How the Queen became a symbol of stability in the chaos of coronavirus

Rebecca Taylor
Royal Correspondent
The Queen is turning 94 on 21 April. (Getty Images)

Coronavirus

The Queen turns 94 today, marking another year of service to her country and the Commonwealth.

But this year’s celebrations will be unlike any other. In the past few weeks the Queen and her family have faced, along with the rest of the world, a challenge unrivalled in a generation.

The Queen’s response to the coronavirus pandemic – in her statements and two rare addresses – has won her praise the world over, and proved her age is no concern when it comes to her position, and her ability to speak to a nation.

Read more: Coronavirus: Queen cancels birthday gun salutes for first time amid COVID-19 pandemic

In the early days of the coronavirus, it was clear the Queen was sticking to a “keep calm and carry on” mantra. Pictures showed she was getting on with engagements as usual, though on some days she would wear gloves for certain events.

As the virus spread, she was taken to Windsor Castle a week early and would stay there for the foreseeable future being in the high risk category for the disease.

But while there, she has still been able to play an important role. In a rare televised address, the Queen rallied the nation together and calmed fears in a way many experts say only she could.

A screen shows an image of the Queen and a quote from her message on the fight against COVID-19 at Piccadilly Circus in London. (Getty Images)

Speaking about the Queen’s rare address, Stephen Bates, former royal correspondent and author of Royalty Inc: Britain's Best-Known Brand, said: “She has fulfilled the duties of the constitutional monarch, and rallied the country in expressing a common sentiment.

“It is incredibly unusual to make a public intervention and it is well judged. It was appropriate coming from her, because everyone knows she lived through the war, the Royal Family stayed in the country, she enlisted to a certain degree.

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“She has been there and done that, and been monarch and public figure for more than 70 years. She’s more experienced than anyone in public life.

“Few times when she can make a non-political intervention. Monarchs aren’t meant to voice political opinions.

“This time it was easier than it would usually be because there is a common enemy.

The Queen held a concert to mark her 92nd birthday two years ago. (Getty Images)

“For someone who has made a lifelong habit of not showing emotion and not saying much hugely quotable, or outspoken, it was a remarkably well-judged address.

“It clearly had a good effect.”

Not only did the Queen make only her fifth ever televised address outside of her annual Christmas message but she recorded her first ever Easter audio message.

It struck a slightly different tone, using the opportunity of the religious festival to speak about the hope of Jesus’s resurrection in the Bible.

Read more: Why does the Queen have two birthdays?

Speaking about her follow-up Easter address, Bates said: “She has made increasingly overt Christian references in her Christmas broadcasts for the last 15 to 20 years, but never says anything at Easter.

“Either she is on a roll, or she felt the need to supplement the sense of public uncertainty and disquiet at such a prominent holiday and time of the year and in serious terms. She is a serious Christian.”

Speaking about how the Queen has handled the crisis, Dickie Arbiter, a former press secretary for the Queen, said: “She is taking it in her stride. She was brought up in an age when you took things in your stride.

“It is what it is. There is nothing you can do about it.”

He added: “She is not political, she is not there to deliver a political message. If you look at times of celebration or disaster, it is always the Queen who comes out and offers a bit of comfort and continuity, and get everybody onto a bit of a level.”

Arbiter said: “While everyone has to deal with is, she has to deal with it too.

“She is very well aware of what people are going through, she is saddened by people losing their lives and with the best will in the world you cannot save people.

“She is very sympathetic. As a ceremonial head of state, she can reassure people and she did reassure people.”

Royal photographer Arthur Edwards, said: “She rallied the country at a time when we were sent into lockdown, some that we knew we had got to do, but did not want to, but she did.

“She does not do this often and when she does it, it matters.”

Read more: Easter Court: Why does the Queen go to Windsor and what does she do at Easter?

He added: “After Diana’s death I remember that clearly, she was under criticism for not coming to London but she gave that speech from Buckingham Palace, she rose to the occasion and she did it this time too.

“We will get through this and we will meet again. They will remember this.

“It is going to be tough, she knows how tough it is because she served in the war, it is going to be even tougher.

“She gave the message that everybody wanted to hear.”

The Queen carried on with much of her work during March. (Getty Images)

Edwards, who has travelled the world with the royals for decades as a photographer, said: “She has coped with all the scandal in her family, all the divorces, she has risen above it all the time. She has always delivered.

“The crowds that come out to see her, in Ghana, in Nigeria, in Canada. That speech was streamed all over the world.

“This is why we are pretty lucky in Britain, there are people who want to see the end of it but more people want to see it continue.

The Queen during an engagement at MI5. (Getty Images)

“It is because at times of crisis you need something to rally people and she did that brilliantly and it calmed everyone down a bit.

“Whether you are prince or pauper, prime minister or road sweeper, this thing is out there and anyone of us could catch it.

“She did it so well. You knew she would give it careful thought and discuss it with her private secretary and the prime minister.

“That last line was from her and from her experiences.”

The Queen wore gloves as she awarded a CBE to actress Wendy Craig. (PA)

Royal author Penny Junor said: “She has handled this crisis like all other crises, with extreme cool, and reassuring calm.

“She is an amazing presence, it is this kind of crisis that makes you remember or understand what monarchy is about.

“People who live through the war, and there aren’t many left, they know what it is for.

“The King and Queen were advised to leave London for their safety and they sent their children [Elizabeth and Margaret] but they did not go themselves. If the public were being bombed, they should stand shoulder to shoulder with them and they did go to the East End and they did stand shoulder to shoulder with them.”

The Queen offers ‘moral leadership’, says royal author

She added: “There is something about the monarch sympathising with you, being there. It is true leadership, it inspires and is comforting.”

Junor added: “The cliche is the monarch represents the nation. What that really means is when the nation is anxious about the virus which is killing us off, or about wartime bombs or terror attacks, she can express the nation’s emotions to itself.

“She finds the words we cannot.

“She expresses what we are feeling. It’s moral leadership, not political leadership. Her address was spot on, it was masterful, not hysterical, but factual.”

Read more: Chocolate cake and gun salutes: How the Royal Family celebrates birthdays

She added: “She proves her worth on a daily basis, I think she is the most extraordinary monarch and we are lucky to have someone who is dutiful and selfless after all these years.

“She just demonstrates the value of the monarchy.

“When politicians are giving their nightly briefings, they are such slippery creatures, you never know why they are saying something or if they will say something different tomorrow.

“You do not get that with the Queen. You feel she is sincere, genuine, wise and she is experienced. She will get us through bad times and good times.

“When we win medals at the Olympics she is expressing our joy as well.”

The Queen’s real birthday is usually marked very privately, and this year will be more so than in others.

There will be no gun salutes to mark her birthday - usually fired in Hyde Park, Windsor Great Park and the Tower of London.

Any video or phone calls made with family will be kept private.

The Queen is currently living in Windsor Castle with her husband Prince Philip and minimal staff.

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