Farewell to the Queen's 'Reassuring Continuum'
first published by the University of Reading 18 Septemebr 2022 HERE
I had the privilege of seeing HM The Queen just twice in my life. The first time, I was 12 years old at an agricultural show in Lusaka, Zambia and she rode slowly past standing in an open topped Land Rover smiling and waving. I was convinced that our eyes connected for the briefest of moments.
The second was 40 years later when I was humbled to receive an OBE from her at Windsor Castle and I was honoured to engage in a short conversation; one in which she was dis-armingly informed about my work. Two tiny moments in my life, yet hugely precious memories carefully packed and proudly carried in the suitcase of my life’s journey. One woman, just two minutes, forty years apart. How strange that it feels so significant.
Or is it? She was after all the most famous person in the world. Literally an institution as well as a human being. The reassuring continuum in a constantly, often frighteningly, changing world. Her face has been there on most of the post I’ve received and on the coins I’ve had in my pocket throughout my life. The metronome of her Christmas Day broadcasts has been a cadence marker for our years.
I remember watching her as I waited to receive my OBE thinking there she is, our gracious monarch, and yet also just an elderly lady. Still selflessly undertaking her duty and fulfilling the pledge she had given over seven decades before: with patient, humble, personable commitment.
I stepped forward concentrating on the formality of meeting our Head of State, of addressing her as ‘Ma’am’ and of not getting it wrong. But she immediately put me at ease, asking about my business and the food industry. I relaxed, forgetting to say ‘Ma’am’ as I, for some unfathomable reason, found myself saying that my company, Ella’s Kitchen, was probably the baby foods she gave her great-grandchildren when she did the babysitting.
She gave me an enigmatic chuckle that in itself told me that, although she had no idea what I was talking about, we had connected person-to-person rather than Monarch and subject with this poor attempt at humour. And that’s my overriding memory: HM The Queen as a person not a postage stamp; a great-grandmother, as well as a supreme Monarch. A woman with whom you could connect, however briefly, and could put you at ease. One with authentic and genuine humanity, undimmed, or perhaps perfected, by the tens of thousands of people for whom she has bestowed a similar honour; so that she could make me think, through her chuckle, that she recognised me as an individual person before her.
I’ll remember that eye contact in Lusaka, and that chuckle in Windsor, as the embodiment of perfect Queenship. Accessible, human, connective. Since she died, I’ve spent quiet moments reflecting that my tiny, personal memories and conclusions are perfectly consistent with her public persona during the grave moments of our country’s history when she undertook royal duties with accessible, human and connective aplomb. I draw on two such occasions, bookends to her lifetime of public service. The first in 1940, as war devastated the country, the then 14 year old heir to the throne spoke to other children on BBC radio’s Children’s Hour saying:
‘We know, every one of us, that in the end all will be well; for God will care for us and give us victory and peace.’
The other, 80 years later, at the beginning of the COVID pandemic was when she spoke as a great-grandmother saying:
‘We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return: we will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again’.
In this increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world we knew that the stability and moral authority of our Queen’s presence was a source of consistency and comfort. As we now mourn her death, we could be un-nerved by the loss of that constant in our lives. But instead, I choose to draw on my reflections from those briefest of interactions with her, and on the power of the wise counsel she shared from the beginning to the end of her public life. As such, she’s taught me to believe that we can come together and connect whoever we are, and that in the end, all will be well.