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She has been providing hope throughout the pandemic. That the nonagenarian monarch has done so while beset with her own difficulties within the Family Firm, and her own fears as a mother and grandmother, speaks volumes for her unwavering sense of duty and devotion to the people of Britain and the Commonwealth.
Even before the pandemic struck, the Queen was dealing with the ongoing embarrassment caused by the Duke of York’s involvement with paedophile Jeffrey Epstein and had US Attorney General William Barr claiming her favourite son was not cooperating with their enquiries.
Then, without warning, her grandson Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle announced they were stepping away from the Royal Family.
Many people would have felt for her as she held the infamous Sandringham Summit to try to sort out the issues, but far greater worries were just around the corner for all of us as the coronavirus crisis loomed.
When the Duke and Duchess of Sussex joined the Queen and other members of the Royal Family at Westminster Abbey on March 9 for the Commonwealth Day service, little did anyone know that it would not only be their final royal engagement, but that it would be the last time Her Majesty would be seen in public for months as the nation was on the verge of lockdown.
Just over a week later, she was forced to end her engagements at Buckingham Palace and go into isolation at Windsor Castle but, as she would later say in her Christmas message, “we need life to go on”.
Though she could not carry out engagements and meet people in person, she continued regular telephone conversations with Prime Minister Boris Johnson, other senior politicians and heads of Commonwealth countries, and carried on reading through her red boxes which she does every day of the year other than her birthday and Christmas Day.
She was also able to be joined by husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, who had been enjoying retirement at Sandringham while she worked in London, but as the death toll began to soar, particularly among those over 70, Her Majesty learned that eldest son Prince Charles, then 71, had been diagnosed with the virus.
The whole nation felt like it was at war with an invisible and deadly new enemy but the Queen had lived through the dark days of the Second World War.
Her parents, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth stood steadfast with the British public when visiting London’s East End during the Blitz, and the Queen was ready to stand firm this time too.
When she was needed to address the nation on April 5 and stiffen people’s resolve, she found just the right words.
Invoking the British wartime spirit, her speech was brilliantly measured and the perfect tonic for those feeling besieged.
It made no mention of her personal worries as a mother, let alone concerns for herself, but was the clear and inspiring voice of the matriarch of the nation.
It was only the fifth time in her long reign that she had made a special televised broadcast, other than her Christmas messages. She said: “While we have faced challenges before, this one is different.
“This time we join with all nations across the globe in a common endeavour, using the great advances of science and our instinctive compassion to heal.”
Strengthening the nation’s will she said: “We will succeed – and that success will belong to every one of us.”
She harked back to her very first broadcast to the nation from Windsor, 80 years before, when she and sister Princess Margaret Rose made a radio broadcast for Children’s Hour to the youngsters who had been evacuated for their own safety ahead of the expected bombardment by Hitler’s Nazis.
She was speaking from the heart when, separated from her own family, she said: “Today, once again, many will feel a painful sense of separation from their loved ones. But now, as then, we know, deep down, that it is the right thing to do.”
She added: “We should take comfort that, while we may have more still to endure, better days will return: we will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again.”
The timing of the address, filmed in the White Drawing Room of Windsor Castle by a single cameraman in full personal protective equipment, was deemed critical to shore up commitment to self-isolation guidelines by a public that had been asked to make huge sacrifices.
The Queen acknowledged the “pain already felt by those who have lost loved ones” and praised the NHS and key workers “who selflessly continue their day-to-day duties outside the home in support of all of us”.
She said: “Every hour of your hard work brings us closer to a return to more normal times,” and she added: “The moments when the United Kingdom has come together to applaud its care and essential workers will be remembered as an expression of our national spirit and its symbol will be the rainbows drawn by children,” she said.
She told all those who were staying at home to protect others: “Together we are tackling this disease, and I want to reassure you that if we remain united and resolute, then we will overcome it.”
A 146ft-wide billboard photo of the Queen, with inspirational quotes from her address, later appeared in lights at London’s Piccadilly Circus to reinforce the message that had been seen by 24 million TV viewers.
It was the perfect rallying cry to a generation of Britons who she said “were as strong as any”. Royal commentator Andrew Morton described it as “her finest hour”.
The need to draw strength from Her Majesty was all the greater as Prime Minister Boris Johnson was admitted to intensive care with coronavirus, and while her personal concerns increased when grandson Prince William was diagnosed with Covid, it was kept quiet for fear of causing more alarm.
