The Queen: What She Meant to Me
It’s been a while since I’ve posted my newsletter (I finally got struck with Covid), so apologies for being away. There’s much to talk about: Steve Bannon’s indictment (“What was he thinking?” has been the refrain from people close to him); the upcoming trial of Trump’s inaugural chair Tom Barrack and what it signifies; the death of Epstein associate Steve Hoffenberg, whom I knew well and who yet remained an enigma until his sad, lonely death in Derby, Connecticut. All these and more will be coming in the next few days—but, today, as someone who has dual citizenships (British and American) and who spent the first 27 years of my life in the UK, there’s only one subject to write about: the Queen.
(Photo by Tim Graham Picture Library/Getty Images)
Imagine this: The Queen met with fifteen British Prime Ministers during her reign. The first, Winston Churchill, was born in 1874. The last British prime minister, Liz Truss—with whom the Queen met with just two days ago—was born in 1975. She also met with fourteen U.S. presidents, as I noted in my interview with royal biographer Robert Hardman. Think about that: the changes in the culture she witnessed, the array of personalities she met. The sheer scope of what her “job” entailed was so much larger, frankly, than that of any CEO you can think of.
And then there’s the fact that the “job,” at times, was under threat. There were moments in the UK that I remember during which the anti-monarchists (led by Britain’s publisher-in-chief Rupert Murdoch) felt like they were gaining traction (not least because of the scandalous behavior of various of the Queen’s children). But the Queen was the ultimate innovator, the canniest of entrepreneurs. She always knew how and when to adapt to the times and to her people. She plugged the holes that were forming between the royals and their subjects, again and again.
When, in 1992—a year in which there was a fire at Windsor Castle, Princess Anne got divorced, Prince Andrew separated from Fergie, and Charles and Diana were on the rocks—the Queen told Parliament it had been an “annus horribilis,” how clever that was! It was an uncharacteristic moment of vulnerability. That single phrase arguably protected the monarchy at a moment when the taxpayers who supported it were resentful and angry. I remember, as a cub reporter working for a Murdoch paper at the time, that it felt like a revolution could actually work.
There was danger again from an angry nation when Princess Diana died in 1997. It famously took the Queen a moment to think things through, but, again, she showed that remarkable adaptability and shrewdness that comes only with experience: she knew it was essential to lose some regal distance and to speak to the nation through the television, frankly and bluntly, about not a princess but “Diana,” reminding them that the monarchy, despite the tragedy, endured.
Ever since I was a little girl, Christmas Day in England has been dominated by one thing: 3pm, the time that the BBC would broadcast the Queens’ annual speech to her people. Turkey and Christmas crackers and presents would be abandoned while everyone, of all ages, gathered to watch Her Majesty sit and talk from one of the royal palaces. I’ve often felt it’s a shame that more Americans didn’t see it. Because to watch it, year after year, was to really understand the point of the Queen—which was not the glamour, or the celebrity, or even the history, but her work.
In those ten minutes every year, she explained what she did. She showed clips of her trips domestically and abroad; she discussed the charitable work of her family. And, somehow, she found something profound to say about the moment we were all in during each particular year. You always felt better about the world at the end of those ten minutes than you had at the beginning of the speech. Because no matter what strife, terrors, and fear existed in the world, the Queen—a petite woman with no official constitutional power—was on the case.
As a British-born journalist who has spent 25 years in New York, I often felt that the one thing missing from U.S. coverage of the monarch was mention of the Queen’s extraordinary work ethic. It was always far more comforting and important than any of the gossip about the personal lives of her offspring and their spouses. But in the UK on Christmas Day, every year for 70 years, we felt it. My grandparents, my parents, myself and my children all got to watch it and benefit.
Today my family—all generations—cried. And we will cry for more days to come. Someone truly unique—and brilliant—has died. And given the polarities and strife in the world right now—and the fact that we won’t have her broadcast this Christmas—I wonder: What else may have died with her? We can only hope her talent and courage lives on in King Charles III. Will he be able to live up to his mother’s extraordinary legacy? Only time will tell…