In times of such deep uncertainty, Queen Elizabeth II was undoubtedly, consistent.
Throughout her long, phenomenal life, she has been labelled as stoic, dutiful, graceful and dignified. Her consistency in maintaining all of this, however, has made her one of the most unforgettable monarchs in all of history, and for those who knew her, worked with her or even had the privilege of meeting her just once, they all say she did so with warmth and humour. For 70 reigning years.
What a woman.
And she never wanted to be underestimated as a woman, fighting daily in a man’s world. A world that changed considerably over the decades, but always remained heavily male-dominated. She was beyond dedicated to her duties, whilst also being a loving mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. In that respect, it’s plain to see why Her Majesty was such an inspiring role model. Although many felt disconnected to who she was, due to such formal and reserved appearances, and having witnessed this through the eyes of the media. A picture was painted of Queen Elizabeth II, much like that of Princess Diana and all those under the spotlight before the digital age. We saw what we were shown, and our judgement was based on just this.
Matt Haig, bestselling author of The Midnight Library, put this perfectly into words in his Instagram tribute to the Queen. He said, “She represented the age of TV…and her coronation was the reason a lot of people bought their first telly in 1952. So our impressions of her are via the TV more than say, Twitter. A Twitter-era monarch will surely have a tougher time but that is another sad thing, the feeling that we’re heading into more fragmented and divided and digitalised times where nothing at all can or should be agreed on. She was just there through our lives without realising it.”
And she was. She really was.
When I was born, Queen Elizabeth II had already reigned for almost 30 years. I can’t recall being taught about who she was or what she did, but I’ve “known” her my whole life. She was as familiar as anybody, and yet, I never met her. There was no mistaking her stance, her fashion, her hair. Her profile. How many times had I stuck a stamp on an envelope and mindlessly took in that image? Just the other day, in fact. Even after her death, people all over the world will still be receiving mail from the UK, posted just minutes before she passed. She was in the paper, every day. On the news. In films, either real footage or portrayed by actors. She was featured in children’s books, for when “The Ladybird heard…but never said a word”, it was Her Majesty’s face I pictured in my mind when I read aloud to my kids. She knew Paddington Bear. And we all know Paddington Bear. She will live on in us all, in memory, from being that figure who was always there. For the majority of most living people’s lives, she has been exactly that; there.
The internet is flooded with ongoing tributes. But it’s also 2022. And for every kind word we read, there are harsh comments of disagreement. We live in the era of amplified voices, all preaching with their fingertips from the comfort of their own homes. Nobody can say Yes, without somebody else yelling back, No. Nothing is right because nothing is wrong. The finality of, “Well, we’ll have to agree to disagree,” no longer means anything anymore because the arguments are infinite. Even in times of sadness, when respect for the dead should at the very least be expected, it’s impossible to read a thread online without being subjected to haters.
To elaborate on what Matt Haig said, King Charles III is now the king of the Twitter-era. He will no longer be somebody who our children will remember just from seeing on TV when they grow up. They will be exposed to him via so many other mediums and likely have more opinions splattered at them. Harry and Meghan are a prime example. The tabloids won’t leave them alone, and neither will those who skim the article and hastily explode in the comments below. No matter what side of the fence you choose to sit on, public figures today experience judgement and criticism from every angle. Gone is the age of simple television. Maybe it was sugar-coated. Two-dimensional. But the alternative reality is now overwhelming.
When I think of Queen Elizabeth II, I don’t feel overwhelmed at all. I feel a sense of calm. Stability. Perhaps this was what the media wanted us to feel, and it worked. Or, maybe she was as extraordinary as many have lead us to believe. So as a tribute to the woman who lived until the age of 96, born into a life she didn’t choose, here is what made her a remarkable, feminist icon…
Her Majesty became the first female member of the Royal Family to join the Armed Services full-time. It was 1945, and she was a young Princess Elizabeth, becoming an active duty member of the Auxiliary Territorial Service.
She joined the Women’s Institute (WI) in Sandringham in 1943, then delivered an inspiring speech - 72 years later - at the 100th annual meeting of the WI at the Royal Albert Hall in London, in June 2015. Addressing more than 5000 WI members, the Queen highlighted some of the greatest achievements for women in the last century.
She quietly oversaw a major change in royal rules of succession, allowing the eldest female to accede to the throne. Leaders of the 16 Commonwealth countries agreed to this in 2011, meaning sons and daughters of any future British monarch would have equal rights to the throne. So when William and Kate had their first child, if they’d had a daughter, she would have taken precedence to the throne over any future younger brothers. As it so happens, the couple had a boy first, Prince George.
She was a skilled mechanic and fixed cars during World War II. The queen trained with the rank of Second Subaltern and excelled. Within just six months, she was promoted to Junior Commander (the equivalent of Captain).
The King of Saudi Arabia was driven by Her Majesty, back in 2003. Abdullah, the-then Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia (where, at the time, women where not permitted to drive) visited her in Balmoral, and the Queen took him for a spin in her Land Rover! Apparently, having never been driven by a woman before, the Prince begged - via his interpreter - to "slow down and concentrate on the road!”
She was the first monarch to attend London Fashion Week, and sat side-by-side with the iconic Anna Wintour at Richard Quinn's show in 2018. It should be noted that the Queen was 92 years old at the time…what an inspiration to us all.