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God Save the Queen (But Not the Monarchy)

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On Thursday, an 86-year-old woman met the Welsh rugby team. After that, she went to a community festival, where she saw displays by the local mountain rescue team, the Forestry Commission and Merthyr Tydfil scouts.

It's possible, of course, that Queen Elizabeth II started this week thinking she could stay at home, and curl up on the sofa with a nice G&T, and rest her feet, which were getting a little bit painful, but that actually what she'd rather do was shake an awful lot of hands in the rain. It's possible that every day she wakes up and thinks she could have a little bit of a lie-in, since she isn't getting any younger, and is actually rather knackered, and could then have a spot of lunch with someone she knows, and likes. But that actually what she'd rather do is chat to the volunteers at the Cyfarthfa Castle museum, or the St. John ambulance service at Ebbw Vale.

It's possible that when she rides, in a special uniform, side-saddle on a horse, and when she parades up and down in a feathered hat and a velvet cloak, and when she gives a long speech that somebody else has written, about the policies of a government she may not even like, she's doing exactly what she felt like doing when she woke up. But it's also quite possible that she isn't.

Most of us have bits of our job we're not all that keen on. Most of us have to do them anyway because of that clause in our job description that basically says "do whatever the hell your boss tells you". If you were the boss, and particularly if you were the Head of State of the United Kingdom, and of 15 other Commonwealth realms, you'd think you might keep the interesting bits of your job like, say, meeting Barack Obama, and leave the boring bits out. But Queen Elizabeth II, head of the Commonwealth of Nations, seems to have more boring bits in her job than anyone else.

For 60 years, she has shaken the hands of strangers, and smiled politely at people she'll never meet again. For 60 years, she has stuck to the promise she made, in a Brief Encounter voice, when she was 21, that her "whole life" would be devoted to the "service" of her subjects. For 60 years, she has spent a big chunk of her waking hours cheering people up. She has done this knowing that a boring moment for her is an exciting one for someone else.

Many of us would think that a promise we made when we were 21, and repeated when we were 25, would be very much like the promises we make to improve our French, or lose half a stone. The Queen, clearly, doesn't. The Queen clearly thinks that a promise is something you make and, even when you're tired, and fed up, and even when your children's marriages are breaking up, and your 1,000-year-old castle has pretty much burnt down, stick to.

The Queen thinks that when you have meetings, you shouldn't wing it. She thinks, for example, that if you have meetings with prime ministers, as part of your job, then you should read newspapers, and listen to the news, and wade through boxes and boxes of papers. She even seems to think that these meetings should be useful. And quite a lot of the prime ministers seem to have thought they were. They seem to have thought, as one official said, that they're like "meetings with a therapist".

People think that meeting the Queen is like meeting a therapist because what she mostly does when people talk is listen. She manages, even though she's nearly always the most important person in a room, to give the impression that she isn't. She seems to think that the most important thing isn't how you feel, but how you behave.

If you meet the Queen, you don't forget it. I've met her, briefly, twice. The first time, at a school in Bethnal Green, she was business-like and polite. The second time, at the awards ceremony for a poetry competition to celebrate her Golden Jubilee, she smiled, and looked happy. She looked, in a way she doesn't always, which is one of the things I like about her, as if she was having a lovely time.

I hope she has a lovely time at her Diamond Jubilee, too. I hope that what she feels if she does isn't the loyalty of "subjects" to an institution, but the respect of people who can recognise dignity, and modesty, and self-discipline, and grace. I hope she'll understand that you can look at an old lady, in big specs and a bright coat, and hope that she's the last in a ridiculous line, but also agree with Barack Obama, and say that she makes us "very proud".