By the time it was broadcast to a sombre nation, Covid-19 had claimed its 5,000th life in the UK and Prime Minister Boris Johnson was being admitted to hospital after failing to shake off the virus.
In just a matter of weeks, Britain’s optimism at the dawn of a new decade has been superseded by the gravest ever peacetime crisis to face this country. By yesterday, another 621 hospital patients had succumbed to the disease, taking the death toll to 4,934 and counting.
Yet, in the grimmest of circumstances, Her Majesty’s personal thank you to frontline NHS staff, care workers and others carrying out essential roles, many risking their own lives and health in doing so, will have helped to strengthen the UK’s resolve as she evoked the spirit of World War Two.
In turn, it also explains why such addresses, other than at Christmas, are so rare. This was a moment of history, just the fourth such broadcast that the Queen has made in her 68-year reign. And the timing is key – such appearances risk losing their resonance if they become too frequent.
But, as well as acknowledging the trauma now being endured by so many families and the “financial difficulties” that millions of others are facing, she used her position, as the world’s longest serving current head of state, to acknowledge the fortitude of so many. “Those who come after us will say that the Britons of this generation were as strong as any,” she observed at one point. “That the attributes of self-discipline, of quiet, good-humoured resolve and of fellow feeling still characterise this country.”
And, while such interventions are never political, there was a clear subliminal message when she thanked all those who are following the official guidance to stay at home to protect the vulnerable. One of the most difficult speeches of Her Majesty’s reign, it was, arguably, the most significant and should be heeded by all.
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