The Queen turns 96 — but uncertain days lie ahead for The Firm

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·6-min read
The Queen turns 96 — but uncertain days lie ahead for The Firm
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Today’s gun salutes in London and Windsor at midday marked the 96th birthday of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, our oldest and longest-reigning monarch. She is seen by many as our greatest ever sovereign; more popular than Queen Victoria, under whose reign Britain transformed into an industrialised nation, and her namesake, Queen Elizabeth I, who oversaw a vibrant era of arts and many new discoveries.

Today’s ceremony will surely have been another high point in her 70-year reign — though the list is impressive. Other achievements include her service during the Second World War; the overriding sense of stability and continuity she has given through the decades; her guidance and leadership of the Commonwealth and overseeing the modernisation of the monarchy. She is also the first British king or queen to address the US Congress, and her ground-breaking visit to the Republic of Ireland in 2011 was truly historic — seeing her universally praised for her gestures of reconciliation during the first official visit by a British monarch in 100 years.

In recent memory, we can also include her steadying intervention during those uncertain early days of the first Covid-19 lockdown, when she evoked Dame Vera Lynn with her “we’ll meet again” speech. She instilled confidence among the people when we needed her most.

Queen Elizabeth looks at a fan as she views a display of memorabilia from her Golden and Platinum Jubilees in the Oak Room at Windsor Castle (PA)
Queen Elizabeth looks at a fan as she views a display of memorabilia from her Golden and Platinum Jubilees in the Oak Room at Windsor Castle (PA)

On a more personal note, being forced to shield in Windsor Castle with Prince Philip was to prove a blessing as the couple were able to spend much more time together, giving her what aides described as a ‘new lease on life’ in lockdown. But since then, Her Majesty’s life has changed irreversibly. She has lost loved ones, her pace has slowed considerably, her health too has deteriorated. Her loyal champion Philip died just over a year ago and she felt his loss deeply. After his funeral, her assistant Angela Kelly revealed that the Queen just walked to her sitting room to be alone with her thoughts.

Since his passing, the Queen’s decline in health has been rapid and more noticeable. Her weight has dropped and her mobility has considerably restricted. That spring in her step has gone, although mentally she is alert and continues to carry out digital engagements. But how can we expect her to carry on at her grand age? It is understood the Palace will no longer announce that the Queen will be attending an event until the day itself. Instead, it should be assumed that her heir, Prince Charles, 73, will go in her stead as he has been doing for some time now.

Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of York arrive at a Service of Thanksgiving for the life of the Duke of Edinburgh, at Westminster Abbey (PA)
Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of York arrive at a Service of Thanksgiving for the life of the Duke of Edinburgh, at Westminster Abbey (PA)

Her family and inner circle of staff have rallied around her. Her daughter, Anne, the Princess Royal, and daughters-in-law, the Duchess of Cornwall and Sophie, Countess of Wessex, all keep a close eye on her. Shamed son Prince Andrew remains a favourite with his mother and a regular visitor. Whenever Charles is in Windsor, he stays overnight so he can have dinner with his mother if he can. Increasingly, the Queen has turned to Charles to represent her, as he and Camilla did for the Maundy Service.

Significantly, on that day of forgiveness, Prince Harry and Meghan turned up at Windsor Castle, seeking rapprochement. Unforeseen circumstances meant they were a little late for the meeting with Charles and Camilla, and so Camilla was left alone with them for a short time whilst Charles attended to other matters, although the Sussexes had more time with the Queen. No courtiers or staff were present at either meeting, so only time will tell if there is any truth to reports that the pair have been invited with their children, Archie and Lilibet, to the Platinum Jubilee celebrations in June. Certainly, the family would add star-quality to events that the Queen may, due to her frailty, be unable to attend.

Prince Harry and Meghan, attend the Invictus Games The Hague 2020 Opening Ceremony (Getty Images for the Invictus Ga)
Prince Harry and Meghan, attend the Invictus Games The Hague 2020 Opening Ceremony (Getty Images for the Invictus Ga)

The Queen was undoubtedly left unsettled by Harry and Meghan’s very public split — and the damaging accusations that followed. But she is a ‘here and now’ type of person and was more than happy to listen to what they had to say. “She only ever wants to hear the facts. She is a straight talking and pragmatic person herself,” a former member of her Household said. “There is no point in dilly-dallying, she will ask you to get to the point.”

Meanwhile, she and Charles are closer now than ever. She has helped, too, to guide William through his formative years and has proved a great role model for the future king. Since Philip’s passing, the Queen has turned to Charles and William more and more. Indeed, both helped her navigate their way through the Harry debacle, as well as Prince Andrew’s removal from public life following the Jeffrey Epstein scandal.

Duke of Cambridge, Duchess of Cambridge, Prince George and Princess Charlotte attend the traditional Easter Sunday Church service at St Georges Chapel in the grounds of Windsor Castle (GC Images)
Duke of Cambridge, Duchess of Cambridge, Prince George and Princess Charlotte attend the traditional Easter Sunday Church service at St Georges Chapel in the grounds of Windsor Castle (GC Images)

“The York and Sussex situations has changed the Queen’s relationship with both the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Cambridge. Her Majesty appreciates them and their wise counsel very much,” says a senior source. William especially feels his relationship with his grandmother has ‘improved’ in recent years and their views are ‘more aligned’. The decision she had to take over Andrew was very difficult for the Queen and Charles, but William was perhaps in a better position to evaluate how damaging his uncle and the civil case against him was to the future of the monarchy.

The Queen does, however, still know her own mind. Claims that she was ‘bullied’ by Andrew into him accompanying her to Philip’s Service of Thanksgiving at Westminster Abbey are nonsense. The reality is that Andrew was simply doing what his mother asked of him. “The Queen wanted him to feel needed and the entire thing was her doing,” said a senior source. The Queen was understandably irritated by talk that her courtiers had briefed against Andrew. In asking her son to support her, she was showing the world that she still had faith in him.

Prince Charles kisses the hand of the Queen on stage after the Jubilee concert at Buckingham Palace in London in 2012 (AFP via Getty Images)
Prince Charles kisses the hand of the Queen on stage after the Jubilee concert at Buckingham Palace in London in 2012 (AFP via Getty Images)

As she turns 96, the Queen will not be making a fuss. She will be at Wood Farm, on the Sandringham Estate in Norfolk, a tranquil place where her beloved Philip enjoyed peace in his retirement and twilight years, with her memories. To many, the Queen appears to be getting her ducks in a row and her confirmation that Camilla will be Charles’ queen consort was part of that. It is doubtful that we will see much of the Queen in person during the Platinum Jubilee celebrations. It’s hoped she will appear on the balcony for Trooping the Colour, although senior figures advise we should not expect too much. The Crown is in transition, and Her Majesty is ably served by both Charles and William, who both take their responsibilities very seriously, and they and other senior royals will continue to step up for the Queen when needed. But make no mistake: as we reflect upon the Queen and her legacy in the twilight of her reign, the royal family must modernise and develop.

For William, perhaps more than Charles, that will be the greatest challenge. As he approaches his 40th birthday, he must make the unelected royal family and the institution of monarchy seem relevant and fresh for the next 20 years. His time is fast approaching.

Robert Jobson is the Standard’s Royal Editor and author of William at 40: The Making of a Modern Monarch published by AdLib

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