Ninety-six years ago on Thursday April 21, at 2.40am in the morning, in a house in Mayfair, Elizabeth Alexandra Mary was born to the then Duke and Duchess of York. The baby girl was not supposed to become one of this country’s greatest monarchs. Only an accident of fate – and the folly of her Uncle Edward, who preferred an American divorcée to the English throne – led to her becoming our Queen.
In a letter to his wife, Winston Churchill, who had just made the acquaintance of the two-year-old Elizabeth, said: “The latter is a character, having an air of authority and reflectiveness astonishing in an infant.” In truth, our Queen was never young and, until quite recently, she managed to never be old.
She was 10 years and eight months old when the abdication took place and she became heir presumptive. Like Shakespeare’s Portia, Elizabeth could have tossed her blonde curls and sighed: “In terms of choice, I am not solely led by nice direction of a maiden’s eyes. Besides, the lottery of my destiny bars me the right of voluntary choosing.” But she never minded. To an astonishing degree, the young girl accepted that she could never choose. Noel Coward was right. He quipped that they ought to put up a statue to Wallis Simpson, “for saving us all from the horrors of Edward VIII”.
Queen Elizabeth the Second is the best bit of luck our country ever had, in the modern era at least. Now, with just under two months to go until her official birthday, it’s clear she is conserving all her remaining strength for the Platinum Jubilee. Seventy years on the throne is the cue for great national celebration (and gratitude), but it has also exposed painful and potentially deeply damaging tensions within her family.
This week, aides are said to have suggested that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have been invited to appear on the Buckingham Palace balcony during the festivities, but “can have no formal role”. Surely, an uneasy and possibly unworkable compromise, particularly when Duchess Meghan realises she has been given a non-speaking part. Uh-oh!
Whether that information about the balcony invitation actually came from the Palace itself or from the slick, ever-busy PR machine of Harry and Meghan, who recently dropped in for tea with Granny at Windsor Castle, is hard to discern.
Many monarchists are understandably dismayed by the idea that the self-exiled, semi-detached Royal couple who have caused Her Majesty so much embarrassment – not least giving that interview to Oprah Winfrey alleging that a senior Royal was racist when Prince Philip was pretty much on his deathbed – will play any role whatsoever in the Jubilee.
Those same helpful “aides” have conceded that, while the Sussexes being present on the balcony would “mean a lot to Her Majesty”, it would take “a leap of faith from all sides”.
You can say that again. In the Oprah interview, a churlish Harry effectively accused Prince Charles of cutting him off without a penny, even though his baffled father had forked out several million of his own fortune to set his son up in regal splendour in California. Meanwhile, Meghan who, like her husband, is never one to let a grudge go, publicly accused Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, of making her cry before the Sussexes’ wedding. The charge against his wife made Prince William furious and, according to Tina Brown in her new book, The Palace Papers, the two brothers are barely on speaking terms.
A source who has observed the sibling rift at close quarters says, “You just want to get them in a corner and knock their heads together and tell them to grow up.”
Prince Harry, so permanently aggrieved he cannot take yes for an answer, continues to kick up a stink about paying for his own security in the UK, even though he and Meghan seem to have managed perfectly well with private guards during this week’s Invictus Games in the Netherlands. In addition, the Prince’s “heartfelt memoir”, scheduled for publication this autumn, promises to be about as family-friendly as an improvised explosive device.
Under the circumstances, the Red Arrows are going to have to put on their most spectacular ever fly-past on June 2 to distract from an unseasonal, deep frost on the Palace balcony between the Sussexes, the Cambridges, the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall. (Poor Camilla is cordially loathed by Diana’s younger son, who hates the idea of her being Queen, according to Tina Brown.) And all of it filmed by Netflix with whom Harry and Meghan have a multi-million dollar deal.
With the death of the Duke of Edinburgh, the Queen lost her wisest counsellor. Lacking the family’s unsentimental chieftain, she has made some questionable decisions. Allowing the disgraced Prince Andrew to accompany her to Philip’s memorial service raised eyebrows. Now, her affection for her mischievous grandson risks distracting from what should be a moment of unalloyed personal triumph.
While we can sympathise with the Queen for wishing to build bridges, do her subjects really want the Meghan and Harry psychodrama to dominate this special national event? I certainly don’t. Their selfish exploitation of their position is nauseating.
Nor is it hard to imagine how undelighted William and Kate must feel at the prospect of a very public reunion. The Cambridges are trying very hard not to put a foot wrong, working to keep the monarchy on track during this transition while the Beverly Hillbillies let it all hang out in sneakers and jeans, then think they can just show up for Granny’s bash and grab the wholly undeserved glory. If the Windsors hope to buy Prince Harry’s silence by bringing him and Meghan back into the fold, my guess is it will take more than a balcony appearance to assuage that pair’s perpetual sense of victimhood.
How very different from our Queen. She grew up to epitomise the virtues of selflessness, modesty, duty and service. Values which are seldom apparent in the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
If they have any class, Harry and Meghan will politely decline the Queen’s kind invitation to join her on the balcony on the 70th anniversary of her accession. That occasion is for her and for everything she has stood for. Long to reign over us. How lucky, so very lucky, we have been.