“In her gorgeous, colorful new book about Queen Elizabeth, Jennie Bond pays tribute to Her Majesty. The British reporter, who joined the BBC in 1977 before becoming a royal correspondent in 1989, highlighted milestones both large and small, from the Queen’s quiet upbringing to that ‘Annus Horribilis’ in Elizabeth: A Celebration In Photographs of The Queen’s Life And Reign (Published by Carlton Publishing Group, dist. by Trafalgar Square Publishing/iPg).
Elizabeth was brought up with a profound sense of duty, which has never wavered. She has unfailingly put her job before her personal happiness and family commitments – some would say at considerable cost to her children. Although she is, of course, cushioned against the everyday drudgery suffered by most of us, the Queen is and always has been a working mother and has undoubtedly experienced something of the conflict that goes with that role. Since her accession in 1952 she has carried out more than two hundred and fifty tours abroad, taking her away from her children sometimes for months at a time. The fact that this has long been an accepted way of life for royalty may have lessened the pain, but the Queen is not without maternal feelings and the long separations were not necessarily easy. Duty, though, has always prevailed over maternal feelings.
By nature Elizabeth is a countrywoman, happiest in a tweed skirt and headscarf walking her dogs, or in jodhpurs and hacking jacket (stubbornly minus the hat) riding one of her thoroughbreds. Even though she is now over eighty-five, she enjoys a sedate trot across her estates at Sandringham, Balmoral or Windsor. Perhaps because of the solitary job that became hers so suddenly when she was twenty-five, Elizabeth has always been something of a loner, content with her own company – when she can get it. But, as Queen, it is her duty to meet and greet tens of thousands of people each year. Her official life entails making polite conversation with strangers the world over. On numerous overseas tours I have watched her display due care and interest in the lives and thoughts of these strangers, even when yet another “cultural performance of song and dance” has over-run, her feet, like mine, must be aching and the temperature is soaring.
The Queen is not out-going by nature but she has learned to ‘work the crowds’ and, although she has never quite rivalled her mother’s effortless charm with onlookers and fans, she is a consummate professional. She also has a keen eye for the ridiculous, a dry sense of humour and in the privacy of her immediate circle she’s a dab hand as a mimic.
When you meet her for the first time you may be struck, as I was, by her wide smile and the occasional mischievous glint in her eyes when something amuses her. Beware, though, of over-stepping the mark: a touch too much familiarity and you will find yourself frozen out. For she is, first and foremost, the guardian of a position that she regards as sacrosanct: in an increasingly cynical world, the Queen is potently aware that she is on the front line of defending the institution of monarchy.
Princess Margaret, the Queen’s younger sister, recalled asking the then-Princess Elizabeth in 1936 about her future role.
‘When our father became King, I said to her, “Does that mean you’re going to be Queen?” She replied, “Yes, I suppose it does.” She didn’t mention it again.‘
Elizabeth: A Celebration Of The Queen’s Life and Reign is available October 1st.”
[Photos: Getty/Elizabeth: A Celebration In Photographs of The Queen's Life And Reign]