"As your Queen, and as a grandmother"
It was on a cool September Thursday at Balmoral that Queen Elizabeth II realised she would have to change course. She had read the newspapers over breakfast that morning, digesting their angry sermons with the long-practised pensiveness which caused her eyes to narrow. Her jaw would firm slightly as her thought processes started, shifting her chin forward a fraction -- a signal to her staff to think one more hard thought before they opened their mouths. Then, soon after nine o'clock, the phone calls from London started.
Diana had died the previous Sunday -- the last day of August 1997 -- and it had been pressure and decisions ever since. Helping the two boys had been their grandmother's first priority, applying her own therapy in times of trouble -- lots of exercise and fresh air.
"We must get them out and away from the television," said the queen as she clicked across the mournful images of the princess being run non-stop on every channel. "Let's get them both up in the hills."
The fact that they were all together as a family, away from everything, in the rugged beauty and peace of Scotland, had seemed such a blessing at first. Peter Phillips, Princess Anne's bluff and burly rugby-playing son, had gone out with William and Harry on the moors each day, jollying them along with stalking and the odd fishing expedition -- plus lots of mucking around on the brothers' noisy all-terrain motorbikes. The two young princes both loved the outdoors. In that respect they were very much Charles's sons.
The weather had been balmy, with just a hint of autumn crispness, and the whole family had driven out most evenings in the Land Rovers to eat. Ever practical, ever-tinkering, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, is the proud deviser of a bulky, wheeled contraption that is the centre of these cherished rituals -- a picnic trailer. With the grilling rack and pots and pans stowed neat and ship-shape enough for the naval officer he had been, and padded drawers for carefully segregated types of fortifying alcohol, the wagon is towed to the shooting lodge selected for the family barbecue. No staff are present and the royal paterfamilias becomes chef.
In that first week of September, the duke's barbecue wagon had come into its own as never before. Cooking and carving and cleaning up afterwards, the shared chores and rituals of the self-help meal had kept the whole family busy and had helped create the feeling there was something everyone could do. It was practical therapy.
At fifteen, William had seemed to take it bravely, on the outside at least. But he was insisting that he would not walk behind the coffin at the funeral. Not quite thirteen, Harry had been more obviously upset. Was everyone quite sure Mummy was dead? he was heard to enquire. Could it not be checked to make sure there had not been a mistake?
Gently helping the brothers to cope was, like everything royal, more than just a private, family matter. If the two young princes did walk through the streets in London on Saturday, their composure would be the pivot on which the whole occasion turned.
Working out the details of the funeral had been the other big job since Sunday -- the style of the service, the length of the route, as well as the role that William and Harry would play. There had been family arguments in the small hours as the bad news came through. The Spencers -- Diana's mother, brother, and two sisters -- had wanted a private funeral, a small family affair, and to start with the queen herself had agreed. But by Sunday evening it was clear it would have to be a full-scale ceremony in Westminster Abbey, and since Monday the fax machine had been processing hymn sheets and processional time-tabling non-stop. Princess Margaret disapproved, but the queen mother had got quite excited about the prospect of listening to Elton John.
Then came all the fuss about the flag.
Downing Street was the first to sense that something was awry. Sitting in his media command room at No. 10, Alastair Campbell, the prime minister's press spokesman, caught a cable television news bulletin that worried him. It was Wednesday morning, and the long lines of mourners waiting in the Mall to sign the condolence books for the princess were spending as many as five hours looking through the trees towards Buckingham Palace.
People were not just signing their names when they got to the head of the queue. Most wanted to pen some special tribute of their own, and after half a day on their feet everyone wanted to sit down.
"In retrospect," says an official of the Lord Chamberlain's Office, "it was clearly a mistake to have supplied chairs."
Some people were spending as much as half an hour over the page composing their essays. So the lines waiting outside in the Mall grew longer, and as people shuffled slowly forward, they had been struck by the absence of any flag flying at half-mast over the queen's principal residence.
