A life well lived

The death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on 8 September 2022 was followed by an outpouring of love, grief and gratitude, the like of which has perhaps never before been seen and certainly not in living memory.

Ten days of national mourning on a truly majestic scale have left people awed by the public response and even more so by the gentle personality able to command such respect and affection, not just nationally but globally.

And while the orchestration of this period has been a phenomenal exercise in public relations, it has also belied so much more than that.

At Her late Majesty’s state funeral, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, called out her rarity amongst world leaders, opening his sermon with a reference to the Queen’s now much quoted 21st birthday pledge that her whole life would be devoted to serving her people.

Indeed, it has been a recurring theme in the tributes paid to Queen Elizabeth II that people saw in her a life of service that was lived with honesty and integrity. Although she was of course also a daughter, wife, mother and grandmother, there was always a sense that her public life was her life, and that her sense of duty came first.

In the same vein, the public response was, at once, a national sharing of grief, alongside a very personal sense of loss.

It was perhaps also the first time for many that we have had to traverse a national event on this scale without the Queen there to comfort, encourage and be the voice of calm.

For seven decades and more, her carefully chosen words have marked every Christmas and many moments of national crisis, spoken always with a very human and personal dimension. Even as a young princess, evacuated to Windsor during the Second World War, she addressed listeners of BBC Children’s Hour to empathise with those displaced and thank those who had welcomed them into their homes. In 2020, she ended her lockdown address quoting Vera Lynn with the now even more poignant promise that ‘we shall meet again’.

In her death as well as her life, she made herself available to her people. Up to the very morning of her funeral, every opportunity was created to enable people to offer condolences, share tributes and pay their last respects, with the surprise appearance of King Charles III and Prince William amongst the mourners earlier in the weekend signalling that this is very much a royal tradition they intend to continue.

Inclusivity was apparent at her funeral, as it was in the Platinum Jubilee events which celebrated her reign. She took seriously her role in seeking to preserve the unity of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth and, as head of the Church of England, she was open about her faith while at the same time embracing the beliefs of others.

Which isn’t to say that there aren’t still sceptics and cynics out there and indeed those voices have occasionally made themselves heard over the past ten days. Overwhelmingly though, the narrative of public sentiment tells of a queen much loved.

This was public relations in its purest sense: not just a story well told or a role well played, it was a life well lived, and that is how she will be remembered.

Categories: Opinion