Brooding upon the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee just now, I realised, with a jolt, that I have come to think of her as a mother figure. She’s about the same age as my mother, but that only partly explains it. To those of us born after 1952, she is a fact of our lives, as monumental a part of our landscape as Big Ben or Stonehenge. We have never known anything different, and the thought that she is as mortal as the rest of us seems shocking.
There is an element of luck to all this, of course. There have been monarchs who were lunatics, philanderers, even Nazi sympathisers, but we have been lucky enough to live under one we can respect unequivocally.
This is why, come the announcement “The Queen is dead, God save the King”, there will be tears. They won’t be the tears of devastation people shed when a close friend or relative dies before their time. Nor will they be the weird and hysterical tears that were shed for Diana, Princess of Wales. (How I hated the way the tabloids tried to humiliate the Queen that week; the headline “Show us you care, ma’am” still makes me feel sick.) They will be the tears that come from having lost part of our identity, our DNA, our story.
The republican Left will say that these are no different from the fake tears the brainwashed North Koreans shed for Kim Jong-il. But they will be wrong. The point is, we feel this way about the Queen despite being brainwashed, in an insidious way, by the mockery of comedians such as Frankie Boyle, by the Guardian-reading bien pensants who the run the BBC, by the ghost of Sex Pistols past (“God save the Queen, ’cause tourists are money”). When it comes to the monarchy, the prevailing tone is one of irony.
But it doesn’t matter. We can tease the Queen in the way we might tease our parents, and she will always rise above it. That’s one of the things we admire about her. Another is that she has never given an interview. If the presumption can be forgiven, I think this is because she understands that when a man goes to fight for Queen and Country he needs a figurehead, not a talking head. In a shrill world of Twitter, 24-hour news and media loudmouths who won’t shut up, the Queen has been silent and unknowable as the sphinx. Our calm, still centre.
As the Beatles once sang: “Her Majesty’s a pretty nice girl, but she doesn’t have a lot to say.” In fact, she even manages to say less than she’s supposed to. It was revealed the other day that she once struck out the word “very” from a speech that was handed to her. It read: “I’m very pleased to be back here in Birmingham.” She was pleased, but not very pleased. That’s not her way.
And when she does talk, her voice always somehow seems more “U” than you remember it being. All the other patricians in public life, such as David Cameron, have toned down their vowels. But not her. As one of my colleagues put it, hearing the Queen speak is like having a glass of iced water thrown in your face.
During the Queen’s visit to Parliament recently, Labour MP Meg Hillier confided to her Twitter followers: “Some Conservative women MPs curtsy as Queen passes. Consider myself a citizen not a subject.” Fair enough, but I bet even the citizens will miss her when she’s gone. We all will, and this summer’s Jubilee seems like an opportunity to tell her so properly, before it’s too late.