Royalty, as the life of Queen Elizabeth II showed, is about your ability to serve DESPITE celebrity and excess, your ability to acknowledge your own humanity in meeting the needs of others. I believe we perceive royalty by the way a person makes you FEEL. Lots of things, places, events have ‘royal’ attached to them but they don’t confer the same feeling of being seen, of being heard. A meeting with the queen was significant because you felt ‘Here is a person who sees me, hears me, feels like I do.’
However you feel about the monarchy, we are all, in the UK, going through a seismic transition together at a time when there is desperate need around us and dark times ahead. Taking a selfie next to a celebrity does not mean you belong to an exclusive community; nowadays, it feels almost anachronistic. Belonging to a community means being able to empathise and offer something of value.
I was raised by Royalists. I’m a Scrivener Brit on my mum’s side, a Commonwealther on my father’s, and my British family either gave their lives in World War II , were in domestic service or worked the land. The kitchen cabinets were cluttered with coronation paraphernalia dating back to Queen Victoria. My nana was the housemaid of a landed Suffolk gentleman and all the men folk were in the British army. In 1977, we went down for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee and I waved at her as she passed in her golden coach.
My dad was doing his MS in East Africa when the Queen was staying at Treetops and received the news her father had died and she would be queen. My parents gave me her name for my middle name while my sister is named after Princess Ann. I, like millions of others, have absolutely been shaped by her reign, by her postcolonialism, how she included the Commonwealth and diaspora and the chasms that remained from the faults of those before or beyond her. So gentle a queen and yet her strength is shown by the impact it had on the years of relative peace we enjoyed during it. We believed it was the norm; it wasn’t. It was because she made peaceful relations and unity her mission.
If Queen Elizabeth hadn’t been the monarch, my upbringing would have been very, very different. My dad took me and my sister and brother to Treetops in 1986 and, for me, it was an awesome experience. It’s in those first three pages of ‘Finding CC’ and HTSP@25. The years of 1952-1955 are critical in my most recent novel, all based around what was happening to the monarchy, the Empire and Kenya at this time. I doubt if I would have identified with Tupac’s plight as I did when I did or that I would have left home and country so readily. I’ve not really been shaped by politics, despite being raised in a civic town, Labour’s heartlands and the brutal years of strikes, inflation and The Ripper. Politics come and go, inconstant and inconsistent. While I’ll never put my trust in politics, I do believe in royalty.
I didn’t think I would be so affected by the Queen’s death but, the night after she died, I had a vivid dream of a black sky and one white shining star. I woke at 2am, convinced it was her: her life, the dying star, there to guide and direct and shine in this coming darkness. The next morning, when the airwaves were full of nostalgia, I heard her quote the poem that had guided her when she was left bereft and became queen of so many territories at 25:
"Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way".
To be a true monarch is a burden: in the midst of the worst bereavement of your life, you are given the most heavy responsibilities and left with no guide. A monarch is made in a moment’s decision. A true monarch knows they are utterly lost unless they reach out to the hand of God in the dark. It is not privilege or luxury that makes a royal; it’s faith and holding onto the One who is forever constant, forever true.
‘The secret things belong to God but those that are revealed are ours forever.’ And they are only revealed to those with the eyes of faith. Our rich and ever-expanding heritage is due to the vision of faith. Empires and economies rise and fall in a blink, but kingdoms that endure are built by faith, love and patient hope.
And God bless King Charles III who takes on such a heavy burden at such a dark time. He has been built for this, freely giving up his own youth and privilege to serve and support the deprived and the environment for decades while the world sniggered and scorned him. May we learn well from his humility and keep our judgment and sarky comments in the sock drawer.