It was a technical matter. The queen's presence is signalled wherever she may be -- in palace, car, boat, or plane -- by the Royal Standard, a luscious and ancient confection of heraldic lions and symbolic harpstrings that follows her everywhere, battle-standard-style, and is never lowered, even when the sovereign dies. "The King is Dead, Long Live the King."
But the tradition had developed at Buckingham Palace -- though not at any other royal residence -- that, in the absence of the Royal Standard, no other flag should fly. So while flags all round the country -- including those over Windsor Castle and over the royal country residence of Sandringham in East Anglia -- were now flying at half-mast, Buckingham Palace itself was conspicuously bare of any sign of mourning for Diana.
"I've just been watching Sky News," said Campbell in a phone call to Robert Fellowes, the queen's private secretary, who was also Diana's brother-in-law, married to her elder sister, Jane. "Now, it's just a straw in the wind, but I think they're going to make some mischief over this thing of the flag."
Rupert Murdoch's Sky News had been running dramatic vox pop interviews from the Mall in which mourners complained about the bare flagpole over the palace. It made for compulsive, angry television, and Campbell guessed it was only a matter of time before the other bulletins followed suit.
"I hear what you're saying," replied Fellowes. "But it's a curious business, the flag at Buckingham Palace. There are certain things, you know, that I can deliver straight away. But I'm not sure it's going to be as easy as it looks, even if it's right, to please the public on this one."
Fellowes rang Balmoral to pass on Downing Street's concerns to his deputy Sir Robin Janvrin, who was running the private secretary's office there, and also to the queen. But the private secretary did not argue Campbell's case very strongly.
"The alarm bells," as one participant put it, "did not jangle."
Sir Robert Fellowes, today Baron Fellowes of Shotesham in the county of Norfolk, was a royal retainer who was the son of a royal retainer. His father, the bluff Sir Billy Fellowes, had run the royal estate at Sandringham and had been a shooting companion of the queen's father, King George VI. In his time as private secretary, Fellowes had overseen some important changes in the monarchy, and there was a mildly subversive twinkle behind his horn-rimmed spectacles.
"We don't have protocol here," he liked to say when talking of palace etiquette " -- just bloody good manners."
But Fellowes had breathed tradition all his life. It was a key element in his job as private secretary, and protocol had always provided a sure fall-back in times of difficulty.
Elizabeth II felt the same only more so. For the queen, tradition and protocol represented something greater than oneself -- deep values approaching the sacred. It could be compared to how non-royal people feel at their children's Christmas carol concert or when the bugle sounds on Remembrance Day -- the tingle of nobler things. It is easy to smile condescendingly at the scarlet-tunicked and bearskin-clad Guards parading formally outside Buckingham Palace until, in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on New York, these very British soldiers stand to attention while their band plays "The Star Spangled Banner."
Tradition is one of the cornerstones of the royal mystery. The most troublesome time in the otherwise tranquil childhood of the young Princess Elizabeth had been when she was just ten, when her sparky and original Uncle David had ascended to the throne as Edward VIII. Shrugging his shoulders at precedent, he had spent a hectic year insouciantly overturning tradition in his quest to make the monarchy modern, and it had ended in tears. The abdication crisis of 1936 was the darkest moment in her family's recent history.
If Prince Charles, and not his ex-wife, had died in a car crash the previous Sunday, the queen would not now be flying the Union Jack at half-mast over Buckingham Palace. She had not done it for her beloved father, George VI -- and it would not happen for the queen mother, who, despite all her personal popularity, had always understood how the institution of monarchy ultimately transcended the individual.
A personally modest spirit, the queen would certainly not expect such a gesture for herself. So why should tradition be overturned for a young woman who, Uncle David-like, had put herself before the family and had come to be the focus of such bitter and divisive trouble?
Elizabeth II had been one of the first in the family to fall out of love with Diana.
"The Queen is a very good judge of character," says one of her staff. "She was very quick in 'sussing' the less fortunate sides of the princess's personality."
The queen had tried to be fair to her daughter-in-law, taking her side on occasions in the bitter separation battle with Charles. But Diana's open sniping at what she had publicly derided as the stuffy palace establishment made her the last person for whom the queen -- or still less her strong-minded husband -- would command such a change. Only days previously Diana had been parading the Mediterranean with her Egyptian playboy lover, the couple draped over each other half naked, to the horror of the royal family and the agonised embarrassment of her sons.
