Just a fortnight ago, we all breathed a sigh of relief when we saw pictures of the Queen welcoming new prime minister Liz Truss to Balmoral with a huge smile on her face. While there was upheaval in one area of public life, there was continuity and stability in another.
So when the news broke two days later, on 8 September, that our beloved monarch’s health was failing, it scarcely seemed possible. Then, at 6.30pm, came the news we’d all been dreading – our Queen was dead.
Since that moment, there has been a huge outpouring of love for the woman who ruled over us for 70 years. We’ve realised – if we hadn’t before – how she was truly the backbone of the country, our strength and stay in good times and bad.
Not just ours. President Macron of France said: “To you, she was your Queen. To us, she was The Queen.” French newspaper Le Parisien had a surprisingly emotional headline, “We loved her so much.” In Brazil, they called her, “the grandmother of the world”.
And indeed she was. The huge turnout at her Platinum Jubilee proved just how much affection the nation had for her. And now we have gathered again to bid farewell to the woman who dedicated her life to us.
Royal expert Duncan Larcombe told us: “As a nation, few of us will have ever experienced anything like this before. Not since the death of Winston Churchill will we have seen a state funeral quite like this one. We’re in completely new territory – you have to be of a certain age to remember anyone singing God Save The King before.”
He added: “We feel familiarity with someone like the Queen. She’s on our money, on our stamps, there on Christmas Day, we marked the Millennium with her. She’s been an astonishing presence in British society and that filters down to individual families, not only in the UK but in the Commonwealth as well.”
In 2018, a YouGov poll estimated that 31% of British people had either met or seen the Queen over the years, such was her work ethic and determination to get out and about and greet her public. That increased to 49% for people over the age of 65.
During her reign the Queen visited at least 117 countries and carried out over 21,000 engagements. What’s more, she sent over 300,000 cards to people to wish them happy birthday when they turned 100, and over 900,000 messages to couples marking their Diamond Wedding anniversaries. Over 1.5million people have attended a Garden Party during the Queen’s reign.
That’s an enormous number of people whose lives she’s touched, so it’s no wonder so many of us will remember her as a leader in good times and bad, but also have more personal memories of her too.
Larcombe says: “Families across Britain are together, sharing stories of the Queen. I was talking to my parents, and my dad told me he remembers his headmaster running down the corridor waving his arms shouting, ‘The King is dead, long live the Queen.’ And my mum went to watch the Coronation from the Mall. My 10-year-old daughter met her when she came to their school just before lockdown, and that’s now one of her precious memories of this remarkable woman.
“She was the Queen, but she was also the nation’s grandmother. To my grandmother, she was the nation’s sister, someone who had gone through the Second World War like them. She was unique, not only because of the longevity of her life, but also because of the consistency of her presence and popularity.”
The Queen was our link to the past. As a princess, she suffered the fear of the German bombs while living at Windsor Castle, and as Queen she presided over decades of enormous societal change, dealing with national crises and family scandals alike. While prime ministers came and went – she knew 15 of them in her time as monarch, from Winston Churchill to Liz Truss – she remained.
In his speech in the House of Commons after her death, outgoing PM Boris Johnson said of their last meeting, she was, “as radiant, knowledgeable and fascinated by politics as I can remember and as wise in her advice as anyone I know, if not wiser.”
Former PM Theresa May joked that she enjoyed her meetings with the Queen particularly because she knew they were the only ones that would not be leaked to the press, while Liz Truss called her “the rock on which modern Britain was built”. Their words showed just how much each PM relied on her wisdom, experience and knowledge of our constitution.
As a nation, we did too. During moments of uncertainty, we looked to her for words of reassurance, knowing she had been through so much before. During the pandemic, she addressed the nation in what was only the fifth special broadcast of her reign.
She said to us: “I hope in the years to come everyone will be able to take pride in how they responded to this challenge. And those who come after us will say the Britons of this generation were as strong as any. That the attributes of self-discipline, of quiet good-humoured resolve and of fellow-feeling still characterise this country. The pride in who we are is not a part of our past, it defines our present and our future.
“It reminds me of the very first broadcast I made, in 1940, helped by my sister. Today, once again, many will feel a painful sense of separation from their loved ones. We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return: we will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again.”
When OK! interviewed the Queen’s biographer Andrew Morton, he told us that in his opinion, this speech was the most important moment of her long reign. Calling her stoicism her “greatest strength”, he added: “I think her finest hour was her speech she made in regards to Covid. It was her reminding the British people that they’d shown stoicism and resilience in the past, and could do so again.”
Since her death, the people she met have been coming forward to tell how much she touched their lives. One, Rachel Garstang, was four when she met the Queen at a Highland Show in Scotland, running out from the crowd to hand her a toffee.
She said to OK!: “I’m incredibly sad about the Queen’s passing. It’s not just the longevity of her reign that’s remarkable, it’s the way she gave her life and shared her values with so many people. She represented and lived up to an idea in the way that few people can – and that helped so many.”
Alex Holmes, 34, who is deputy CEO at the Diana Award, met the late monarch when she gave him a Queen Young Leaders Award. He said: “I’ve been thinking about her legacy and in particular what it means to me and the other Queen Young Leaders from across the Commonwealth.
“She was an example of service and duty and leadership, and we learned a lot about what it means to be a young leader like she was when she came to the throne aged 25. She was a role model to
so many of us.”
Meanwhile, Ewan Carmichael, now 16, met the Queen when he won a competition in 2019 on the
20th anniversary of the Scottish Parliament and was chosen to hand her some flowers. He remembers her “warmth and charm” as they discussed his ambition to be first minister and LGBT+ rights.
He added: “I think honestly that the majority of people, whether they are fans of the royal family or not, all unite under their admiration for the Queen. The nation is grieving together because we all remember the times she brought the country together, particularly during the pandemic.”
Larcombe says: “No one will replicate the Queen’s sincerity or outdo her legacy, or earn that much respect again across the planet. She’s the greatest and most popular monarch in British history.
"She’s embedded herself in the public consciousness and the history of the nation in the same way that Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Victoria did before her. There is something about our queens that seems to define us.”
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