Tomorrow marks a historic moment without precedent in the 1,000-year story of the British monarchy – the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.
This milestone of her 70 years on the throne is truly a moment when Britain should pause to reflect, not least because most of our country’s people have simply never known a time when she was not head of state.
Her longevity as monarch, and the changes she has weathered over the course of those seven decades, is astonishing.
And if the country takes an ever longer view of her contribution to the nation’s life, wonderment at how much she has given can only increase, for her Platinum Jubilee year also marks the 82nd anniversary of her first broadcast to the nation, in the dark days of 1940 when she was only 14.
It is unthinkable that any of her heirs will reign for so long, or play so influential a part in Britain’s history for such an extended period.
The war-weary, all-but-bankrupt Britain of food rationing, smogs and flickering black-and-white television that hailed its new 25-year-old sovereign in the February of 1952 will seem like an impossibly distant and different place to the crowds who gather for the long weekend of Jubilee celebrations in June. Everything has changed, except her.
The Queen has been the sole constant in the nation’s life as the country has evolved socially, industrially and technologically, as steadfast and inspiring a presence in the country now as 70 years ago, the ultimate symbol of continuity and stability.
Thanks and admiration for that will be an important element of the nation’s celebration of her tomorrow and in the months to come, but the overriding feeling towards her will be of affection.
No monarch in Britain’s history – not Victoria, not even the Queen’s beloved father, George VI – has enjoyed such a close and warm bond with the people.
For all the trappings of royalty, British people have long recognised that her life reflects their own. As mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, she has endured family travails just as her subjects have.
The tremendous outpouring of sympathy when the Queen lost Prince Philip after 73 years of marriage, and then mourned alone at his funeral, exactly like every other bereaved person in the age of Covid was testament to the closeness of monarch and people.
How much that meant to her was shown when she spoke to the nation at Christmas, saying: “But for me, in the months since the death of my beloved Philip, I have drawn great comfort from the warmth and affection of the many tributes to his life and work – from around the country, the Commonwealth and the world.”
Such glimpses into the character of a monarch, who though ever-present for 70 years remains essentially unknowable, have become more frequent in recent years and demonstrate her shrewdness in adapting the monarchy to changing and less deferential times.
Her willingness to reveal more of the personality behind the often inscrutable exterior, to ease the sometimes stuffy formality that goes with being monarch, has only deepened public affection for her.
There was the astonishing moment at the opening of the London 2012 Olympics when she took part in a James Bond spoof in which special effects seemed to have her sky-diving into the stadium, to the delight and disbelief of millions watching on television.
There was the unalloyed joy on her face at knighting that grand old Yorkshire soldier, Captain Tom Moore, in the midst of the pandemic in recognition of his herculean fund-raising efforts for the NHS.
And then last year, when The Oldie magazine wrote to the Palace asking if she would consider accepting its Oldie of the Year title in 2021, there was a flash of elegant wit in her reply.
“Her Majesty believes you are as old as you feel, as such the Queen does not believe she meets the relevant criteria to be able to accept, and hopes you will find a more worthy recipient.”
How in tune she is with her people has perhaps never been more potently illustrated than in the worst days of the first wave of the pandemic, when a locked-down country separated from loved ones wondered what the future held.
The Queen broadcast to the nation and reassured it: “We will meet again.”
It was exactly what the country needed to hear and carried the accumulated wisdom and authority of a monarch who had lived long enough to know better times always follow a crisis.
We will, undoubtedly, hear from her again in the course of her Jubilee year and it is certain that whatever she says will reflect the mutual affection and respect that characterises the bond between the Queen and her people.
The year is not without its shadows. There is potential for heartache and embarrassment within the royal family because of Prince Andrew’s ongoing legal case over allegations of sex abuse, and Prince Harry’s forthcoming autobiography.
But neither will diminish public regard for the Queen.
If anything, they will elicit sympathy that at the age of 96, she should have to contend with problems caused by members of her family who have not contributed even the tiniest fraction of service to the nation that she has.
This is a year to celebrate that extraordinary, never-to-be-equalled lifetime of service, a moment that even the youngest child who waves a Union Jack will never live to see paralleled.
The celebrations will not only be of the longest reign in British history, but of the greatest. Long may it continue.
* Read Andrew Vine in The Yorkshire Post every Tuesday.
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