Voices: The Queen I knew

·3-min read
I reported on Queen Elizabeth II and the royal family for more than 30 years (AP)
I reported on Queen Elizabeth II and the royal family for more than 30 years (AP)

It was the Queen’s televised address in the middle of the pandemic that said it all for me. Locked in our homes, frightened of the seemingly deadly virus sweeping through the world, we heard her reassuring words: “Better days will return: we will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again.”

It typified the quiet, calm lead she gave for seven decades.

For almost all of us, the Queen was simply there, in the background of our national life. Most of us probably didn’t trouble to think about her very often. But her enduring presence provided a stability and continuity more important than any of us might have recognised.

For me of course, the Queen was a central part of my life. I reported on her and the royal family for more than 30 years. I travelled the world with her and saw how consummately she flew the flag for the United Kingdom. She was this country’s finest ambassador.

Some tours were truly historic: her visit to Ireland in 2011 was one of the most delicate and sensitive. A few were undoubtedly tiring and tedious; I remember the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh being almost frozen during a never-ending cultural display in Winnipeg, Canada; I watched anxiously as she continued her walkabout in Sydney despite monsoon rains and slippery pavements. But she never stopped smiling, waving and playing the role that became her destiny on the day her uncle, Edward VIII chose to abdicate.

One of the most memorable was her visit to South Africa in 1995. I was one of a group of journalists who were invited aboard the royal yacht, Britannia, to chat with the Queen at the start of that tour. Never had I seen her so animated, so excited and so enthusiastic about a visit. She said she had wanted to return to South Africa for nearly 50 years – her only other trip there had been with her parents and sister in 1947.

The Queen with Jennie Bond and Denis Norden at a 2001 reception in Buckingham Palace (PA)
The Queen with Jennie Bond and Denis Norden at a 2001 reception in Buckingham Palace (PA)

And her return visit was a resounding success; she forged a real friendship with Nelson Mandela and he became one of the very few people who would henceforth call her “Elizabeth” while she called him “Nelson”.

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I cannot think of another head of state who achieved the same level of global recognition as the Queen. She is recognised and widely admired the world over. Her family has all too frequently sabotaged the reputation of the monarchy with their divorces and domestic dramas, but her own reputation has remained unsullied.

Meeting the Queen, as I did many times over the years, allowed me to glimpse the woman behind the crown. Her sense of humour always simmered just below the surface and her smile was far more dazzling in real life. I always tried to tap into her humour by telling her a story or anecdote. Some made her laugh; some produced an icy stare!

Probably her greatest achievement was to have remained an enigma to most of us for the 70 years of her reign. We really didn’t know her views on anything remotely controversial. As such, she was a unifying force in an often divided nation, and a figurehead and comforting voice when times were tough.

Jennie Bond worked for 14 years as the BBC's royal correspondent