Sunday 25 September 2022

You don’t have to be a Royalist to be touched by the Queen’s death

This column first appeared in Malta Today

Sometimes major world events can pass us by and hardly register on our radar.

For example, I remember a particularly busy and stressful few years in the early 90s when I was barely aware of what was going on around me. In fact, sometimes events are mentioned and I wonder how I only vaguely remember them, then I clock the year, and I think..oh, no wonder! That was the year that such and such a thing was going on in my life at the time. Understandably, our personal lives can often overwhelm our entire consciousness and take precedence over everything, while the news that everyone is talking about recedes into a mere blip in the background.

But then there are other happenings which we can remember exactly; vividly recalling in our mind’s eye in a precise flashback where we were at that specific time. The horrors of 9/11 (3pm at the office when a colleague came rushing in with the news). Lady Diana’s tragic, untimely death (7am in the morning, when my other half woke me up with the shocking announcement) and last Thursday…I was on my laptop in the kitchen, when I got the news alert at 7.30pm that Queen Elizabeth II had passed away.

We cannot say that the latter death was unexpected, nor was it as ‘devastating’ when compared to the other two tragedies. Yet it was no less sorrowful and historic because of the implications of what would come next. In fact, we had been hearing all afternoon that the Queen was under medical observation and that members of her family were rushing to be by her side at Balmoral. In that final photo she had taken just two days before, when Liz Truss was sworn in as Prime Minister, Queen Elizabeth appeared very frail and shrunken, and observers immediately noticed that her hands were covered by purple bruises, giving rise to much speculation about her health.

At 96 years of age, she had lived a good, long life, and obviously it was only a matter of time. Despite contracting Covid in February of this year, because she was fully vaccinated, she only had mild symptoms and recovered. To the delight of the British public, she was well enough to attend a few of her Platinum Jubilee celebrations in June. The sweet sketch she filmed, having tea with Paddington Bear at the Palace, culminating in her clinking her teacup with her teaspoon to the iconic first notes of We Will Rock You, endeared her even more to a nation which already adored her.

It is this resilience and fortitude, so characteristic of her generation, which perhaps gave everyone the (unrealistic) impression that she would always be around. One of the many people who went to pay their respects in front of Buckingham Palace, a woman now in her 80s, described to reporters how she had stood in the same spot when she was just ten years old for Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation. “This is a reality check…somehow we thought she would be here forever.” Her friend standing next to her pointed out poignantly, “She will never wave to us from that balcony again.”

It is truly the end of an era. I saw this same sentiment echoed on every channel and it was impossible not to be moved by the overwhelming respect and outpouring of love which existed and still exists for this monarch. My own melancholy and sadness surprised me as I am hardly a Royal watcher, yet I have a lump in my throat every time I watch another feature about the Queen. Trying to examine my feelings, I was reminded of my unexpected, emotional reaction to Diana’s death. Again, it was not so much because I was her biggest fan, but the shock of her violent death at such a young age was heightened by the constant TV coverage, which conveyed the raw grief of a nation in pain. There are moments in our collective consciousness when we want the comfort of knowing that others feel the same way we do. Shared grief gives us solace; it creates a genuine human connection at a time in our lives when despite having the technological ability to reach each other within seconds, studies paradoxically show us that never have so many people felt so lonely and alone.

As I grappled to understand why people in so many countries, including former colonies like Malta, were mourning Queen Elizabeth so deeply, I realised that one reason for our sense of loss could be that, like our own elderly parents and grandparents, we took her for granted. Her face was, literally, everywhere. I reckon every granny in Malta must have her image on some mug or teacloth. She was such a reassuring figure, no matter what her own family, the UK or the world was going through, she was there, with her perfectly co-ordinated outfits in different bold colours: the hat, shoes, dress coat, sensible pumps and inevitable handbag to match. Her stalwart image even generated countless memes, but they were created with affection and good humour which, as we saw when she accepted to do the James Bond sketch for the London Olympics, she did not lack.

Watching the man who is now King, King Charles III, in his first televised address as he paid tribute to his mother, the Queen, I was keenly aware that we were witnessing a deeply meaningful historic moment in our lifetime. His speech was perfect and set just the right tone to reflect the public mood. Most of all he showed the humane side of royalty referring to his beloved Mama’ who has now joined his much loved Papa “on her final journey”.

Of course, to some people, a monarch’s sense of duty, the respect for traditions, the strict protocols, along with the pomp and pageantry may seem irrelevant, archiac and even laughable in today’s world. Others regularly express outrage at how much the Royal Family costs the nation. While I am ambivalent and have always viewed the royals as something of a curiosity, as I get older, I can appreciate the significance of the monarchy even more. Watching the excellent TV series The Crown has given me renewed insight into their lineage and I am enthralled by the long fascinating history which has brought us to this moment in time.

Malta’s connection to Britain is undisputed and can still be felt to this day in the many aspects of our culture which are Anglicised. This is to be expected – you cannot wipe out 150 years of colonial rule that easily. History, especially, can never be erased, nor should it. I remember finding my mother’s old British passport and marvelling at the idea that Malta was once under British rule and that the Maltese were Her Majesty’s subjects. But even in this we are divided, for while some are still loyal to anything British, others feel nothing but disdain and contempt.

Yet, while I am no Royalist, I saw a certain flippancy and facetiousness on social media which I do not think belong to the sombre mood at this time. Death is always death, even if the person means nothing to you. Indeed, the less the person means to you, the less time one should spend contriving lame jokes or what is worse, being needlessly cruel on public platforms. At times like this I prefer to take a break from this ugly side of human nature and stick to mainstream TV where there is still respect and dignity shown towards the deceased and their family.

Maybe it’s a generational thing, but I find that there are far too many people who lack any respect and are desperately trying to be comedians on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter when someone famous dies. They love nothing more than trolling those who are upset. My own take on it is that it’s a free country, and people can mourn or not mourn whoever they like…but just leave others alone. If, for whatever reason, you hate the deceased person fine: but do not try to impose your own beliefs on others or try to stir up a pointless argument which will not change anyone’s mind. As with any controversial subject, that never works.

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