‘They had come, as we came, because they felt they had to do something to say ‘Thank you’… This was the real proof of a nation’s love. Which is what the Queen richly deserved’

Following the death of Queen Elizabeth II, Country Life columnist Agromenes focuses on the outpouring of love and celebration he has witnessed for the late monarch.

In the hours after the news from Balmoral, I walked through St James’s Park, joining little streams of others converging on Buckingham Palace. Reaching the road, we found many more coming down the Mall. Before us was the Victoria Memorial, already occupied by a crowd of young men and women, and, beyond that, the Palace, lit up as it had been only two months before for the Platinum Jubilee. Then it was the backdrop for lively celebration; tonight, it was the silent symbol of the monarchy that is our nation’s stay and strength.

No sign of life within, save for the lone guardsman in his place beyond the gates, dutifully marching at intervals from end to end. In the fading light and the gentle rain were hundreds and hundreds of people — many in their twenties and thirties — in suits and ties, work clothes and T-shirts. They had come, as we came, because they felt they had to do something to say ‘Thank you’. Simply to stand there, to push flowers through the railings, to photograph the flag at half mast and softly to sing again and again Amazing Grace. Nothing that now happens, however colourful and well orchestrated, will be as moving as being part of this spontaneous crowd that was continuously refreshed as more and more came and then went away into the night in an unrehearsed expression of the love and respect of a people for their Queen.

It wouldn’t happen anywhere else. No official suggested it, it wasn’t in the programme or the etiquette books, it simply happened because so many felt compelled to do something — just something — to show they cared. The contrast with the compulsory mourning for strongmen and dictators was absolute. This was the real proof of a nation’s love.

Which is what the Queen richly deserved.

Tributes, flowers and pictures have come from young and old alike, a sign of Her Majesty’s ability to reach across all generations. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

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From the moment she came to the throne, she lived up to her commitment to service. Even in her last hours, she came from what was to be her deathbed to install the new Prime Minister — the 15th of her reign. Service was her watchword and she was determined to ensure the proper continuation of democratic government. In the same way, she had earlier used her authority to settle any argument about The Queen Consort. She settled the proper continuation of the monarchy so the crown passed on without question. Continuity is central to monarchy — the Queen is dead; long live The King — and the Queen saw to it that it happened. In her ending, she was as in her beginning: the servant of her people, her country and the Commonwealth.

It was that constancy of purpose that gave such certainty and stability during 70 turbulent years. The year 2022 is utterly different from that of 1952. The pace of change has been bewildering for many and has disconnected them from the foundations upon which they depended. We have become a multi-racial society and, no longer a socially conservative nation, much more liberal. It has been 70 years of profound change.

Could we possibly have imagined at the Coronation that there would no longer be an Empire? That none of the five great offices of state would be held by a white man? That a Conservative Government would have introduced gay marriage? That we would be threatened by climate change, a war in Europe, energy insecurity and a real threat to our food supplies?

The enduring figure who gave security and certainty to our society during those seven decades was our longest-reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. We owe her an enormous debt of gratitude and the remarkable thing is that we know it. That was what the crowds showed outside Buckingham Palace — and everywhere else — last Thursday night, just as they continue to do around the world.

This article appears in the 14 September 2022 issue of Country Life, which includes a 32-page special section celebrating the life of Her Majesty. Country Life is also publishing a special, 116-page commemorative magazine in tribute to Queen Elizabeth II. 

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