Fellowes got the answer he expected. There is long-standing mistrust in Buckingham Palace against making quick concessions to the concerns of the moment, especially when voiced by the tabloid media.
"It's like feeding Christians to the lions," says a former press secretary.
So the royal reaction to the TV straws in the wind was exactly the opposite of Alastair Campbell's. Unhappiness over the flag was something that the enduring monarchy should rise above in a world of trendy gestures. No flag except the Royal Standard had ever flown over Buckingham Palace.
"It just needs to be explained," insisted the royal private secretary.
Campbell did not push the point. Never one of nature's monarchists, he felt in alien territory. In his days as political editor and columnist for the Daily Mirror he had been famous for his scathing attacks on the misbehaviour of the young royals. As he had walked through the crowds that Wednesday morning to confer with Fellowes and the other members of the Lord Chamberlain's funeral committee at the palace, he felt he could sniff mutiny in the air.
"There was almost that football crowd fear, you know, when you're coming out of the stadium and your team has lost, and you're not quite sure what you'll find round the next corner."
But this lager and baseball cap analogy clearly did not fit the arcane world of deep precedence. It was like the negotiations over Northern Ireland with which Tony Blair was just beginning to grapple, with all its sticking points of flags and badges and emotion-charged symbols.
"There were times in that week," says one of No. 10's more radi-
cal insiders, "when you could not believe what was coming down the line from Balmoral. You wondered if they were living in the same century."
Campbell went back to Downing Street to confer with Blair, then gave Fellowes a ring at the palace.
"How would it be," he asked, "if Tony went out publicly into the street, outside Downing Street, and said, 'Look, these are ordinary people going through circumstances that none of us can imagine,' you know, a 'They are human beings' strategy?"
At the end of that Wednesday, the prime minister did just that.
"All our energies," he said in front of No. 10, "are now directed to trying to make this as tremendous a commemoration of Princess Diana as possible...I know those are very strongly the feelings of the royal family as well."
Blair's New Labour Party had come to power a few months earlier in the general election of 1 May 1997, winning a massive majority that owed not a little to Blair's consummate mastery of PR technique. The prime minister's appeal was timed to catch the evening news bulletins, then command the next morning's front pages. But only the left-leaning Guardian followed Blair's lead. The tabloids went for the jugular.
"Show us you care," demanded the Express over the photo of a flinty-faced queen.
"Your people are suffering," proclaimed the Mirror -- "Speak to us, Ma'am."
With the generally more sedate broadsheets only moderately more restrained, Elizabeth II was confronted by an unprecedented chorus of newsprint criticism over her Balmoral breakfast that Thursday morning. Rupert Murdoch's Sun put it most powerfully.
"Where is the Queen when the country needs her?" demanded an open letter on the paper's front page. "She is 550 miles from London, the focal point of the nation's grief. Her castle at Balmoral is about as far away as it is possible to get from the sea of flowers building up outside the royal palaces....Every hour the Palace remains empty adds to the public anger at what they perceive to be a snub to the People's Princess. Let Charles and William and Harry weep together in the lonely Scottish Highlands. We can understand that. But the Queen's place is with the people. She should fly back to London immediately and stand on the Palace balcony."
There was some convenient relief in the energy with which Britain's newspapers turned on Elizabeth II that Thursday morning, 4 September 1997. Three days earlier, those same newspapers had been the objects of bitter blame. Photographers who ventured too close to mourners laying flowers outside the palaces had been shouted at and menaced -- the butt of public fury at the role of the paparazzi in hounding the princess into the Alma Tunnel in Paris. The announcement by the Paris police that Henri Paul, the driver on the fateful night, had had more than three times the legal limit of alcohol in his blood had let the editors off the hook, and they wasted little time diverting public anger away from their own role in the tragedy.
