By Karla Adam
LONDON: Queen Elizabeth II, who was 25 when she ascended to the throne, turned 96 on Thursday.
After a year of health scares for the queen, a year in which she mourned her husband and acknowledged “none of us will live forever”, 96 seems a moment worth marking.
The Washington Post spoke about her long life with royal biographer Robert Hardman, the author of a new book, Queen of Our Times.
In your book, you say she is “aged but dated”. What do you mean by that?
She’s been ever present and maybe it's subliminal. The fact that she’s just there on the coins and stamps, the bank notes pictures, government buildings, even the national anthem at sporting events – it’s about her. She has changed since the pandemic and her recent mobility issues. Maybe it’s just dawning on people now that she’s an old woman, but we didn’t really think of her like that. We think of her as the queen.
Many may think they have an idea of who the queen is because of Netflix’s The Crown. What do the creators of that series get wrong with her on-screen persona?
The Crown has become almost a settled narrative of the royal story for a large part of the world, though probably slightly less so in Britain, where it’s very divisive.
The fundamental thing they get wrong about her is that she is always beleaguered and put upon and under pressure and rather miserable. I don’t pretend to know her, but I’ve followed her around, I’ve been in her presence, I’ve seen her interact with people over a number of years, and she’s much more alert and upbeat. Her former officials say that even in the 1990s, in those dark periods, she’s always had a smile on. I think that’s partly down to the inner faith that really is significant and often gets overlooked.
You stress that the queen likes being queen.
Yes, she likes being queen. When you look at The Crown, there are times she doesn’t like being the queen – it’s all trial and tribulations. But the queen we are seeing more and more of is someone happy with what she’s doing.
Will the queen ever quit? You write about a “transition” from the queen to Prince Charles, as well as the avoidance of “regency”, which conjures up images of an incapacitated George II, and “abdication”, which is something her Uncle Edward did.
We’ve always said, up until very recently, absolutely no question will she ever quit. I think in recent weeks or months, she does look more vulnerable. And really, it almost looks sort of unkind to expect her to carry on doing these things. But she loves doing it. And I think as long as she loves doing it, and she’s capable of doing it, she will.
You write that Queen Elizabeth II’s reign will always be compared to that of Queen Victoria. How do the two queens differ?
Queen Victoria was very much into celebrating Victoria. You’ve just got to wander around Windsor or through the royal estates and you’ll find large statues of Victoria looking very imperious, many of which were unveiled while she was alive. It’s really only in the last few years that things have started to be named after Queen Elizabeth…She's an extraordinarily understated figure, but her legacy will be vast.
In this jubilee year, we’re reflecting on that legacy. How might her reign be remembered?
She is the first queen to come to the throne in the full expectation that she is going to shrink the domain. For all previous monarchs, it’s been about consolidating power, expanding the reign, getting bigger, stronger, being Number One Top Dog Nation. And that all came to an end in 1947, when the British Empire formally wound up, when India became independent. So she’s the first monarch who comes to the throne with absolute writing on the wall that your reign is going to be spent handing all this stuff back. The empire is over. And you’ve got to get rid of it in a nice way with a smile and a handshake and try and keep everyone happy. The Commonwealth is the result of that.
What kind of king do you think Charles will make?
He will be a different sort of monarch. Charles is a deep thinker, romantic, sentimentalist. He’s very warm. His staff always say his investitures always take a lot longer than the queen’s, because she’s quite good at having a few words and the handshake and then, right, that’s off you go. Whereas Charles is much more prone to start having conversations, and go, “Oh, you're a sheep farmer. What sort of sheep do you farm?” It's just a different approach.
What does the queen make of Prince Harry and Meghan’s exit?
I think she’s sad about it, but I don’t think it's all-consuming. She’s still very fond of Harry. There’s the family stuff and the business stuff, and the business stuff is non-negotiable. You can’t do this, Harry. I’m sorry. It's just the way it is. And her officials will tell his officials that, and those conversations will happen at arm’s length. But he’s still devoted to her, and she’s still devoted to him. I’m told he talks to her more often than he talks to anyone else in the family.
The Washington Post
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