In this column distributed by the Elon University Writers Syndicate, Professor of English Rosemary Haskell writes about the significance and enduring impact of Queen Elizabeth as she prepares to celebrate 70 years on the throne during the upcoming Platnum Jubilee. The column was published by the Greensboro News & Record, the Rocky Mount Telegram, the Elizabeth City Daily Advance and other outlets.
By Rosemary Haskell
In February 1952, a few years before I was born, my mother was wheeling my older sister in her pram along a street in suburban London. A window cleaner called to her from his ladder: “Have you heard? The King is dead!”
Thus the new reign of Queen Elizabeth II began. My mother is long gone, but that new young queen, then just 25, lives on and celebrates her Platinum Jubilee this summer.
Like Hamlet’s father’s ghost, Her Majesty could a tale unfold, private and public, some of which at least might harrow up the soul and freeze the blood.
But the Platinum Jubilee is a time for celebration of one woman’s consistent devotion to her duty and of the nation’s own 70-year story. During the long Jubilee holiday, the British are planning street parties, concerts, countless loyal addresses and presentations, and the enjoyment of the family’s “balcony wave” from Buckingham Palace.
Why do I care about this anniversary and the Queen and the monarchy?
As an expatriate Englishwoman, I admit regretfully that I have never met the monarch. As a child, I saw her once: she was being driven down Prince’s Street, in Edinburgh. Years later I basked in reflected glory when my mother was presented to the Queen in a group of people being honored for their community service.
Much more recently, a telling exchange unfolded upon my arrival at London’s Heathrow Airport. A middle-aged immigration officer with a strong Jamaican accent, upon seeing in my U.S. passport that I had been born in England, asked whether I had my British passport with me.
When I confessed that I did not have it, he replied, “What’s the matter with you? Don’t you love the Queen anymore?”
“I do love the Queen and I know she worries about me,” I said, tongue in cheek.
“She worries about everybody,” he said, and we both laughed as he waved me through the barrier.
This encounter says a lot to me. We joked, but with affection and respect. We were Black and White Brits, relics of the old empire, who acknowledged a connection—with each other, and with the woman who had succeeded her father King George VI before we were even born.
At 96, Elizabeth still holds her often fractious subjects together and puts the “United” in a “Kingdom” where Scotland, England and Northern Ireland can periodically threaten to part ways.
The Queen is like a sympathetic ear, a court and a listener of last resort. As a politically neutral part of Britain’s governing machinery — allowed by custom to advise, warn and be consulted — the Queen is the people’s best shot at a highly-placed person who might, just might, drop a timely word in a powerful ear.
If I could meet the Queen today, I would tell her how worried I am about Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s behavior. I want to suggest she say to him, “Prime Minister — you really shouldn’t have had those Downing Street pandemic parties when everyone else was locked down watching ‘East Enders’ with a grumpy relative or two. And, by the way, Priti Patel, your egregious Home Secretary, shouldn’t be trying to export to Rwanda — like bales of hay — the asylum seekers our own privileged country ought to receive.”
Queen Elizabeth may be too frail now to be hosting many state banquets where soft power can be promoted, but I would ask her to invite that youngster, President Biden. Over the Palace silverware, perhaps they could discuss ways in which Britain and the United States might promote ethical business practices, make a great leap forward to cool the overheated planet and find a way to President Putin’s heart.
And, with her probably still-impeccable French, she might also entertain newly re-elected President Macron and try to mend a few Anglo-French fences battered by Brexit.
British patriotism is usually fairly subdued. You won’t find many saying outright that they love their country. But I think they do love the Queen, or at least the idea of her: the horse and dog lover, the countrywoman, the worried mother and grandmother.
When this iconic presence is gone, will the nation take to its heart Prince Charles — the aging heir, the well-meaning but melancholy Eeyore, the plant-whisperer, the organic gardener, the environmentalist and global thinker, and the adulterous husband — the way it has Elizabeth for the last 70 years?
Views expressed in this column are the authors’ own and not necessarily those of Elon University.