Jayne Dowle: Enduring royal marriage gives us pause for thought

The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh will celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary today with a family dinner at Windsor Castle.

At the ages of 91 and 96 respectively, and in the middle of November, I think we can forgive them for not waving at us from the balcony of Buckingham Palace.

We should respect their wish for privacy. However, this doesn’t mean that we can’t take a moment to commemorate the occasion and celebrate their achievement. Platinum wedding anniversaries don’t happen every day. I’ve tried to find out how many other couples have managed to clock up seven decades of marriage, but it’s so rare that no official figures appear to exist.

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In an age when millions of individuals don’t bother to marry at all, and many of those who do can’t seem to stay married for more than a few years, achieving 70 years of living with just one other person day in and day out, accepting their imperfections and shouldering their troubles, is some feat.

Even if you’re not particularly interested in the Royal Family, you can’t deny that this occasion gives us pause for thought. If you want some historical context, just look at the photographs of their wedding which took place at Westminster Abbey.

Like every other young woman who married during and immediately after the Second World War, the then-Princess Elizabeth had to collect clothing ration coupons for the material for her wedding dress.

Although the gown itself was created by the ‘Court designer’, Norman Hartnell, and not run up by someone’s aunt on a Singer sewing machine, the wedding made an immediate connection between this young woman starting out on married life in the 1940s and millions of other young women doing exactly the same thing.

Without realising it, the young Princess scored an immediate public relations triumph and endeared herself – and by association her new husband – to the public. This connection stood her in very good stead when she became Queen in 1952 on the death of her father, George VI.

No wonder the public loved her; she’d lived through the Second World War with them, married her handsome naval officer and endured some of what they too had endured.

As the Queen and Prince Philip raised their family during the 1950s and 1960s and sought to steer a steady course through troubled times and demands on the lives – not least from their wayward offspring – this nation watched and held up a mirror to its own experience.

Yet in an age when every minor celebrity takes it upon themselves to share with the world cringeworthy intimate details of their life, the most senior of Royal couples still keep their secrets to themselves. You won’t find the Duke of Edinburgh doling out relationship advice, so the things he has said publicly about his marriage carry a lot of weight.

Speaking on the couple’s golden wedding anniversary in 1997, he said: “I think the main lesson that we have learnt is that tolerance is the one essential ingredient of any happy marriage. It may not be quite so important when things are going well, but it is absolutely vital when the going gets difficult.”

We could all learn from this – especially the second half of his statement – not just in marriage and close relationships, but in our everyday life. Dear old Philip. He’s not known for his tact and cultural sensitivity in public, but he certainly seems to know about harmony in private.

Let’s not forget that marrying the Queen-in-waiting was a very big ask. It takes a special man to play constant second fiddle to a woman unparalleled on the entire planet. She once described him simply as “her strength”.

It’s touching then that their eldest grandson Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, says this about his grandparents: “He makes her laugh because some of the things he says and does and the way he looks at life is obviously slightly different than her, so together they’re a great couple.”

Through all the trials and tribulations they have endured, you can’t deny they have also presented nothing but a steadfast and steady anchor not just for Great Britain, but the world.

Every time I look at this very elderly pair now leaning on each other for support in all senses, I can’t help but think what they have witnessed and lived through.

Many scurrilous things have been said about the Duke of Edinburgh, but if we take the benefit of the long view, these have only served to add further resilience to his character. The Queen too, has come in for more than her fair share of criticism over the years; her apparent intransigence, her difficulty in showing emotion in an age which demands constant over-sharing and her unrivalled wealth have all provoked controversy.

However today is not a day to focus on their individual characters, but to look at what they represent together. And even the most ardent Republican could not deny that 70 years of marriage is a cause for some kind of celebration, if not a very large medal.