In spite of everything, and being a “clinically vulnerable over-75”, the Queen carried on with her work as best she could under the restrictions, remaining at Windsor Castle with 22 close staff dubbed HMS Bubble by the Master of the Household Tony Johnstone-Burt.
The former Naval officer likened it to a long deployment at sea when sailors are away from loved ones for months on end, though, unlike a planned voyage, none of them knew when their journey would end.
Her Majesty would have sorely missed the face-to-face meetings with her subjects, the public walkabouts, the investitures and the military ceremonies.
She has always known that key to the success of the monarchy is to be “seen to be believed” and she has said before, when faced with crowds all holding up phones to take her picture, how she misses eye contact.
She is also aware of the importance of connecting with younger people – even more so with the departure from the family firm of popular Harry and Meghan.
That could hardly have been more problematic with the isolation necessary because of the pandemic.
Nevertheless, the Queen readily embraced the new technology we all came to rely on to keep in touch with work and loved ones, and she celebrated her 94th birthday with video calls to distant family, including Harry and Meghan and their son Archie – Her Majesty’s newest great grandson – in Los Angeles.
The Queen would have expected to have proudly led the country in the celebrations to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in May, happily meeting proud veterans of the conflict, but instead of the planned parties, we were all still in lockdown.
Still, Her Majesty managed to find exactly the right words once more to unite us and keep spirits high.
In a message timed to be released at the same hour her father had broadcast to the nation 75 years before, she spoke of the sacrifice of the wartime generation in pursuit of a “great deliverance”.
In a clear parallel with the nation’s fight against COVID-19, she said the war that had ended had been a “total war”.
“It had affected everyone, and no one was immune from its impact,” she said.
The Queen added: “At the start, the outlook seemed bleak, the end distant, the outcome uncertain.
“But we kept faith that the cause was right – and this belief, as my father noted in his broadcast, carried us through.
“Never give up, never despair – that was the message of VE Day.”
She paid tribute to those who laid down their lives so that we could live in peace and prosperity, and she said: “Today it may seem hard that we cannot mark this special anniversary as we would wish. Instead, we remember from our homes and our doorsteps. But our streets are not empty; they are filled with the love and the care that we have for each other.
“And when I look at our country today and see what we are willing to do to protect and support one another, I say with pride that we are still a nation those brave soldiers, sailors and airmen would recognise and admire.”
A few days later she led the nation, with other members of the Royal Family, in celebrating International Nurses Day on the 200th anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale, and paid tribute to those in the NHS and key services fighting on the new front line.
Countries including Australia, India, Malawi, Sierra Leone, The Bahamas, Cyprus and Tanzania, as well as the UK, were all involved in the series of video calls.
In early June, and with a little tuition from her daughter the Princess Royal who was also involved, she carried out her first publicly broadcast engagement by video call, holding a Zoom meeting with four carers to mark National Carers Week.
She listened with interest as they talked about the difficulties and isolation unpaid carers faced during the pandemic.
Just how special it was for those taking part was summed up by carer Alexandra Atkins, 24, from Swansea, who has been looking after her family for 16 years and who said: “It hit me that I was sitting in my bedroom talking to the Queen.
“What was really nice was that, while you could tell she had never done that kind of call for work before, she really took it in her stride.”
The Queen celebrated husband Prince Philip’s 99th birthday separated from loved ones and only able to speak to family by phone or video call, but knowing so many other people were in the same boat, she would not have complained.
Indeed, to mark the occasion, Buckingham Palace released a new photograph of the couple, taken in the quadrangle at Windsor Castle, to show the nation that they were making the best of the situation.
Even with Covid restrictions easing slightly, the Queen’s Official Birthday was not going to be as normal.
The gun salute and Trooping the Colour usually watched by thousands in London was cancelled for the first time since 1955.
Knowing how the prestigious ceremony might lift the mood of the nation, not to mention the soldiers of the Welsh Guards who had so recently been helping with Covid testing, Her Majesty went ahead with a much reduced event at Windsor Castle.
It was her first public appearance since lockdown had begun three months before.
The Queen, flanked by officials, sat alone on a dais to receive a royal salute and a display of precision marching by strictly socially distanced guardsmen.
