How Queen Elizabeth saved the monarchy

First things first, let me be perfectly clear: I am a devout anti-monarchist. Everything about it is impossibly stupid, and diametrically opposite of everything democracy is supposed to be. Even when I was a kid, on the rare occasions when we had to sing “God Save the Queen” (that actually happened sometimes), I would stand silently, not even mouthing the words. Oh, what a rebel I was! 

Yes, monarchy is stupid, antiquated and ridiculous. But this blog is not about the awfulness of monarchy. It’s about Queen Elizabeth II, the indestructible superhero of monarchs.

The Queen (beginning as a princess) as seen on Canadian currency.

Last weekend, Britain spent four days doing the one thing it still does better than any other country – a four-day party to mark QEII’s 70 years on the throne, and celebration of past glories. And even though I have less-than-zero respect for the monarchy, I will admit to having real respect for the Queen herself. (Maybe I have a soft spot for Liz because we have a little history. I don’t like to brag, but we had dinner together once. It was in 2005, and the Queen was visiting Alberta to celebrate our centennial as a province. I was invited to an intimate little soiree, just me and the queen and about a thousand other people. She seemed nice.)

The Queen has been a public figure since she was a mere princess, which predates the Second World War. She may be the only person in the world that great-grandparents, grandparents, parents, children and grandchildren can all identify. 

What a life. Imagine, tens of thousands of hours in the public eye, your every movement scrutinized. In that time, she has certainly given thousands of speeches, without ever once saying anything memorable, or controversial, or revealing. If there is one phrase the Queen is famous for, it is “My husband and I …”

There certainly isn’t another living person – and perhaps no person in history – who has met more famous and powerful people than the Queen. She has known 14 British prime ministers (how many people living today can talk about having tea with Winston Churchill?), 14 American presidents, 12 Canadian prime ministers, and pretty much every world leader of note in seven decades. Wouldn’t you love to get her drunk (sherry would be her drink, I guess) and get her to spill the beans on the political leaders she has met? Or what she really thinks of Prince Andrew? 

Has there been any woman’s face reproduced more than hers in all of history? Elizabeth’s visage appears on the currencies of 33 countries; you probably have more pictures of Queen Elizabeth in your wallet than of your own kids. (Canadian history trivia: Canada was the first country anywhere to put Elizabeth on a banknote, when she was an eight-year-old princess.) 

How many hands could she have shaken in 70 years? I’m surprised her right hand isn’t just a melded blob of fused fingers by now. 

Perhaps Queen Elizabeth’s greatest accomplishment in her seventy years rests in what she has NOT done. In seventy years, she has only misread the public once. When Princess Diana was killed the Queen stayed at Balmoral in Scotland, comforting Diana’s young sons, instead of racing back to Buckingham Palace, which had become mourning central for Brits. The public and the tabloids turned on the Queen until she showed the appropriate level of sadness. Other than that one misstep, her record is perfect. If you never give personal interviews, you never say something wrong. That’s impossible today. 

Monarchists should pray that the old gal goes on forever. When Elizabeth walks that last red carpet, the royal family will most certainly fall far from favour, until the British monarchy is no more relevant than the monarchy of Spain or Denmark or Norway. 

Until then, may I just say, even as a devoted anti-monarchist … jolly good show, Elizabeth.  Job well done. Maybe too well done …

By Maurice Tougas

Maurice Tougas is a lifelong Albertan, award-winning writer and reporter, and a former MLA for Edmonton-Meadowlark.

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