Asked at the start of the Golden Jubilee as to which one of the many events he was most looking forward to, the Queen’s husband answered in typical Philip fashion with two words: ‘the end’. There’ll have been times during the run-up to the Platinum weekend when those around the Queen may well have shared these sentiments as they anticipated what could have gone awry. There were plenty of potential clouds on the jubilee horizon. One by one, they were dispersed. Covid-19’s silver lining revealed itself when Prince Andrew tested positive. He had to recover rather than attempt to kickstart his rehabilitation on his mother’s coat tails.
The greatest concern of the Jubilee organisers will have been the Queen’s health. Though frail and more absent than present, she has played a blinder. Her ability to surprise and pull something fresh out of the hat – or in her case a marmalade sandwich out of a handbag – remains undimmed. The Paddington film was genius. The woman born during the era of silent films, whose grandmother was averse to royals smiling in public, used a teaspoon to tap out the opening bars of a rock anthem with a computer-generated bear. Some have interpreted this brief encounter with a fictional Peruvian refugee as coded regal criticism of government immigration policy. Seven decades on, the head of state is still a blank canvas onto which we can project so much.
The comic sketch was the highlight of the pop concert. It was yet another of the events Harry and Meghan didn’t attend. They did make it to the thanksgiving service at St Paul’s where hierarchy was enforced mercilessly. A year on from when they wouldn’t walk side by side for eight minutes behind their grandfather’s coffin, William and Harry couldn’t be seated within touching distance of each other at a service in honour of their grandmother. And this in a cathedral used by celebrants extolling the virtue of forgiveness.
To the relief of those around the Queen, Harry and Meghan chose to be undercover royals. Their reward has been quality, private time spent with the monarch. She’s both Harry’s main royal ally and the woman who signed off on the brutal fine print of his voluntary expulsion. To much of the British media, everything the Sussexes are experiencing has been self-inflicted. A more nuanced appraisal, acknowledging the mistakes of William, Charles and their aides, may one day occupy some column inches.
The absence of distractions has ensured an uninterrupted focus on the Queen and her achievements. The level of public affection and admiration is stratospherically high. Her unassailable vantage point means it’ll be for her heirs to address the increase in the number of young people who tell pollsters they favour an elected head of state over a hereditary one. Those charged by an accident of birth to follow in her footsteps know she will be an impossible act to replicate.
The Jubilee finale was entirely fitting – an appearance on the Buckingham Palace balcony by the Queen, Charles, William and George. Two future queens, Camilla and Kate and two spares, Charlotte and Louis also made the cut. In one sense every good, bad and indifferent moment of the Queen’s reign has been leading up to this point.
The Windsor dynasty appears secure as it basks in the afterglow of yet another successful celebration of the British monarchy. The transition is advancing smoothly, without fuss or fanfare. The Queen will mostly be a virtual presence in our lives as two kings in waiting take on much of her workload. The long goodbye is underway.
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