10 Sep 2022  |   07:54am IST

This totem was your girl next door who wore a crown

She was pretty. She was smart and she was vivacious. And she was Royal. But her royalty did not build any walls that disconnected, because through the kingdom where the sun never set, her persona was tantalisingly normal

Sujay Gupta

Her majesty’s a pretty nice girl/But she doesn’t have a lot to say / Her majesty’s a pretty nice girl / But she changes from day to day / I wanna tell her that I love her a lot / But I gotta get a bellyful of wine / Her majesty’s a pretty nice girl / Someday I’m going to make her mine, oh, yeah / Someday I’m going to make her mine /- The 26-second song “Her Majesty,” – Lyrics Paul McCartney, who had a confessed crush on the Young queen. This 26-second song is included as a hidden track on the Beatles’ album Abbey Road.

She lived in gilded palaces but giggled like a little girl. The crown sat on her glowing in the magnificence of her royalty. From princess Lilybet to Her Majesty the Queen, the crown of self-effacement rested easily on her.

She was pretty. She was smart and she was vivacious. And she was Royal. But her royalty did not build any walls that disconnected, because through the kingdom where the sun never set, her persona was tantalisingly normal.

She drove, she was a mechanic, seen in worker overhauls, during the World war.

During the German invasion of the UK, a British Army Home Guard Officer, drove an ambulance throughout London picking up dead and wounded Londoners. The guard was 16. She was later known as “Queen Elizabeth”

And till that girl of 16 passed away at 96, at Balmoral castle surrounded by her Royal Family, each of whom knew they could only allude to but not aspire to her longevity filled greatness, basking in the company of loves ones, but also dogs, horses and the great outdoors.

She had only one love, prince Philip, her third cousin with whom she first crossed paths at the 1934 wedding of Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark and Prince George, Duke of Kent. He was 13. She was eight years old. She was not in line to ever inherit the throne. She only became the heir at age 10, when her uncle Edward VIII, who would have been king, abdicated to pursue his own love story. 

They met again in 1939 — this time when Philip, then 18 and a Navy officer cadet, helped escort a 13-year-old Princess Elizabeth around Dartmouth's Royal Navy College, according to author and historian Tina Brown. It was at this meeting, Brown said, where their love story truly began. (*Sourced from Li Choen’s “A look back at the remarkable love story of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip: The only man I could ever love”, CBS News, Sept 9, 2022).

Following that encounter, Elizabeth told her father King George VI that Philip was, "the only man I could ever love,” (New York Times).

For almost everyone in the UK she was the only Queen they knew and more importantly could love ‑ her crown not a totem of dominion but an insignia of a warm embrace.

And little would she know how much she and her life is ingrained in many Indian homes and been a part of growing up conversations. This is personal too. One’s maternal grandfather, a doctor was the royal physician in the court of the Maharaja of Benares and copies of a famed photograph of him receiving the Queen and Prince Philip with a turban and an ornamental sword rest on the mantlepiece of the family home.

This connection is unique in its irony. She was the queen of the land that ruled us till a decade ago, when she was crowned. Remnants of imperialism were embedded in our souls and our psyche. And yet when she came to India in 1961, to her former colony, the Indian state embraced her with warmth and tradition. This became the foundation of a long-standing Indo-British relationship, albeit with a few knocks on many counts, that have weathered the storm.

Back home, the institution of monarchy did not define her. She defined the institution. While continuity is the bedrock of monarchy, Queen Elizabeth’s passing, especially in the hyper-digital information age will reveal the fault lines i.e the ability to be the centrifugal force around which disparate forces and personalities gather in faith.

She also put at rest some long-standing street to campuses to boardroom chatter. One anti-monarchy group says that the Royals cost the British taxpayer more than £200 million (*Source AP) Official estimates say that she costs £40 million a year.

But the people wanted a monarchy. In a poll in 2006, only 18 per cent of Brits polled favoured a Republic. A decade and a half later, another poll found that 69% of those polled thought that the UK would be “worse off” without a monarchy.

Thomas Paine and Walter Bagehot were two Republican and Monarchist thinkers respectively. Paine states that there is something exceedingly ridiculous in the composition of Monarchy and declared, "One of the strongest natural proofs of the folly of the hereditary right in kings, is, that nature disapproves it, otherwise she would not so frequently turn it into ridicule by giving mankind an ass for a lion", he said in his pamphlet, Common Sense. 

Walter Bagehot’s English Constitution was a belated response to the revolutionary arguments of the New World republicans. "We catch the Americans smiling at our Queen with her secret mystery," he wrote, suggesting that Paine and his kind were prisoners of their own "literalness". Bagehot didn't try to justify monarchy as rational (indeed he accepted many of Paine's criticisms). Still, his point was that an "old and complicated society" like England required more than mundane, dreary logic.

Her passing and its outcome, and the outpouring in its aftermath, have affirmed that Bagehot, and not Paine, got Britain, the British Isles, and the United Kingdom better.

She will remain a Queen, much like her uncrowned formed daughter in law Princess Diana, “of hearts”, a monarch of the masses and the girl and granny next door.

Mathew Norman writes in The Telegraph, “None of us has a clue what the Queen thinks, and this, when you think about it, is what makes her remarkable, and best explains her success. After 60 years as sovereign, her people have barely the vaguest idea of what goes on in her head. Being the planet’s most relentlessly public figure and among its most impenetrably private, at once uniquely familiar and entirely unknowable, is a paradox that never loses its power to intrigue.”

And loved, one might add. But the best view of her, comes from a bystander near Windsor Castle, Elizabeth’s favourite working home

“She's just — she's… I have no words”.


Iddhar Udhar