But the idea so beseechingly stated in The Sun's open letter, that royal people exist as vehicles for the collective emotions of the communities they head, was undeniable. And exhibiting emotion was one aspect of the royal job that Elizabeth II -- unlike Diana -- had never done with any ease.
"She has a deep mistrust," says one of her advisors, "of what she calls 'stunts.' "
Elizabeth II is not an actress. At the heart of Britain's performing monarchy is a serious, matter-of-fact woman who is an obstinate non-performer. Blessed with a ravishing natural smile, she finds it impossible to switch on that smile to order. She had issued a statement of regret on the morning of Diana's death and was now supervising a practical family effort to comfort the two boys who were most intimately affected. Rather shy, and quite the opposite of her outspoken husband, she had never been a step-forward-and-open-her-mouth type of person -- and her staff had taken their cue from that.
"We got a day behind the game," admits more than one of those at the centre of that week's activities.
How to catch up was the urgent theme of the discussions that Thursday morning in Buckingham Palace -- and as the ideas bounced around in Robert Fellowes's office, the flag suddenly became the simplest issue. After the tabloid front pages and the tone of that morning's radio coverage, there could even be a question of public order at stake. Some concession would have to be made, and it seemed obvious that, protocol or not, the Union Jack would need to be flying at half-mast over the palace on the day of the funeral. Other members of the family would have to show themselves in public before that, and, most important of all, the queen would have to speak to the nation.
This was what had been lacking -- anyone from the royal family personally expressing their feelings. The family had been planning to stay in Balmoral until the last possible moment, coming down on the royal train on Friday night to arrive in London on the morning of the funeral itself.
"How can we coop the boys up in a gloomy old palace all covered with dustsheets?" Prince Philip had asked.
But the royal journey south must now be visibly moved forward as a solid concession to public sentiment -- even though "concession" was a word that the press office would eschew. The queen's arrival in London would be turned into a significant event, and it would also provide the moment for her to face the TV cameras.
Robert Fellowes and Geoffrey Crawford, the queen's Australian-born press secretary, got on the phone to Balmoral to talk the problem through with Robin Janvrin and with the queen herself. There was a need for a fresh and clearly pro-active policy, the two men in London argued, a visible change of direction -- and, faced with the facts, Queen Elizabeth II, guardian of unchanging tradition and protocol, agreed to it all, virtually on the spot. Suddenly the arcane details of what flag flew where counted for nothing.
"The Queen has ruthless common sense," says one of her private secretaries. "If you can explain clearly why something has to be done, and she agrees, that's the end of the matter. She doesn't say, 'Well, last time when we looked at this...' She has an extraordinary ability to listen, absorb, and come to a decision immediately."
Five years earlier, at the time of another crisis, the queen had decided with similar abruptness that standing arrangements could be discarded, and had agreed to surrender the royal tax immunity which she had until then considered an article of faith.
If you have got to move on, you have got to move on. That is the bottom-line motto of the House of Windsor. They are a tough bunch. Their anachronistic persistence in the modern world derives from an unsentimental ability to sense when the dynasty's existence is threatened, and to adapt, backtracking and reinventing themselves if necessary. They have an uncanny nose for survival, derived from a profound understanding that their power and entire significance stem ultimately from the
people. Being royal has no meaning or function without it. If the people do not want a stoic, stiff-upper-lip figurehead, then let the lip wobble a little.
The queen told her private secretaries to start drafting the speech she would deliver next day.
Early in her reign, Elizabeth II was due to visit the Yorkshire town of Kingston upon Hull and asked one of her private secretaries to prepare a first draft of her speech.
"I am very pleased to be in Kingston today," the draft confidently started.
The young queen crossed out the word "very."
"I will be pleased to be in Kingston," she explained. "But I will not be very pleased."
Elizabeth II has always found it impossible to be what she is not. Her staff say it is her greatest strength -- her inability to pose or act. She is bleakly and appallingly honest -- trained by a lifetime inside the prison of courtly waffle and flattery to detect insincerity, and dismiss it in a regal and disdainful blink of the eye.
"I am not a politician," is her standard response to modern press advisors who try to get her to jump through hoops.
