Friday, September 9, 2022

The Queen and I

I have never had a very close relationship with the Queen, who died yesterday, so no mourning for me. But I’m not a republican. I feel I’ve always appreciated the monarchy for what it is, a significant and colourful link to the past, one which enriches our cultural life. I often think of it as a first class tourist attraction. Absolutely, and like the rest of the country, I believe the Queen has been a fabulous force for good and for unifying of her people. She’s had a difficult and enduring job, and managed it exceptionally well. 

My mother was born in the same year as the Queen, and I was born in the year of her coronation. At the time, my soon-to-be-absent father bought all the new ‘definitive’ stamps (with the new monarch’s profile) to give me when I was older. Some he posted on the first day of issue, and I still have those First Day Covers as well as the mint definitives. 

The queen, I have to admit, has troubled my diary rather infrequently over the decades. Nevertheless, her death provides me with an opportunity to gather what few diary entries there are for a whistle stop personal memoir of her life - covering the last 50 years of her reign. If my diary entries are to be relied on, I only ever saw the Queen once in person, during my student days in Cardiff (though I don’t remember the event at all). The most recent of my diary entries mentioning the Queen was this year, when my family and I had a royal good time at a party hosted by the Symondsbury Estate in Dorset - my wife, Hattie, even posed with the Queen for a photo!

19 November 1971
‘Went in for 9 physics and pure maths skipped probability to see the Queen and Duke opening bypass.’

4 June 1977
‘Today England is celebrating everywhere the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. In London it is a magnificent festival and procession with the Queen and all her offspring. And what am I doing, sitting on the floor in the sitting room listening to Julie Felix, hoping the phone will ring. And yet, what is one of the most exciting things that can happen when one is travelling? To find a festival in process, to see the people celebrating - carnival in Brazil for instance. I enthuse exceedingly to find a festival, procession, and yet here I have my own most English celebration that can be, and I am completely disinterested.’

24 December 1985
‘The Pope wishes the world Happy Christmas in 51 languages. The Queen says everyone should add their bit, however small, to the goodness of the world. The UK PM says to the Falkland Islands people that their right is their democracy.’

6 August 1987
‘DREAM: I got the idea to interview the Queen and request her cooperation for a desert island discs programme. Much to my amazement she accepts. At first the full import of my achievement didn’t filter through but soon I realised that there were crowds of people interested (including many taxi drivers). I could see myself conducting the interview as if on TV. We were in a large room and seated quite far apart. The Queen was old and decrepit, and needed the advice and help of a small group of assistants behind her. She only came out with two or three records (one by Grieg) and when I asked her why she had chosen them she chastised me. The programme was about her discs not why she was choosing them.’

15 February 1992
‘THE QUEEN: I watch a documentary about the life of our Queen. It is well photographed and oh so very carefully judged. She comes across as a rather preposterous old woman, privileged beyond all realm of fantasy with wealth and high society - pandered too by the world’s most famous people yet with no higher intelligence than the hospital sick or dwellers in old peoples’ homes who she patronises with visits. Unlike Prince Charles who does show some spirit, some spontaneity, some depth of knowledge, Queenie appears vacuous and characterless. That documentary, I think, was an error of judgement - one kept on asking why bother, what is the point of her. She seems to sign countless documents but plays no part in their meaning; she talks to countless figures in public life (“one can call anyone in to have a chat”), but garners no intelligence. There is just ceremony without the slightest substance, formality without even the semblance of authority. The film only served to remind us of that.’

21 March 1992
‘CRISIS IN TWO INSTITUTIONS - ROYALTY AND MARRIAGE: Sarah Ferguson, dearly beloved of Prince Andrew and mother of Beatrice and Eugenie, direct descendants to the throne of Great Britain, has decided she can take no more. After a party lasting five years, after being a world star, she’s decided to quit. The Queen’s press secretary in talks with the palace correspondents quietly tried to blame Fergie but the tabloids called his bluff and ran headlines like - the Queen has the knives out for Fergie - and so on. Of course, the Queen couldn’t be seen to be saying such things, so the PR had to take it in the chin and apologise publicly to Queenie and Fergie. Of course, he only spoke what the palace believes, but the palace just couldn’t take all that stick. But there will be war now between Fergie and the Palace. She’ll demand lots and pots of lolly - after all if she’s to keep quiet and not accept $2m dollar for her story from an American publisher she’ll want reasonable compensation. Shame on her, I say, I’m with you Queenie; send her to Coventry; how dare she play around with the very history of our country as well as set such a poor example for the married folk of our society!’

