HER Majesty the Queen is 94 today, but for the first time in her 68-year reign her birthday will not be marked in public. She has said that it would be ‘inappropriate’ during the pandemic. It means there will be no gun salutes, and Government buildings do not need to fly the Union Jack.
Instead, the Queen will remain self-isolating at Windsor Castle with 98-year-old Prince Philip. Prince William recently admitted he was worried about his grandmother’s health, and he and her other children and grandchildren will doubtless be in touch to wish her many happy returns.
Her decision, as usual, is spot on. The monarchy has recently been on rocky ground because of Prince Andrew’s relationship with the convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein and Harry and Meghan’s disrespectful comments on their Instagram account and the cavalier way in which they bolted from the country. The behaviour of both princes has resulted in scathing comments about the Royal Family and resentment that our taxes fund their lavish lifestyles.
The Queen, however, re-established her authority this month in a rare broadcast outside Christmas Day. Wearing a bright green dress, pearl necklace and her grandmother Queen Mary’s diamond and turquoise brooch from 1893, perhaps to indicate the duration of the monarchy, she addressed the nation from Windsor Castle and provided the stability and comfort we need – something that politicians and religious leaders haven’t been able to manage.
Her speech, sprinkled with grandmotherly words of wisdom, was watched by more than 23million in the UK and many more round the world. It lasted less than five minutes and was described as ’powerful’, ‘heartfelt’, ‘inspirational’ and ‘galvanising’. She praised the NHS, sympathised with those who were suffering physically and psychologically, and with the challenge everyone is facing. Like many a wise and kind granny she reassured us that everything will come right. No other living person could have done better.
The Queen also threaded a strong Christian message through her speech. She has been deeply devout since childhood and used to kneel by her bedside next to her mother to say her prayers at night. One of her titles is Supreme Governor of the Church of England, and she knows that the desperately ill or those in a crisis turn to their creator even if they haven’t thought about religion for a long time.
Making the most of her success, she seized the opportunity a week later to encourage people to have faith and accept the Christian message. In what is believed to be her first Easter message she said that ‘Easter is not cancelled’ and the ‘new hope and fresh purpose’ of the festival was needed more than ever. Knowing she had to tread carefully to avoid excluding those of other faiths or none at all, she added: ‘Many religions have festivals which celebrate light overcoming darkness. Such occasions are often accompanied by the lighting of candles. They seem to speak to every culture, and appeal to people of all faiths, and of none. They are lit on birthday cakes and to mark family anniversaries, when we gather happily around a source of light. It unites us.’ She ended with the moving words: ‘May the living flame of the Easter hope be a steady guide as we face the future.’
I hope she will light her own birthday candles on a cake at tea-time, her favourite time to have visits from her children and grandchildren. Each day her tea is served with finger sandwiches such as cucumber, smoked salmon and egg mayonnaise, all with the crusts cut off. There are also scones and cakes: a favourite is honey and cream sponge.
The Queen has been hard-working and dutiful and has put the country first ever since her broadcast on her 21st birthday in 1947 when she dedicated herself to the country and the Commonwealth: ‘I declare before you all that the whole of my life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.’
Seventy-three years later she still likes to be busy fulfilling various royal engagements. Being in self-isolation will, in common with so many of her subjects, feel strange. She is not used to having time on her hands. Like the rest of us, perhaps, it will give her the opportunity to think about reshaping her life. As she enters her 95th year, her key decision is whether to step down and let Prince Charles take over as Regent while she is still alive. He is increasingly standing in for her, and she has more faith in him than ever before. But maybe she shouldn’t think about this on the birthday itself. Instead, let’s hope she will toast the day with her favourite drink of gin and Dubonnet with a slice of lemon and lots of ice, and that Prince Philip is well enough to be there to watch her blow the candles out.