The annual announcement of the Queen’s Birthday Honours List was also delayed until later in the year to allow time to celebrate the achievements of some of those in the NHS and elsewhere who had performed heroically during the pandemic.
Days later the Queen was photographed riding a 14-year-old fell pony, Balmoral Fern, in the grounds of Windsor Great Park, to show her getting used to the “new normal”.
The fact that life was still very different was highlighted by her absence from Royal Ascot for the first time in her 68-year reign as the race meeting was held behind closed doors without any royal procession and with jockeys wearing masks.
By July the nation was ready to enjoy some freedom from restrictions but not everyone was in a position to benefit and the Queen jumped on another video call to sympathise with members of the Armed Forces who had been unable to see family because the military had had to cancel flights home from abroad.
She joked with Lance Corporal Shanwayne Stephens, who is a sniper with the Queen’s Colour Squadron of the RAF.
Also the pilot for the Jamaican national bobsleigh team, she laughed as he explained that, in order to train during lockdown, he had resorted to pushing a car.
In April she had sent a traditional congratulatory letter on the 100th birthday of a man who had done almost as much as she had to lift the nation’s spirits during the pandemic, and in July she was able to carry out a special ceremony to reward him further, bestowing a richly deserved knighthood on Captain Tom Moore.
Having set off to walk 100 laps of his garden in Marston Moretaine, Bedfordshire, to raise £1,000 for the NHS, Captain Tom had famously caught the imagination of the world and raised more than £32million.
While all other investitures had been postponed because of the pandemic, Her Majesty held the unique ceremony at Windsor Castle to honour Captain Sir Tom.
She told him: “Thank you so much, an amazing amount of money you raised.”
Captain Sir Tom said afterwards: “I am absolutely overawed. This is such a high award and to get it from Her Majesty as well – what more can anyone wish for?”
It was a special day for The Queen, too, as earlier she and the Duke of Edinburgh had been reunited with close family for the low-key, postponed wedding of their granddaughter Princess Beatrice to Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi in a nearby chapel.
As most of the country enjoyed some freedom from lockdown over the summer months, the Queen managed to get away too, to Balmoral, with a week in Sandringham before she returned to Windsor on October 6.
The virus had not gone away, however, and large areas of the North in particular were still suffering restrictions as the new three-tier system came into force.
The same week, The Queen performed her first engagement outside a royal palace since the first lockdown was imposed in March.
She joined grandson Prince William on a tour of the UK’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down, near Salisbury, which has been at the forefront of studying the virus.
She spoke for all of us when, while talking to Tim Atkins, a professor at the lab, she described COVID-19 as “this horrible new thing”.
The Queen, who arrived separately from Prince William, was in her element meeting people in person once more, rather than on a video or phone call.
It helped that all 48 participants at the event were tested beforehand to make sure they did not have the virus, and that they observed strict social distancing, so that neither Her Majesty nor William needed to wear a mask.
After watching a trained explosive detection dog play catch, she jokingly asked: “Is he more interested in the ball or the explosives?” and smiled knowingly when the dog’s handler said: “Always the ball.”
When the country began a second national lockdown on November 5, amid rising infection rates, the 94-year-old monarch could have been excused for strictly shielding.
Instead she was there in Whitehall to lead the nation once more on Remembrance Sunday, though veterans and the public were kept away from the scaled-back service at the Cenotaph.
She paid a poignant visit to the grave of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey, which she would later describe in her Christmas address as a symbol of selfless duty, something she knows all about.
As the annual royal accounts state, the Queen is not just head of state but “head of nation”, which involves providing four key elements – unity and national identity, continuity and stability, achievement and success and support of services.
She has continued to provide that leadership and stability throughout the pandemic.
Like the rest of the country, she would have looked forward to a brief Christmas break from the draconian restrictions forced on the nation by the virus but, having already had to call off her annual festive celebrations at Sandringham, even the few royal visitors she was expecting at Windsor for the festive period were cancelled when the town went into Tier 4.
But once again, in her Christmas message to the nation, she chose her words perfectly.
When she told those who had lost loved ones to the virus, “you are not alone, and let me assure you of my thoughts and prayers”, they had every reason to feel she was speaking directly and personally to them.
As Britain and the Commonwealth emerge from the crisis, with all of the economic problems the pandemic has caused, we will need her calm, trusted reassurance as much as ever.
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