21 November 1992
‘A terrible fire has consumed a third of Windsor Castle. It started in the Queen’s private chapel and raged for 10-12 hours. Hundreds of firemen worked to stop it but huge flames poured out of the building for most of yesterday. The media has reported variable facts about the castle such as that it contains the world’s most important private collection of art, that it is the most continuously lived in castle in the world, that with Westminster Abbey it is the most important building in the country.’

13 December 1992
‘DIANA LETS THE SIDE DOWN: I am upset by the news this week that Prince Charles and his wife Diana are to separate. The royal family has had a bitch of a year but this news is the worst of the lot. Charles is in line to be King and Diana to be Queen, therefore anything they do and say matters. The separation (and ultimate divorce) of Prince Andrew and Fergie does not matter half as much. By refusing to accept the strictures of royal family life, Diana has betrayed the trust and responsibility invested in her. We the people, do not shout and wave and adore Diana herself, we wave, shout, love and adore her because she is a symbol of the royal family, she has accepted the role and the responsibility that goes with it. She is sorely mistaken if she thinks she can carry on as a famous and important person, and be treated as such everywhere she goes, now that she has stabbed the whole system in the back. Royal families cannot expect to live like ordinary people; they have immense privileges and there are costs that go with them. Diana appears to want her cake and to eat it. And how on earth can she go on speaking for the marriage guidance charity Relate, when she doesn’t have the stamina for her own marriage. She and Charles, like many royal families, already live separate lives; what does Diana hope to gain by proving to the world that she is not living a dream happy marriage as shown in cornflake advertisements. In five or ten years time, Diana will realise what a terrible mistake she has made. She will not find whatever is missing in her relationship with Charles anywhere else, other than for a few moments, or hours or days - like everybody else. Life is about getting on with the business and making it as bearable as you can. Whatever she chooses to do, it will be the same in the end, yet as Queen she could have had the most fascinating and interesting of lives. 

And poor old Charlie must be in the very pits of depression - he has failed to provide the leadership to the people that he so desperately wants to give, he has failed personally to hold his marriage together, and he has failed the whole historic tradition of the royalty in this country by choosing the wrong wife.

The Annus Horribilis, as Queenie has called 1992, begins to sound like an understatement, a pathetic statement of personal frustration. Yet the tragedy is of historic proportions, and the Queen herself must take a huge chunk of the blame; all three of her children who married are now separated. The fact that one of them, Anne, remarried this weekend does nothing at all to mitigate the historic fall of the House of Windsor.’

28 December 1993
‘On Christmas Day, we did make one short call, across the road to see Alice and Dan. It was their 60th wedding anniversary - they married on Christmas day in 1933 at St Peters Church, down the road. And they have lived in that house opposite almost all that time. I do find it quite amazing. Dan has not been well, but the two of them were perky and holding court to many friends in the street who were popping in to see the telegram they had received from the Queen. Oh they were so proud, but they had not yet opened it. They were waiting to open it with some of their family on Boxing Day, even though Christmas Day was the day, but they forgot to take it with them and thus missed the pleasure they had been looking forward to. On Monday Alice popped over to show us the open telegram. It wasn’t signed (of course telegrams are never signed - why doesn’t she send cards with photos of Buck Palace and a reproduced signature?) but Alice was still as pleased as punch with it. Apparently, in order to get a telegram, someone has to send the details in good time to the Palace so they can be checked out. At least you don’t have to pay for them, yet.’

5 September 1997
‘Diana-mania has continued all week, and will culminate tomorrow with her funeral and mass crowds in London. Me and mine are all utterly cynical and find the whole thing amazing. In a chorus, which must have been coordinated in some way, the newspapers came out strongly against the Queen and the Royal Family on Wednesday for not speaking to the nation and by lunchtime she and they had reacted. This evening we had a five minute live broadcast by Queenie herself. A carefully crafted speech, full of the right words but not an ounce of feeling behind them. She did, though, say the Royal Family would learn from the lessons of Princess Diana. And she extended the route of the hearse to Westminster Abbey, thus allowing more people to line the roads. Millions are expected tomorrow - god help them all - just for a glimpse of the coffin. Even the excuse of wanting to be there for such a unique moment is pretty thin when you consider how much more of a real moment it would have been to see her alive. She attracted crowds when she was alive, but nothing like the crowds who are prepared to put up with horrendous conditions tomorrow just to see the car in which her coffin is riding!’

