The Queen Speaks
Queen Elizabeth II is living history, and on Sunday Britain's longest-serving monarch made history again when she directly addressed the nation in a pre-recorded televised message. She rarely does this outside of her annual Christmas hangout, but these are not normal times. She spoke about the coronavirus pandemic, and for a moment, it felt like a scene from The Crown that inspires you to Google the actual historical event they're dramatizing. But we don't have the benefit of historical distance right now. We are separated from our friends but not from the threat of the coronavirus.
THE QUEEN: I am speaking to you at what I know is an increasingly challenging time. A time of disruption in the life of our country: a disruption that has brought grief to some, financial difficulties to many, and enormous changes to the daily lives of us all.
That's so charmingly English. We're experiencing a “disruption," a little spot of bother, but the Queen isn't dismissive of the challenges. She's personifying that legendary “stiff upper lip." Just few months ago, the biggest issues facing the UK were Brexit and, on a more personal level, the departure of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle from “full-time royal duties." Now, the world is under assault by a relentless enemy, one that's attacked her own son, but the Queen is unfazed. She's been there before.
Coronavirus outbreak: Queen Elizabeth II calls for unity in "increasingly challenging time" | FULL www.youtube.com
The Queen thanked the frontline health care workers and everyone performing the essential duties that keep the country running during the crisis. She praised everyone for keeping their common asses at home and preventing the spread of the virus.
THE QUEEN: And though self-isolating may at times be hard, many people of all faiths, and of none, are discovering that it presents an opportunity to slow down, pause and reflect, in prayer or meditation.
Then Her Majesty dropped some history on us.
THE QUEEN: It reminds me of the very first broadcast I made, in 1940, helped by my sister. We, as children, spoke from here at Windsor to children who had been evacuated from their homes and sent away for their own safety.
Yes, she's “reminded" of an event 80 years ago from her personal history. It shouldn't surprise anyone that the Queen is in her 90s. What's still surprising, though, is that she played a key role in British history even when she was the age of an average high school freshman.
Princess Elizabeth Broadcasts (1940) www.youtube.com
During the early days of World War II, thousands of British children were evacuated from the towns and cities of England. Separating children from their families is devastating but it was (rightly) believed the best way to keep them safe from the threat of German invasion and an insidious bombing campaign.
King George VI and Queen Elizabeth remained at Buckingham Palace throughout the war, and during the Blitz the palace suffered nine direct hits. Then Princess Elizabeth and her younger sister, Princess Margaret, were sent to Windsor Castle in the country, the same place the Queen gave her COVID remarks. They, too, were separated from their parents. Princess Elizabeth addressed the public for the first time on October 13, 1940. It's popular to consider the royal family nothing more than Kardashians with posh accents, but the Queen grew up with the Biblical saying “to whom much is given, much will be required" as her way of life. She could not express a teenager's natural fear or levity. She had to present a nation's strength and resilience.
PRINCESS ELIZABETH: We know, every one of us, that in the end all will be well; for God will care for us and give us victory and peace. And when peace comes, remember it will be for us, the children of today, to make the world of tomorrow a better and happier place.
Several generations later, the Queen echoed her youthful call for perseverance.
THE QUEEN: 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. 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.
We will succeed – and that success will belong to every one of us. 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.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump passed verbal farts during his daily lie-athon. Britain can barely afford its own bumbling Trump-clone, but at least the nation has the Queen. Regardless of what you think of the monarchy as a concept or this royal family specifically, it is somewhat comforting to hear from a head of state with a genuine affection for her nation and its people and who embodies a sense of purpose greater than herself.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."