I’M hardly a model of sartorial elegance, but I’d like to think that I do at least know how to choose clothes that fit me.
Donald Trump, on the other hand, looked like the last one in the queue at Moss Bros, as he posed next to the Queen before Monday’s state banquet at Buckingham Palace. The dress code was white tie, but Trump just looked as if he’d forgotten to tuck his shirt in.
The picture of them, with Melania Trump to the Queen’s left and then Charles and Camilla, said more than words ever could about the company in which the President found himself. He lived for years in a palace of sorts – the gaudy, gold-plated Trump Tower in New York – but the pomp of our Royal family has no equal in his country.
Out of his comfort zone and out of his depth, his attempt at decorum and deference was palpable. He was next to the one woman in the world whom he dared not insult.
If Trump is to be taken at his word, and there is a first time for everything, the Queen’s quiet diplomacy could reward Britain with a lucrative, post-Brexit trade deal. It is a value inherent in our monarchy that we take for granted. Few countries can pull rank so effectively.
Charles, too, was a model of restraint in front of a man who had insulted both his former wife and his daughter-in-law, and whose views on the environment he finds reprehensible. On Monday morning, his paternal hand on Trump’s back guided the President gently towards the west terrace and the waiting monarch. Most of us, in his position, would have shown him the back door.
Two days later, at Portsmouth, the Queen’s influence was once more self-evident. Upstaged this time, and happily so, by 300 veterans of D-Day, she was marking the 75th anniversary of a time only she and they could now remember.
Fittingly, she chose to quote the words of her father, George VI, from his speech to the nation in the hours after the invasion.
“What is demanded from us all is something more than courage and endurance; we need a revival of spirit, a new unconquerable resolve,” he said.
Transplanted to our time, those words have lost none of their power to inspire, but they would fall on deaf ears now. Our generation, and every one since that of the Normandy veterans, has taken life and freedom for granted, at least in the West. The expectation of having to leave one’s career and family to serve king and country on a foreign shore, and very possibly not return, is as alien as being spoken to in the wrong language.
Along the Normandy coast this week, bunting was strung in the windows of shops and houses, as it has been on every major anniversary since 1944. It bears the legend, ‘Welcome to our Liberators’, and it speaks to the memory of occupation that lives on vicariously on those shores.
President Macron gave it voice at Wednesday’s commemoration in Portsmouth. “First, let me thank you sincerely, on behalf of my nation,” he said, before reading aloud the last letter of Henri Fertet, a young resistance fighter executed at 16 years old.
“I am going to die for my country. I want France to be free and the French to be happy,” Fertet had written.
Is there a 16-year-old among us today who would feel what he felt, for any country?
The sentiment was not lost even on Donald Trump, who appeared, perhaps for the first time since taking office, presidential. “It’s my honour, believe me,” he told a veteran of 93 who said it had been nice to meet him.
But it was the Queen whose presence as a beacon of thoughtfulness and stability, made the link to 1944 tangible.
She had thought, she said, that the 60th anniversary commemoration would be the last one for the living. “But the wartime generation – my generation – is resilient,” she observed, wryly.
We have honoured the sacrifices of the 1940s warriors by preserving, mostly, the peace for which they fought. But what would those who are no longer here have made of the society we have become?
The Queen’s speech on Wednesday, and the leverage she exercised on her American guest, was a reminder that Royalty continues to define this country – and that whatever we have lost, we can still rise to an occasion with the dignity that befits it.