Regal esteem | 

Why I quietly admire Queen Elizabeth on a human level

This 96-year-old great-grandmother is some woman

Queen Elizabeth II on the balcony of Buckingham Palace at the end of the Platinum Jubilee Pageant. Photo by: Chris Jackson/PA Wire

Roy Curtis

PERHAPS it is because she reminds me in assorted ways – absence of self-pity, resilience, a determination to keep on keeping on – of my own mother in her final years

Or it might be the sincerity and understated dignity of her bowed head as she laid a wreath in Dublin’s Garden of

Remembrance in 2011 at the memorial for those who died fighting for Irish freedom.

It could be how her stoical, old-school sense of duty stands in stark contrast to her entitled, indulged, moody offspring.

Likely it is a combination of all the above that prompts this uttering of what many deem unsayable: On a human level, I quietly admire Queen Elizabeth II.

Although political history presents a formidable barrier to the expression of such sentiments, I suspect a significant body of the Irish population share this discreet regard.

Lineage: Camilla, Charles, Queen Elizabeth, Prince William, Kate, Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis on the balcony at the palace. Photo: Hannah McKay/Reuters

It is entirely possible to consider the monarchy an anachronistic nonsense, to urgently clamber for the mute button at the first strains of Land of Hope and Glory, and yet still be struck by a sense that this widowed 96-year-old great-grandmother is some woman.

She’s tough as old boots, selfless, steadfast, resolute.

She likes the horses, is partial to the odd G&T, has lived her entire life indomitably beneath the unforgiving, intrusive, sodium light of a relentless media and public glare.

Deference to class and privilege, the notion of blueblood betters, feels an absurdist, time-expired concept.

The English establishment in its imagined superiority, in so many of its stuffy, overbearing, twee guises has for the longest time legitimately raised Celtic hackles.

That essentially slimy old Etonian privilege – of which vacuous cads Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg are merely the latest poster boys – would awaken the inner Guy Fawkes in the most even-tempered of souls.

It is a world of perpetual adolescence, ostentation, arrested development, where advancement is won not on merit but by maintaining the obnoxious, staggeringly drunk, restaurant-wrecking traditions of the Bullingdon Club.

Johnson – a classical empty-vessel narcissist – thrives in a parliamentary arena where it is a given that bottomless self-regard should exist in inverse proportion to competence.

The English aristocracy class are effortlessly lampooned.

Those cut-glass accents, the boorish arrogance personified by the authentically loathsome Prince Andrew, the subservience demanded as a birthright…

The noise of the planes flying in formation over Buckingham Palace after Trooping the Colour on Thursday seemed too much for young Prince Louis. While his great-grandmother watched serenely beside him from the balcony, the four-year-old clamped his hands firmly over his ears (Aaron Chown/PA)

Few things in life grate Irish ears to quite the extent of a beer-soaked, private-school Twickenham Six Nations crowd’s grandiose bellowing of God Save the Queen.

Here is the ultimate bombastic reassertion of some imagined hold on an empire upon which the sun never sets.

So don’t take this to be any kind of ode to those who flit, ornately uniformed footmen at their beck and call, between Buckingham Palace, Highgrove, Sandringham and the rest.

The House of Windsor has proven itself a largely dysfunctional, divorced-from-reality, out-of-date dinosaur.

And still I cannot summon even a single atom of animus for the woman at the summit of this pyramid of privilege.

As our next-door neighbour’s longest serving sovereign, she has been an ever-present backdrop to all our lives.

One more profound English influence – the Premier League, Coronation Street, the BBC, music from The Beatles to Britpop to Ed Sheeran – on Irish culture.

She is four years shy of her 100th birthday and evidently fading. Unable to attend day two of her Jubilee celebrations on Friday, she is clearly ailing.

Yet until recently, this elderly lady sustained a work schedule that would exhaust somebody half her age, often standing in heels for long stretches at official ceremonies.

There was never a complaint, never a short-cut taken.

Although they inhabited entirely different universes, this is where she most powerfully evokes my late mother and a generation who got on with life, devoid of self-pity.

My view of the woman was positively shaded by her visit to these shores 11 years ago.

Remember that early summer of 2011, the contrast between the giddy euphoria of Barack Obama’s and the evident tension ahead of Queen Elizabeth’s touching down at Baldonnel.

We need not have fretted.

Her dignity and civility, her relaxed sense of humour converted many Irish agnostics. There was never a hint of regal entitlement.

She giggled at fishmonger Pat O’Connell’s mother-in-law joke in Cork’s English market, she spoke a hugely symbolic cúpla focal at Dublin Castle and electrified the nation with that bowed head gesture on Parnell Square.

It was a beautiful, cleansing exhibition of her humanity.

A lovely exclamation point on a memorable, groundbreaking Irish visit by a palpably decent woman.

Today's Headlines

More Comment

Download the Sunday World app

Now download the free app for all the latest Sunday World News, Crime, Irish Showbiz and Sport. Available on Apple and Android devices

WatchMore Videos