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Friday, December 2, 2022

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Happy Birthday Your Majesty, and thank you for 70 years of service

It’s fitting that the annual Queen’s Birthday holiday in New Zealand falls on the weekend Britain celebrates the Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. As an avid royalist, it’s great to pay tribute to someone who has excelled in a role, not of her asking. 

What I find interesting about my royalism, is that there is a bit of cognitive dissonance around it. My politics are generally centrist with a tilt to the left, but on occasion, I can be a little centre-right.  I consider myself to be a liberal philosophically, and definitely one who believes in democracy, equality, equity, and freedom for everyone. 

I am not a fan of the ‘aristocracy’ in a pure sense, yet, I love the Queen and I believe in the Monarchy in Britain and here in New Zealand. 

Why?

Well, I was born in the U.K. and while I moved to New Zealand with my family as a child, I have maintained a very strong connection to my homeland. I feel like a kiwi in so many ways, and New Zealand is my home, but I still feel the pull of old Blighty on my soul. 

Over the years I’ve voraciously read and followed the history of England and the British Isles, and that history is intertwined with royalty. And what a fascinating story it tells, at times tragic and brutal, but also filled with the remarkable tales of a family at the heart of the nation.

The present Queen can trace her lineage back over a thousand years to the earliest English kings. It’s not always a direct link, but essentially, she is of the same family who has ruled for all that time. 

Yes, I know there were revolutions, and back in 1714 a slew of people were pushed aside and a German prince became king, but he was still related to the Stuart Dynasty, and therefore the ancient Plantagenets as well. 

Knowing the current British head of state is literally descended from ancient royalty and is the living embodiment of history is quite remarkable and pretty cool. In my mind, that is far better than having an elected head who gets replaced every few years.  

The United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy, as is New Zealand. Yes, we are ‘subjects’ but that doesn’t mean we have fewer freedoms than republics. It just means we have a rather unique and special connection to our history.

I have never met the queen, but I’ve seen her around me all the time. On television, on coinage, stamps, and banknotes. I have books on her, and even a coronation biscuit tin, given to me by a friend. There is also a picture of her in my dining room resplendent in a tiara and earrings. I put it there in February 2012 to commemorate her Diamond Jubilee, and it’s something I enjoy seeing as I sit down to eat. 

When I was five years old, and still living in Britain, my mum took me to the end of our street to watch the queen drive past in a limousine on her way to some engagement. To me, she looked like a blue blob streaking by, but it felt thrilling. Imagine that, a crowd of people turning up just to watch a car drive past. 

I saw the queen again many years in later in New Zealand as she drove down Queen Street to a reception somewhere. The car was a bit slower this time, so I got a good view. I don’t remember what year it was, I might have been about ten or so, but again, there was a thrill about seeing this woman, so unknown to me, yet so familiar. 

It was, I think 1977 when TV One rebroadcast the Queen’s coronation ceremony to honour her Silver Jubilee. Our black and white TV was on the fritz so a very kind neighbour invited me to watch it on their colour TV, because she knew how I loved the royal family. I’d never seen the footage before and was transfixed by it. 

There are so many moments in the Queen’s life that are noteworthy, but two stand out.

The first one was in 1981 when Prince Charles married Diana Spencer. I was a teenager, and full of joy at what, at the time, seemed like a love match. My mum and I sat glued to the television watching the wedding ceremony live. We winced as Diana got out of the coach at St Pauls Cathedral with a dress that was so wrinkled. But it got smoothed out, and she looked gorgeous. We gasped as she stumbled over Charles’ full name. We were so proud as Kiri sang Let the Bright Seraphim, and we cried as Diana emerged without a veil after signing the registry. She looked so beautiful and radiant. The Queen emerged from the cathedral smiling. It was, we thought, the beginning of a fairy tale. 

Sixteen years later, mum and I watched Diana’s funeral live on television. We were both in tears through it all as we witnessed the death of that fairy tale. 

For some reason, and I still don’t know why the whole controversy over the queen’s initial ‘no show’ passed me by. It wasn’t till much later it registered with me. Perhaps I didn’t watch much of the news.  But as angry as I was with the paparazzi, and even Charles’ treatment of Diana, I never felt any antipathy towards the queen. 

She was quickly forgiven by the public because she did what she’s always done. She turned up. She spoke, she soothed. She took it all on the chin, and simply did her duty, even if, as I suspect, she had to grit her teeth through the whole thing. 

And this is the heart of the matter for me. No matter her faults, the queen’s work ethic and her devotion to her role surpasses any criticism about her. Remember, she had no choice in the role that was laid on her shoulders so many years ago. We might look at her wealth and privilege, but she is not as free as most of her subjects. She has a role to play and is always under scrutiny. 

Criticism of the institution is in my view fair game. Many people question the monarchy’s place in the modern world. The institution is bound up in all the good and bad of British history and is inevitably the symbol that represents the awful legacy of slavery, colonialism, and exploitation. It is appropriate that the crown is part of any righting of wrongs as society comes to terms with that human tragedy. 

But what that connection shows is that the monarchy is integral to the history and identity of Britain, and all the countries in the Commonwealth. 

It seems rather strange to me that I have this fascination and connection to a family and a woman I have never personally met and probably never will. But they, and in particular, she, represent something much more than the ordinary.

Queen Elizabeth, so obviously human represents something much bigger than herself, yet at the same time, she is so wholly herself. A woman she always displays dedication, courage, grit, determination, and majesty. 

So, on this official holiday, I wish you Happy Birthday Your Majesty and I thank you for 70 years of service as Queen. 

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