Britain’s 90-year-old Queen Elizabeth II marked 65 years on the throne this week, her Sapphire Jubilee. It’s not as big a deal as her 50th or 60th jubilees, but it gives me an excuse to write a blog post about her. You see, I am completely nuts about QE2. To the point that some of my friends think I’m just plain nuts.
I’m an unapologetic, certified Anglophile. Living in London for most of one summer a few years back sealed my admiration for my British cousins and my fascination with all things British. I’m convinced that everything we do, they do better.
Their public mass transportation system, the Tube, is more efficient than any in America while carrying more bodies every day than Chicago or New York. I believe the British to be the most civilized people on earth (notwithstanding the rare riot or soccer brawl), in all their various ethnicities and colors. Nearly everyone I encountered there was just brilliant, to borrow a favorite British term.
I’m also not in the least embarrassed to reveal that I revere the royal family, and none of them more than their matriarch, the nonagenarian queen and longest reigning monarch in British history. But my respect for this lady is not purely royalist in nature, or for the simple fact that she occupies the throne. It’s because she has earned that respect every day of her nearly 91 years.
There isn’t enough space here to cover the woman’s awesomeness. When her reign began, Winston Churchill was prime minister. She lived through the Nazi Blitzkrieg and lived to become the first monarch to send a Tweet. She reigned over the Beatles era when London was the fashion and music capital of the world. She has met every U.S. president since Truman. She has seen regimes topple around the world. She probably has more accumulated political wisdom and knowledge than every current head of state combined.
The Sex Pistols put a safety pin through her nose and Princess Diana tried to raise a rival court. They’re long gone; she’s still here.
Assuming the throne at the young age of 25, Elizabeth’s life has never been her own. From the age of about ten when she became heir presumptive, she would never know the personal freedoms we all take for granted. She may divide her time among four palaces and have her own fleet of planes and yacht and command her own regiments, but she can’t go wherever she wants whenever she wants, do whatever she wants, and she certainly can’t say whatever she wants.
Think of all the things she would probably like to say. Imagine 65 years of making small talk with people you find dull as dirt, and pretending they fascinate you. She can never do what I’m doing now, publishing my opinions in an Internet blog.
Over the past decades numerous observations have been made about her, some critical, even impugning her qualities as a mother. She has never answered back. She can’t. And she certainly must have her own side to things. Unlike former first ladies and even her ex-daughters-in-law, she can’t write books and set the record straight.
I came of age with Princess Di as a pop culture icon, not realizing that the real deal was there all along. The queen weathered with grace the tabloid dramas of the wildly popular but immature Diana, remaining above the fray while watching her own image take a drubbing in the press. She emerged from it with an awareness that the royals needed to appear a little more human and open, and we have seen that change play out.
In her tenth decade, she keeps a schedule that would exhaust one half her age. She could have retired or semi-retired decades ago, as Queen Victoria did, kicking back at one of her country estates with a toddy and leaving the public appearances, travels and duties to the kids and grandkids. I certainly would have. Come out once a year and wave from the Buckingham Palace balcony on her birthday. No one would have faulted her for it. But she’s still out there, still representing. When she told her subjects as a young girl that her entire life would be dedicated to their service, she was not kidding around.
And she never chose this life. Unlike our presidential families who do choose it, there’s no eight intensive years in the fishbowl and then a long and luxurious retirement from daily public life. It’s all fishbowl, all the time.
Many people think the very idea of royalty is silly in the 21st century. Some of the queen’s subjects want to do away with the royals and make the U.K. a republic like the U.S. Reportedly, it costs each U.K. citizen 64 pence a year to support the royal family. I would happily write them a check for their share. Because QE2 has also dedicated her life to justifying and preserving the thousand-year-old institution that is the monarchy and done a better job than anyone could.
My mom had the privilege of seeing the queen riding in a car when she visited New York in the 1950s. She said the queen was radiantly beautiful. If I was ever in the presence of Queen Elizabeth, I would probably dissolve into simpering mush. I fret when she gets a heavy cold. I will weep when she dies. Generations have become so used to her just being there that when she is no longer, they won’t be able to handle it. And the republicans will cry too, in spite of themselves.
QE2, I salute you! You rule.