Andrew Vine: Queen shows why Royals are long to reign over us

The Queen meets wellwishes after attending church at Sandringham on Sunday.
The Queen meets wellwishes after attending church at Sandringham on Sunday.
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TODAY the Queen arrives at yet another milestone in the longest reign in British history – the 66th anniversary of coming to the throne.

There is unlikely to be any sighting of her. For most of her reign, she has not carried out public engagements on the anniversary, preferring to spend the day in quiet reflection, because it marks the death of her beloved father, George VI.

The Queen took part in a recent BBC documentary about the Coronation.

The Queen took part in a recent BBC documentary about the Coronation.

But for the rest of us, it is a moment to marvel anew at the extraordinary – and continuing – longevity of a reign that has defined what a modern constitutional monarchy should be.

It is also a reminder that she heads a Royal Family in its best state for a long time, one which can face the future with confidence.

This most politically-astute monarch might well reflect that her latest anniversary coincides with another milestone today – the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act.

That historic moment of giving women over 30 the vote, as well as allowing soon-to-be-returning soldiers a say in how the country was governed, bolstered our constitutional monarchy at a time when royal houses were being brought down across Europe amid the turmoil of the First World War.

Britain’s royal family never came anywhere near suffering such a fate, and the first step towards universal suffrage was a factor in that, as was the effort George V put into forging a new bond with the public based on mutual respect and affection.

The example of the man she called “Grandpa England”, which was followed by her father, continues to inform the Queen’s reign today.

She has refined and deepened the bond with her people, and at the age of 91, her capacity to surprise by striking out in new directions remains undimmed.

Like last month, in another milestone of sorts, when she gave what amounted to her first interview on the BBC documentary about the Coronation.

After six-and-a-half decades when the public had only really gained any insight into her character from the Christmas broadcasts, here she was in person, twinkling, wry and displaying a dry-as-dust sense of humour.

As she tinkered with the Crown Jewels, mused on the hazards of putting the crown on the wrong way round at the State Opening of Parliament, and recalled her Coronation robes getting stuck on the carpet of Westminster Abbey, this was the most familiar, yet unknowable, person in Britain finally revealing something of herself.

Her participation in the glorious and breathtaking stunt that opened the 2012 London Olympics, when she appeared to parachute from a helicopter into the stadium, had already served notice that she was ready to move with the times.

But sitting down to talk frankly about the Coronation was, in its own quiet way, just as innovative a thing to do.

And in doing so, it was possible to see the Queen’s tacit approval for the direction of travel that the Royal Family has embarked upon as it looks to the future.

Its relationship with the people is becoming less formal and more engaged on an emotional level, as shown by Prince William and Prince Harry’s willingness to speak about the grief of losing their mother tragically young.

Using their personal experience as the starting point for raising awareness of emotional vulnerabilities in children is a new departure, but at heart one that stands firmly in the tradition of everything the Queen and Prince Philip have done to support good causes.

So, too, the arrival of new members of the Royal Family has underlined that it is reinventing itself. The Duchess of Cambridge, not from royal lineage, has developed a warm rapport with the public that has been a boon to the monarchy.

The engagement of Meghan Markle, American, divorced and of mixed-race, to Prince Harry is further proof of how the Royal Family is harmoniously in step with diverse, modern Britain.

How different, and how much 
better for the future of the monarchy 
as well as the happiness of the 
individuals concerned, this is than what was happening only a couple of generations ago.

Anybody recalling the trawling of European royal houses and the backwaters of Britain’s aristocracy for a suitable wife for Prince Charles, who had to meet certain very strict criteria, can reflect now how stuffy, archaic and out of step with a changing world it was.

The reinvention has been gradual, and at times painful, but has wisely preserved the essential elements that make the monarchy so special to the people – 
the sense of duty, the commitment to service, the stability and sense of continuity it represents in uncertain 
or distressing times.

The Queen continues to personify those virtues. On yet another milestone day, she might permit herself a sense of gratification that the monarchy is in its best state in decades, vigorous, relevant to the lives of its people, and held in no less affection than it was 66 years ago.