1 June 2002
‘All around is the Queen’s Jubilee. It means nothing to me, nothing at all. I’ve no problem with people finding an excuse to celebrate, but I see no reason to do so myself. The Prom at the Palace is probably under way by now - poor old Queenie she must be wondering what she’s done to deserve having her lawn and shrubs subjected to the tramplings and pickings and litterings of 12,000 commoners. It will only get worse on Monday, when the prom turns into a party, and the tramplers, pickers and litterers, all too genteel tonight, will be youthful and wild.’

4 June 2012
‘Yesterday was the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, though I don’t know why. She ascended the throne in February 1952, and her coronation was not until 1953, so how is June 1952 a proper anniversary of anything?

There has been, and continues to be, a lot of pomp and pageant. Yesterday saw a pretty amazing regatta on the Thames, with a 1,000 boats all joining an orderly procession with the Queen on ‘The Spirit of Chartwell’ and motoring/rowing from Wandsworth to Tower Bridge. Evidently, most of the TV coverage by the BBC was focused on the Queen and her entourage and any celebrities taking part, but I wanted to know a lot more about who was in all the hundreds of other boats and why they were there. Here at least is a list of the flotilla sections, which gives some idea of who took part: The Royal Jubilee Bells, Man-Powered Boats, Academy of Ancient Music, The Royal Squadron, The Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines Plymouth, Dunkirk Little Ships, Shree Muktajeevan Pipe Band and Dhol Ensemble, Historic Boats, The Jubilant Commonwealth Choir, Service, Steam and Working Vessels, Leisure Vessels, The New Water Music, Narrow Boats and Barges, The Mayor’s Jubilee Band, Passenger Boats, Rhythm on the River, Downriver Passenger Boats, London Philharmonic Orchestra. 

To be honest, I would have liked to be there . . . Unlike sports, where I usually feel the best seat is in the lounge, at least to watch the action, which to me is more important than the atmosphere, this regatta was something to be seen live, in the crowds on the banks of the river. Adam was due to come visit us yesterday, but I wrote him suggesting that surely he would want to see the regatta and that he could come down another day; and he decided to do just that. But, when I rang him yesterday afternoon, to get a first hand account, he wasn’t there, he was at home watching it on TV! He claimed the rain, and problems getting a viewing spot decided him against going.

Also yesterday there were Big Lunches up and down the country, and street parties carry on today and tomorrow (an extra public holiday) as well.’

31 August 2013
‘Adam has been to the Bank of England, and seen its gold, and held it in his hands. It’s very rare for anyone to get to do this, he tells me, and the last person was the Queen a few months ago. His minister has responsibility for the gold reserves, which is why he and Adam were there. In a few days, they go to Poland for a conference; then Adam goes to Spain for a week’s holiday. And then he starts his new job.’

20 June 2016
‘I watched some of the build up to the service at St Paul’s Cathedral this morning, and the service itself. Some 53 members of the royal family were there, along with British dignitaries and representatives of many organisations with whom the queen has had dealings with over the decades. She was dressed in sherbet yellow, from top to toe (well not her shoes), and tottered down the aisle with her hubby, also tottering, both some 15 minutes late (very unusual). David Attenborough read a piece of nostalgia by Michael Bond, author of the Paddington books (both also 90).’

5 April 2020
‘The Queen is giving a live broadcast tonight on TV. I wonder if this year is already turning out to be even more of an Annus Horribilis than 1992 was for her. I mean she’s lost her grandson from the royal family to someone who not only has coloured blood but is an American, and now her citizens are dying in their hundreds every day of some godawful disease.’

22 October 2021
‘The Queen was in hospital Wednesday afternoon (at least she didn’t have to wait many hours in an A&E queue - Cornwall apparently has only one emergency A&E and it declared a ‘critical incident’ because of the queues of ambulances waiting with patients). There appears no cause for alarm as she went home the following morning. But it was not many months ago that her husband was hospitalised for a few days, and then died not long after.’

2 June 2022
‘The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee - god bless her. 70 years on the throne, the longest in British history. We’ve been to a fete/party hosted by the Symondsbury Estate this lunchtime. It was pretty crowded out with families, enjoying the sun, the food, the drink. Red, white and blue bunting everywhere, not to mention cardboard cutouts and portraits of her majesty. Long trestle tables had been put out for picnicking, and if you’d pre-ordered a lunch box it was yours for the collecting, so long as you didn’t mind standing in a long queue. We, of course, brought our lunch, and took photos at the Jubilee party tables (as well as with the Queen, and while playing some of the fete games).’

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