I’ve never made any secret of my dislike for the British Royal Family; they spend too much on clothes, horses and houses few of us will ever see and, other than a bit of ribbon-cutting, what good do they actually do? From their tangled web of relationships to their ludicrous headline-grabbing scandals, they’ve always struck me as being the well-bred version of the Kardashians. However, during this time of crisis, I’ve developed a sort of grudging respect for one royal in particular: the Queen.
This year hasn’t been a good one for the royal family; from Prince Andrew’s car crash Newsnight interview and implication in the Epstein Scandal, to the abrupt exit of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex from the Firm, it’s been a true annus horriblis. However, with Boris Johnson out of action and his cabinet bickering about who’s meant to be in charge, the Queen has emerged above the fray to remind us that, despite the absurd soap opera of her own family, she still does, at 93 years old, have a role to play.
Addressing the nation outside of her Christmas Speech for the fourth time and facing the camera looking like a sweet but determined granny, she urged the nation to be unified in the face of a pathogen which has brought the world to a grinding halt. Telling us to live in the knowledge that we’ll meet again was a masterful touch; in a time when physical contact has been banned and Zoom proves to be a poor replacement for face-to-face contact, never have we been more eager to meet our friends again. Perhaps as a woman who has lived through many of the events described in history textbooks, she is uniquely placed to capture the mood of millions of people hiding away indoors.
Though the Queen might be the unifying figure Britain needs at this moment in time, the future of the British monarchy is by no means secure and no one knows that better than she. A child during the 1936 Abdication Crisis, she saw the monarchy coming close to the end as her uncle abdicated in order to marry Wallis Simpson. Meanwhile, the Queen mother and George VI were regularly booed when they visited bomb sites in the East End during the Second World War. A bomb might have landed in Buckingham Palace’s garden, but that didn’t mean that their suffering was on par with those living in the heart of one of the poorest and worst-affected areas of London. Meanwhile, coming to the throne in 1952 as the head of a large empire, she oversaw the transition from Empire to Commonwealth amidst the backdrop of a rapidly changing British society to which the monarchy looked increasingly stuffy and out of date. Going back to the decade in which many of us were born, the Queen was far from popular. From the annus horriblis of 1992 to her handling of the death of Princess Diana in 1997, her Second World War stoicism seemed increasingly out of place with the new Britain of the 1990s. However, somehow, she’s managed to survive it all, celebrating her Diamond Jubilee in 2012.
Therefore, the Queen, with her brightly-coloured suits and matching hats perched atop white hair, might be the head of state Britain needs, if not the one we chose. Whilst an elected Head of State might drag Britain kicking and screaming into the 21st century, the advantage of the Queen is that, unlike any President, she’s almost eternal. Donald Trump may be voted out in November 2020, Emmanuel Macron in 2022, but the Queen will always be there. Thus, the greatest challenge faced by the monarchy today is not COVID-19 but what to do when the Queen’s no longer at the helm – and at 93 years old, her death isn’t a remote possibility.
The Queen’s well-chosen words may have proven the monarchy’s worth, but the rest of the family should be working out how to keep the lights on when the head of the family is gone. The departure of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex as well as Prince Andrew’s disgrace should give them the impetus they need to slim down the monarchy and get rid of the hangers-on, whilst the Queen’s speech should give them the inspiration they’ve been looking for to prove that they’re more than just reality stars with posh accents.
The role of the monarchy is to provide unifying leadership and the Queen has done just that. However, in order to keep the Crown on their heads, they should continue to adapt, remembering that more secure monarchies than theirs have been brought down by smaller crises than this.