The life of Queen Elizabeth II, Evening Standard tribute: Living through extraordinary times, she provided a rock of stability

·3-min read
 (Rex Features)
(Rex Features)

She lived a life of service that began long before her accession to the throne.

In 1940, at just 14 years old, the then Princess Elizabeth made her first BBC radio broadcast to bring comfort and hope to the children who had been evacuated from Britain’s cities during the Second World War.

At 18 she became the first female member of the royal family to join the armed forces, enlisting with the women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service, training as a driver and a mechanic.

At 21 she made that exquisite and defining broadcast from Cape Town in which she uttered those famous words, dedicating her life to the service of the Commonwealth, saying: “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service.”

Never has such an extraordinary promise been so diligently fulfilled.

If you think of the vital landmark in completing the United Kingdom’s journey to democracy when everyone over the age of 21 was finally given the vote in 1928, then it means that Her Majesty presided over two thirds of the UK’s history as a full democracy.

In that time she met a quarter of all the American presidents since Independence, provided counsel to 15 British prime ministers and worked with more than 150 prime ministers across the Commonwealth. Her Majesty lived through some of the extraordinary times in our world.

From the Second World War, when the Nazis bombed Buckingham Palace, to the rations with which she bought the material for her wedding dress.

From presenting the football World Cup to the England captain Bobby Moore at Wembley in 1966, to man landing on the moon three years later. From the end of the Cold War, to peace in Northern Ireland.

Princess Margaret and Elizabeth broadcast to the children of the Empire, 1940 (Getty Images)
Princess Margaret and Elizabeth broadcast to the children of the Empire, 1940 (Getty Images)

Throughout it all, as the sands of culture shifted and the political tides ebbed and flowed, she remained steadfast — a rock of stability for our Commonwealth and, on many occasions, for the whole world. As her grandson, the future King, Prince William, said of her: “Time and again, quietly and modestly, the Queen has shown us all that we can confidently embrace the future without compromising the things that are important.”

As Her Majesty said in her first televised Christmas broadcast of 1957, it was necessary to hold fast to “ageless ideals” and “fundamental principles”, and this requires what she described as “a special kind of courage which makes us stand up for everything we know is right, everything that is true and honest”.

She led a gentle revolution of our monarchy in her long reign. From that first televised Christmas Day message to the opening up of the royal palaces to the public, and inventing the royal walkabout, she brought the monarchy closer to the people while retaining its dignity.

The Queen hands the football World Cup to Bobby Moore in 1966 (Popperfoto)
The Queen hands the football World Cup to Bobby Moore in 1966 (Popperfoto)

Throughout she was a source of unity and strength.

She made an extraordinary contribution to the future of our Commonwealth, growing it from eight members in 1952 to 54 today, helping to build the unique family of nations that spans every continent, all the main religions, a quarter of the members of the United Nations and nearly a third of the world’s population.

Back in 1953, while on a six-month tour of the Commonwealth, she described the way it is “built on the highest qualities of the spirit of man: friendship, loyalty and the desire for freedom and peace”.

These qualities continue to unite the Commonwealth nations today.

Through it all, Her Majesty carried herself with extraordinary grace and humility. When people met her they talked about it for the rest of their lives because she always showed a genuine interest in them.

Her Majesty’s service to the country has been extraordinary, her passing historic. Her long life of service to her people should be celebrated as well as mourned.