Is it really 20 years since I was present at the Queen Mother’s funeral in the Abbey and later in the year, looked on open mouthed as Brian May plucked out God Save the Queen from the roof of Buckingham Palace? Access like that went with the job then. This time, it was the street party outside my block of flats in Ealing. Time for an outing of my old Henry VIII costume I rashly thought, anything to liven up what I feared would be a staid event for my 11 year old granddaughter. Not a bit of it. She loved the traditional games like hop scotch and a dance competition. Amazingly Danny Boy was included in the patriotic singalong. For the first time in my life I won the raffle, a bag full of Waitrose luxuries. As an inevitable star by now, I was roped in for photos with the mayor of Ealing , the councillors, the MP and our local 101 year old lady. There were 57 street parties listed for Ealing (pop 350,000) yesterday.
Yes our little event celebrated the Queen but it was also for the community. I chatted to two women who had been neighbours for 20 years yet had never spoken before.
The Queen’s sudden absences surely added to as much as detracted from the drama. In the post Covid era of Zoom she has neatly exploited the available means of communication. In some ways she has been more closely visible and audible than ever. The Paddington Bear sketch was inspired, particularly with the Queen tapping the rhythm with her tea spoon on her cup as the pictures segued smoothly to the Marine’s drumbeat outside.
Yes it was a gigantic promotion for the monarchy and for the BBC, styling itself as “the official broadcaster” It captured a genuine mood. But was it anything more than that?
Within hours events moved on immediately to the future of Boris Johnson. The struggles continue over Ukraine, climate change and the cost of living. The very future of the Union is still in question.
A critical commentator rightly observed that the Queen has never contributed to any of the significant developments of her reign except the passive impact of the withdrawal from Empire.
But that is precisely the point.
Keen students of the progress of “identity” are now noticing that latest developments can blunt the rougher edges of politics with respect for diversity, inclusion and reconciliation. These can be more than buzzwords; some also have the force of law.
The real impact of the jubilee will take time to register. When I was commentating on the hugely moving response to the visit to Ireland of charismatically conservative Pope John Paul 11 in 1979, I never dreamt that it presaged the crumbling of church authority in much of the Christian world.
Yes, we shall not see the like of the Platinum jubilee again, or for at least 40 years. But there will be a great solemn funeral followed within a year by a coronation and coronation parties. Just as other Popes followed JP 2, so Charles 111 will succeed Elizabeth 11.
A shorter and more representative Coronation will be held, still grand but maybe less faux mediaeval in tone. Scores of hereditary peers donning their coronets will not happen. It is intimated that King Charles will quickly visit all devolved parts of the Union. His own visits to Ireland not least to the place of his great uncle’s assassination have demonstrated sympathetic engagement . The far greater risk was to Charles in the literal embrace of Paddy “Bogside “Doherty to win grants from the Princes Trust for the Derry heritage.
Charles as King will have to make his own way with a different kind of support. He will be almost painfully conscientious. The fact of his incumbency will aid his legitimacy. But perhaps the Queen’s 70 year long uniqueness is as much a hindrance as a help. At 73 he has a far more chequered history than she. Some will never forgive him over Diana.
At the core, what is it that the Queen represents? For the Financial Times, the writer Ben Okri has had a good wrestle with an elusive topic .
She’s done the most difficult thing,
Lived a life of myth inside a life of flesh
Been a symbol to millions while being a woman to herself
Shaped the contours of an age, while seeming small on the stage
Held the hand of a nation while it went through ambiguous transitions
Been on the face of coins and notes While dealing with a family flawed as all are….
And it’s something to do
With power, and something also to do with the mysterious Destiny of a people
Who need the symbol of a crown
To grasp what they can be and what they can do.
On the dim roads of history where sometimes a symbol helps a people rise
And stay risen
While all around.. Darkness prowls ..
To mean something, it has to work for you…
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London