You are listening to a programmes from BBC Radio 4.
Good morning. In one of the best known stories about the Queen she is speaking to a person whose mobile phone then starts ringing. Pausing briefly, the Queen apparently says “You’d better answer that. It may be someone important.”
Today our self-effacing monarch will be at St Paul’s Cathedral for a service of thanksgiving for her 90th birthday. Long life does not in itself generate affection. But the warmth of the admiration for the Queen is such that even people who have never met her speak of loving her.
It’s surprising that the monarchy is so popular when the hereditary principle has been largely excised from the body politic during the Queen’s reign. But there is one place where it is still alive and well – in our families. The next generation does not simply inherit whatever wealth we’ve got but family stories and traditions too. So a royal family can be one with which the people of a nation identify, both in joyful times and sad alike. The Queen’s reference to her “annus horribilis” is vividly remembered. By contrast the recent happy photographs of four generations of the Royal Family together suggest the sort of continuities the frenzy of modern politics can never supply.
Not long ago a coin collector pointed out to me how in our pockets we carry a history of the Queen’s life. Her graceful ageing on our coinage has been delicately done. At the beginning of her reign she was a young woman surrounded by elderly men in politics, the Church, the law and business. She was then a refreshing counter to the mainstream. In her later years she is surrounded by men and women (still mostly men) all very junior to her, a gentle challenge to a society which can sometimes be ageist. The Queen has also travelled against the flow by remaining so emphatically loyal to her Christian faith in an increasingly secular age. When given an opportunity, such as in her Christmas broadcasts, she has spoken of “Jesus Christ being an inspiration and an anchor in my life, a role model of reconciliation and forgiveness”. The Queen has not always followed the trends of her time but remained determinedly consistent. Perhaps our admiration is keener because we realise this is someone whose calling was unchosen, yet whose dedication to it is unwavering and whose steadfastness and faith is a reminder that she is her own person. Some words of Queen Elizabeth I four centuries ago apply equally now to Queen Elizabeth II though she’d probably be too modest to say them - “though God has raised me high, yet this I count the glory of my crown, that I have reigned with your loves”.