- Posted by Julia Burns
- On June 2, 2022
- Jubilee, Queen
by Patrick Harverson
A former member of the Royal Household reflects on the enduring example of duty, and sacrifice of Queen Elizabeth II, the first British Monarch to celebrate a Platinum Jubilee after 70 years of service.
It was in the summer of 2004, in my first year working for the Royal Family, that I realised with some clarity how The Queen stands so apart from other leaders around the world.
It was the 60th anniversary of D-Day and heads of state and governments were gathered on the clifftop above the beaches of Normandy. They were there to pay tribute to those who led the invasion that played such a pivotal part in the victory over Nazism.
Centre stage were President Bush, Prime Minister Blair, President Chiraq and Chancellor Schröder. At the time, the four leaders were at odds with each other over the ongoing Iraq war, with Chiraq and Schröder refusing Bush and Blair’s pleas to commit troops to the effort to remove Saddam Hussein. It was a fractious political moment that threatened to overshadow the important ceremonies that day.
Alongside the world leaders on the clifftop that day was Queen Elizabeth II, the only one present who for the public could truly embody the values of the occasion: of service, duty, and sacrifice. The only one who, to many watching, shared the qualities and character of the men who risked their lives six decades earlier to defeat tyranny. Untainted by the political divisions of 2004, and as a modern manifestation of wartime stoicism and steadfastness, The Queen stood apart, admired and respected by all.
As, indeed, she has done now for 70 years as Sovereign.
In that time, she has worked with 14 British prime ministers, met 14 US presidents, and known four popes. She has undertaken 21,000 public engagements, hosted one and a half million guests at her garden parties, and has kept 30 corgis (and counting) as her beloved pets.
In trying to describe The Queen it is hard to avoid clichés. She is dutiful, imperturbable, steadfast, the personification of regal dignity. Amid the statistics and superlatives, the question – “What is she really like?” – is often asked but rarely convincingly answered.
I worked for the Royal Family for almost a decade and cannot provide a credible answer. Her inscrutability is often identified as one of The Queen’s greatest strengths. By keeping her private self to herself and her family and only the closest of friends, she allows everyone to see and appreciate in her the qualities they wish for in a Monarch – wise, calm, dependable, always there for us.
One of her more remarkable achievements is the way she has stayed the same over such a long period and throughout so much change and upheaval. If you think about what the UK has been through in the past few years alone – the divisiveness of Brexit, the pain of the pandemic, and now a terrible war in Europe – The Queen has kept us together. An “anchor” is how David Cameron described her in a speech to mark her 90th birthday. She holds the nation and its people fast during stormy times.
For 70 years The Queen hasn’t just done one job. She has been head of state, head of nation, head of nations (the 15 Realms), head of the Commonwealth, head of the Church of England… and of course, head of a family.
In all of her roles, it is hard to think of a time when The Queen has put a foot wrong. Some argue that after The Princess of Wales’s death in a car accident in 1997 she should have come down to London earlier to mourn with her people… but she was simply putting family before nation (for once, perhaps). It was an understandable prioritisation.
As well as her surefootedness, there is a steeliness to The Queen too, and a strategic mind at work. Just think about how deftly she has been preparing for her successor, Prince Charles, to accede to the throne. How she laid the groundwork for the 53 Commonwealth nations to agree in 2018 that The Prince of Wales succeeds her as its head. Last year she said it was her “sincere wish” that when her son becomes King his wife, The Duchess of Cornwall, will be known as Queen Consort. And this month, when The Queen couldn’t be present at the state opening of Parliament, it was her wish that her heir (and not the Lord Chancellor, who in the past has fulfilled the role in her absence) read the speech outlining the Government’s legislative plans.
As The Queen put it in her most recent Christmas Day broadcast: “We see our own children and their families embrace the roles, traditions and values that mean so much to us, as these are passed from one generation to the next …” She knows, and wants the nation to believe, that the monarchy is in safe hands for the future. In The Prince of Wales and The Duke of Cambridge, it is.
Note on the author: Former Financial Times Journalist Patrick Harverson is a public relations executive. Between 2004-2013, he was communications secretary to the Prince of Wales, Prince William, and Prince Harry.