in it.”

“I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong… God help me to make good my vow, and God bless all of you who are willing to share in it.”

Queen Elizabeth II

Never was an intention more completely fulfilled. The world witnessed a life dedicated to the service of the peoples under her rule and to the wider world. As decade followed decade, she was increasingly a steady, permanent presence in turbulent times. It was her inner strength of purpose that assured people of her unshakable determination to continue serving them, no matter what.

She made no secret of the fact that the rock on which her strength of purpose was based – however out of tune with the times this may have been – was her profound religious belief as a practicing Christian. Throughout her reign, with only one exception, the Queen broadcast to the nation and the world on Christmas Day, and each and every such talk made reference to the religious significance of the occasion. And this is why, back in 1947, she had asked God to “help me make good my vow.”

Queen Elizabeth’s life can truly be described as one of duty done – duty as a monarch, certainly, but also, as we learned thanks to the media spotlight increasingly focused on her and the royal family over the years, duty as a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. She died fulfilling her duty to the very end. Two days earlier, she was pictured in the media appointing a new UK prime minister. In her death, she exemplified her life.

My personal meeting with Queen Elizabeth II

I began on a personal note. Let me conclude on one, for it chances that I came a good deal closer to the late Queen than I had done to her grandfather as a four-year-old. One morning in 2006, I received a letter with the ominous “On Her Majesty’s Service” emblazoned across the envelope. Certain that I had a nasty surprise awaiting me from the tax authorities, I opened it only to discover, to my utter astonishment, that the prime minister was minded to recommend me for an honor in the Queen’s forthcoming Birthday Honours List, and was I minded to accept?

I was. So some months later my wife and I, accompanied by my son and daughter-in-law, found ourselves inside Buckingham Palace. While they disposed themselves in the audience, I joined the queue of some hundred people also receiving an honor that day, and eventually found myself face to face with the Queen.

After she had pinned the medal on my lapel, we exchanged a few words. I discovered that she knew about and was interested in the broadcasting career that had brought me before her. We shook hands and, stepping backwards so as not to turn my back on her, as is the etiquette, I left her. But, of course, those few minutes in the presence of the sovereign remain with me, and always will.

That is precisely the feeling shared by hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of people the world over who have had some sort of contact, personal or not, with the Queen. She had a singular ability to engage with individuals and enthuse multitudes. People like this are rare indeed. Those of us who mourn her passing do not believe we shall see her like again. ■

The writer, whose grandparents went to England from the Pale of Settlement, was born in London. A graduate of Oxford University, he was twice elected chair of the Broadcasting Committee of the Society of Authors. In 2006 he was awarded the Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE), for services to broadcasting and drama, in the Queen’s Birthday Honours. The parents of three sons, he and his wife made aliyah in 2011.