So as her private secretary sat down to draft the most important speech of her reign, he was faced with two problems. He knew that the queen would not say anything that she did not mean. And he knew that Elizabeth II was definitely not mourning Diana in the way that most of her subjects were.
The condolence-book queuers and the mischief-making editors were correct in their hunches. Their emotionally controlled sovereign considered that there were several more important things in life and death than the passing of Diana. At the top of that list was the queen's own idea of enduring royal dignity, which she had upheld for forty-five years and which she was not prepared to forfeit with empty gestures.
To those who knew Diana personally, the princess's saintly public aura -- massively magnified in death -- was compromised by a private wilfulness on a major scale. It extended far beyond self-indulgence to a pattern of deceit and narcissism that poisoned her relations not only with her royal in-laws but with her charities, her most loyal servants, and even with her own blood family, the Spencers. In the last summer of her life she had had bitter rows and had been in a state of prolonged "no speaks" with both her mother and her brother Charles.
For many years Elizabeth II had done her best to keep working with what she called her daughter-in-law's "difficult side." She genuinely admired Diana's idealistic impulses and empathy with the public, and she gave full weight to the princess's role as a future queen and mother of a future king. But the previous year, at the beginning of the couple's divorce negotiations in 1996, Diana had engaged in a sally of deception at the expense of the queen herself. She lied about what she had said face-to-face to the queen, and her blatant dishonesty had shocked Elizabeth II and angered her profoundly.
The most important issue in the queen's eyes was the institution of monarchy that she was pledged to protect -- and by the end of Diana's life she had come to feel that the princess was undermining it. From that perception stemmed the difference between the queen's feelings and those of many, if not most, of her subjects. A dangerous gap had been created, and tomorrow's speech would have to close it.
The royal plane touched down at Northolt, the RAF air base fifteen miles west of central London, at 2:00 p.m. on Friday, 5 September, the afternoon before the funeral. Helicopters were hovering overhead, and their cameras followed the royal car as it threaded its way through the suburbs of west London, past the BBC in Shepherd's Bush, through Paddington and across Hyde Park, finally to bring the queen back to her palace.
"I had some trepidation," confesses one royal aide, "as to what was going to happen when they got out of the car. Perhaps people would jeer or hiss at her."
Geoff Crawford had sketched out the route she would follow down the barricade of flowers against the railings, and there were plain clothes police looking for trouble in the crowd. In fact, the mood of people around the gates was warm and welcoming -- "a universal saying," as one participant remembered, "of 'Well, at last you're back.' "
Peter Edwards, the sound technician who had worked on the ground-breaking Royal Family television documentary in the late sixties, had been called at lunchtime and had driven straight to the palace. Since 1969 Edwards had recorded all the queen's Christmas Broadcasts for both TV and radio, and he had a knack for putting her at ease. She would be taping a "piece to camera" around four or four-thirty, he was told, to go out later in the evening, and he arrived to find the BBC's engineers in the process of setting up.
The atmosphere was tense. Philip Bonham Carter, the freelance cameraman who normally worked with Edwards on royal assignments, had not been able to make it, and Edwards worried that the lighting being set up by the BBC's cameraman was too strong. The hastily rigged circuit of lamps and electrical connections was audibly "buzzing" both in the room and on the soundman's tape, which was crackling with interference. Press office staff were working on last-minute changes to the teleprompter.
Behind the scenes the broadcasting strategy still was not finalised. One option was for the queen to "do live," talking direct to the camera in a live insert that would break dramatically into the evening news bulletins. A second best would be for the queen to speak "as live," making a recording which would then be broadcast within minutes. But that would lessen the impact, and those who knew Elizabeth II's unease with rehearsals and fake occasions knew that she needed to be put on her mettle.
"It was a psychological thing," said one aide. "She goes flat when she knows it's being recorded. When she knows it's real, she rises to the challenge."
To go totally live was a high-risk strategy. The queen had never before spoken so directly and unshielded to such a major audience. When she gave her only previous "address to the nation" on the eve of the Gulf War in 1991, it had been recorded. But Fellowes and Crawford felt she could do it, and they walked to the Belgian Suite at the back of the palace where the queen and her husband were having tea.
