On September 8, 2022, the sad news reached the world that Elizabeth II, Queen of the United Kingdom and Commonwealth, was no longer with us. Her death ushered in the third Carolic era. Like Simba out The Lion King, the Queen’s eldest son had been waiting in the wings. Now he has taken on the role for which he was extensively prepared: King Charles III.
All other dramas were left out, the British monarchy took center stage.
Unsurprisingly, the Twitterati—which so desperately needed a definition of freedom of expression—came into effect. Many of those who have posted tweets have valid, sound reasons for championing republicanism. When the time is right, this is a discussion that needs to be had. Others, however, are unknowing puppets of the modern malaise of groupthink. Even more so, they are mere opportunists, practiced verbal snipers aiming for the day’s target in the hopes that their latest joke will garner stratospheric sympathy — or, more likely, allow the current cult of division to spread.
But the perpetrators of Twitter Vitriol don’t speak for all of us. Proof of this is the immediate and instinctive sadness that gripped the UK and beyond following the announcement. The platitude that you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone was driven home immediately. If, as some believe, the late Queen was a bandaid holding together a cherished but antiquated institution, she did so remarkably effectively. Like a sodden sponge, Britain was filled with tears. In the days after her death, mourning crowds gathered at the roadsides outside of Balmoral as her coffin traveled to Edinburgh, then queued with stoic patience – for up to 25 hours – to pay homage to her coffin as it stood in Westminster Room. In the most British manner, visitors even lined up to join a queue. Because Elizabeth II was a unique figurehead, steadfastly holding her people together from the days of ration cards to the era of the iPhone. And their mourners are not just old people desperate to cling to tradition: young, old, rich, poor, black, white – all and sundry united in mourning.
The silent majority, so often drowned out by the volume and noise of Twitter and the media, is finally able to wordlessly shout out the true mood of the nation.
Quite rightly, most UK theaters have made the decision to cancel shows on the day of the funeral (September 19, 2022), dubbed a bank holiday. But oddly enough, when I try to define the magic that exuded Queen Elizabeth II, I find myself reaching for a character from musical theater: Mary Poppins. This fictional darling shares many of our former queen’s qualities: efficiency, kindness, a firm respect for boundaries, and the ability to dish out tough love. Inscrutable as she was, Elizabeth II somehow exuded those qualities.
But it was perhaps her magical elements that most intrigued Elizabeth’s subjects. While Mary Poppins could slide up railings and use an umbrella as a parachute, the Queen had magical powers of her own. Some of these powers could rightly be described as privileges: as sovereign, she had the ‘prerogative’ to fire the entire Australian government; she could drive without a license or travel to a foreign country without a passport; she had dominion over all dolphins in waters around Britain; she had her own ATM; and she was immune from prosecution. But their real power transcended these birthrights. The magical magic of the queen emanated from her mysticism and her steadfastness. In a world where, as the saying goes, leaders “fight with poetry and rule with prose,” she was exactly what she proclaimed to be. On her 21stSt On her birthday, when she was Princess Elizabeth, she solemnly vowed: “I declare before you all that my whole life, long or short, shall be devoted to your service”. Well, it turns out it was a long life and one in which she never went back on the promise she made as a young woman so long ago. Her worldly solidity and grounded calm was a kind of pixie dust many of us took for granted and now feel rudderless without her.
Over time, other dramas will emerge. The argument for republicanism will rear its head again. The silent majority is again mothballed. The world is changing and will continue to do so. And as Socrates said, “The secret of change is to focus all your energies not on fighting the old but on building the new”. So we have to accept that we have now lost something irretrievable. But whatever happens – even if it’s just through something as trivial as seeing Mary Poppins – the spirit of Queen Elizabeth II will live on.