Saturday 4 August 2012

HM Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother: A Personal Tribute

 I was commissioned to write this tribute in March 2002, immediately following the announcement of the death of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. 

 I post it today, to mark the anniversary of HM's birth. Ten years on from her death, this tribute to the Queen Mother might sound overly romantic and sentimental, but the emotions were very real at the time and, I feel, captured the mood of many of those who queued up to pay their respects.

HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother: A Personal Tribute

The Queen Mother is dead.

The words sound strange and hollow. They suggest that all is not right with the world. One might just as well write that the Statue of Liberty has sunk beneath the waves or that the Holy See has moved to Winnipeg - that the Queen Mother is no longer with us simply sounds impossible.

Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother was a constant. World wars were fought and won, fanatical ideologies rose and collapsed, empires crumbled, politicians and dictators were granted fifteen minutes only to become faded names in yellowed newspapers. Fashions changed and traditions ended. But the Queen Mother remained.

Over the decades, as the world changed ever more rapidly and dramatically, becoming, in the process, both increasingly chaotic and unfamiliar, the Queen Mother stood as a steadfast symbol of stability and continuity. She grounded us. We looked upon her as a Methuselah. The sight of that slight figure with her captivating smile and genteel wave was enough to remind us that some things never change. From this we drew comfort and hope.

But Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother was more than a constant. She was an institution. Born a Victorian and raised an Edwardian, the span of the Queen Mother‘s life is the span of our collective memory.
Rightly or wrongly we largely divide history into two chronological periods: twentieth century and pre twentieth century. The historic events that occurred prior to the Queen Mother‘s birth are as remote as the Spanish Armada or the expeditions of Columbus, those which occurred after the Queen Mother‘s birth are events of modern history – our history.

Born in 1900, the Queen Mother was the Twentieth Century. Her Majesty aged as the century aged and, by so doing, she came to be regarded as a physical embodiment of the modern era, serving as a rare bridgehead to the events of yesteryear. Through her we felt a tangible connection to our heritage and to our roots, those elements so critical to the foundation of any lasting national identity. Whilst the Queen Mother lived, the early years of the last century seemed less remote and our place in our national story could be better understood. These factors alone would render the Queen Mother a most memorable person.

However, Her Majesty was more than mere constant or symbol of modern history. One need not accomplish anything to attain that status. One need simply exist. No, the Queen Mother was far more. She was human. She was alert to humanity. She was conscious of duty. She was an inspiration.

A healthy and productive society requires role models and icons. Their function is manifold but they ultimately serve to motivate, inspire and guide both the society as well as its constituent parts. Our era, for whatever reason, suffers from a lack of true role models.

Real leadership and the notion of justifiably deserved respect and admiration have been all but forgotten in critical areas of modern life, replaced instead by artificially inflated figures of the hour or moment artfully created by powerful corporate hands and posed to resemble the genuine artefact We are encouraged and expected to idolise and collectively prostrate our selves before those who have become the physical personification of greed, selfishness and ego; in short, before those for whom "I" has become the all important mantra and for whom duty is understood only in terms of what others must do for them. Their faces are plastered on bill boards, on magazines, on television and in the cinema. These are the great and powerful we are told. They are to be revered.

All that glitters is not gold. Beside the genuine that which is inflated and artificial looks crude and cheap. The Queen Mother was the real McCoy. She towered over feeble imitations. In a life dominated by personal self sacrifice, dedication to duty and concern for others, even in the midst of great personal tragedy, Her Majesty epitomised much that was truly noble in the human spirit. To her we could look for examples of strength during adversity and calmness of spirit during times of upheaval.

Yes, Hitler did call her "the most dangerous woman in Europe", and that defiant spirit was no less evident at the age of 100, as she disobeyed doctors to clamber into a helicopter and fly to her daughter‘s funeral, than it was at 60. This is the mark of a true role model.

Today‘s youth will remember the Queen Mother as a delicate great-grandmother swathed in pink or blue chiffon. But let us never forget that the fist in the velvet glove was iron and so too was the will. The Queen Mother‘s resolute determination saw the Empire through two of its greatest crises: the Abdication Crisis and the Second World War.

Upon her husband‘s accession to the throne it was Queen Elizabeth who was the pillar of strength, tenderly but firmly encouraging and coaching King George VI through the terrible ordeals of his early kingship and the War which would soon be waged. During that war as a symbol of defiance against tyranny only Winston Churchill was their equal.

Whilst in almost all other areas society seems to cater to the lowest common denominator how refreshing and inspiring to know that here at least stood a shining example of those deeply cherished values and all important beliefs that have guided civilised man through the ages

The Queen Mother is dead.

The words have lost none of their strangeness. Yet the fact remains. We are all the poorer for it.

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