"Do you think you can do it?" Fellowes asked the queen.
"If that's what I've got to do," she replied.
The queen looked through her script one last time and suggested some final alterations. Fellowes went to his office to get the changes transcribed, and, with only ninety minutes left before transmission, Geoff Crawford walked back into the reception room-turned-studio.
"Can we do it live?" asked the press secretary.
BBC riggers scrambled as they ran sweating up and down the stairs, running leads to connect up with the Outside Broadcast links trucks outside.
"Are you sure you can say every word in this speech and really believe it?" someone had asked the queen during the drafting process.
"Certainly," she replied. "I believe every word."
At twenty to six, she did a final run-through with the autoscript, looking into the camera as Fellowes and Crawford watched. One rehearsal was enough, they decided. Then at five fifty-five, the countdown started. As the clock ticked round to six o'clock, the technicians turned their attention to the two television monitors in the corner. One showed the early evening programming on the BBC. The other displayed the interior palace shot of the queen looking intently into the lens. The floor manager was counting down, "Five, four, three, two" -- then he made a motion to the queen, mouthing "Go!" Suddenly both monitors were showing the same image and Elizabeth II began to speak live to the nation.
Robert Fellowes had talked his first draft over with Geoff Crawford and David Airlie, the Lord Chamberlain, and had then faxed it to Balmoral, where the queen and Robin Janvrin worked on it together. The final version had been sent to Downing Street in line with the procedure prior to the queen's Christmas Broadcast, when the prime minister's comments are invited as a matter of courtesy.
"It was not for the Prime Minister's approval," stressed an aide. "We're always a bit of a stickler for that. It was her own speech. She wasn't speaking 'on advice.' "
"On advice" is the constitutional term for speeches when the queen is acting as the government's mouthpiece, greeting a foreign head of state, or, most obviously, when reading out the government's avowedly political agenda in the Queen's Speech at the Opening of Parliament. Her speech in September 1997 was infinitely more challenging. Normally, it was her royal job to be plain vanilla. This Friday evening she had to do the opposite of what she had been trained for and had practised all her life -- she had to show at least a little of her personal feelings.
"Since last Sunday's dreadful news," began the queen, "we have seen throughout Britain and around the world an overwhelming expression of sadness at Diana's death. We have all been trying in our different ways to cope. It is not easy to express a sense of loss, since the initial shock is often succeeded by a mixture of other feelings -- disbelief, incomprehension, anger and concern for those who remain. We have all felt those emotions in these last few days. So what I say to you now, as your Queen, and as a grandmother, I say from my heart."
The words "as a grandmother" had come from Alastair Campbell.
"Alastair was quite tentative about it," remembers one palace insider. "He said, 'The Prime Minister has only one comment, which is, would it be right for the Queen to say speaking as a grandmother?' We grabbed it and used it."
The live crowd backdrop was the speech's other masterstroke. As the queen spoke, viewers were able to look through the window behind her, where people were moving about like matchstick figures in a painting by L. S. Lowry, coming and going, still laying their flowers.
Peter Edwards had been struggling all afternoon to get an uncluttered soundtrack, and the decision to go live had made his problem worse. The heat and sweat in the room had added further interference to the whistle of the lights.
"Can't you get a clearer sound?" the BBC control room were shouting down the line.
Edwards opened the window to get a few minutes of fresh air and heard an extraordinary sound outside -- the quiet murmuring of ten thousand or more people as they milled around in the traffic-free arena outside the palace.
"Prov. Town Atmos," is how the soundman today remembers the noise, referring to the BBC title of their standard, canned Sound Library tape, used to create the atmosphere of a provincial town. "But it was also a sound of its own, like nothing I'd quite heard before. This was London. Then. At that very particular moment. I shivered when I heard it."
Edwards had the solution to his sound problem. He stationed a microphone outside the window to pick up the wind and the shuffle of the crowds, blending it strongly into the audio track from the queen's microphone. The electronic interference was masked, and the living noise of London gave physical texture, and its whole brooding background meaning, to what she said.
"I admired and respected her," the queen was saying, "for her energy and commitment to others and especially for her devotion to her two boys. This week at Balmoral we have all been trying to help William and Harry come to terms with the devastating loss that they and the rest of us have suffered. No one who knew Diana will ever forget her. Millions of others who never met her, but felt they knew her, will remember her....
"I hope that tomorrow we can all, wherever we are, join in expressing our grief for Diana's loss and her all-too-short life. It is a chance to show to the whole world the British nation united in grief and respect. May those who died rest in peace and may we, each and every one of us, thank God for someone who made many, many people happy."
A snappier and more fluid ending might have been to thank God for someone who had "made us all" so happy. But this was a speech delivered by the woman who had refused to pretend that she was very pleased to be in Kingston. The strength of her words was that they did not flirt with exaggerated or false sentiment. Her reservations were clearly there for those who cared to look for them, along with her sternness and her unwillingness, in Britain's number one acting job, to act.
Elizabeth II had searched her heart -- a key word that she had used near the beginning of the speech -- and, with the help of her private secretaries, she had set out all the good things that she did feel about her late daughter-in-law. She would be genuinely grieving at the funeral next day, albeit in her own undemonstrative and queenly way. The head of a thousand-year-old monarchy had rallied the troops in traditional style, while also managing, in a contemporary idiom, to tell her people that she could feel their pain.
"She's turned it around!" exclaimed the Sun photographer Arthur Edwards, jovial King Rat of the journalistic royal rat pack, who had taken a break from his duties outside the palace and retired to a pub to watch the broadcast on television. "It brought a lump to my throat. 'Thank God,' I thought. 'She's back in charge.'"
"It was uncanny," remembers Alastair Campbell, who had watched the broadcast in Downing Street. "I was out in the Mall soon afterwards with all the crowds still milling about. Most of them had not heard the broadcast or even known that it had taken place. But the change in atmosphere was palpable. The pressure was being let out."
A contingent of senior police officers were gathered in St. James's ready for the transfer of the princess's coffin to Kensington Palace, where the funeral procession would start next day. Eyes that had been tense and watchful were relaxed. Their men in the crowd were telling them, and they could feel it -- the moment of crisis had passed.
Elizabeth II had taken her time about it. But when it really mattered, the queen had done her job. Setting her personal reservations aside, she had managed to express genuine emotion. Taking command and using modern media to assert her ancient and mysterious authority, she had also acknowledged, through her willingness to change her plans and to make her speech, that she listened to her subjects -- and that they were, in one sense, her ultimate boss.
This book is published to mark the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II -- the fiftieth anniversary of her accession to the British throne in February 1952. It seeks to tell her story, while also trying to explain the nature of her monarchy, a stirring and irrational symphony of emotion between the national figurehead and her people, which enchants its many believers and mystifies those who are tone-deaf to its music.
This private and straightforward woman is celebrating fifty years in one of the world's most public and paradoxical jobs. The British crown long ago lost the political powers it once commanded, but in its place Elizabeth II commands a potent role in the emotional life of her country -- and of the wider world. Thanks to the embrace of the mass media, the personalities of the House of Windsor occupy prominent armchairs in that corner of our consciousness inhabited by presidents and film stars, TV hosts and all the variegated heroes, fraudsters, and villains of the celebrity culture. We "know" them all. The family's marriages, births, divorces, and, in the dramatic case of Diana, death, stimulated some of the late twentieth century's most intense global experiences of communal joy and sadness.
This process developed its momentum more than a century and a half ago in the reign of Queen Victoria, whose fascinating venerability Elizabeth II is now approaching. From the sylph-like slenderness of her youth, Elizabeth II moved into comfortably rounded middle age, and at seventy-five the royal silhouette is heading for the stocky authority of the first Jubilee queen. With her own Golden Jubilee of 2002, the queen's parallels with Victoria become ever more intriguing. "Lilibet" was born in Queen Victoria's shadow, and the grand and gaudy business of royal celebrity at which she has worked so dutifully all her life first took shape around her formidable great-great-grandmother.
Copyright © 20002 by Robert Lacey