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Richard Berthelsen: A birthday unlike any other in the Queen's reign
TORONTO -- Today marks the 94th birthday of her Majesty the Queen, but it will be unlike any other birthday in her reign. The Queen had earlier agreed that the traditional gun salutes in London parks and throughout the U.K. would not take place given the public health advisory.
The Queen traditionally celebrates her birthday privately if she can, and usually at Windsor Castle. But tourists in London have always enjoyed the colourful and dramatic gun salutes in places such as Hyde Park and the Tower of London along with a bell peal at Westminster Abbey. But given these times and our need to avoid gatherings, The Queen dispensed with it all for the first time in her reign and in anyone’s memory.
The Queen’s 60th, 80th, and 90th birthdays were celebrated more publicly given the milestones they represented. But today, it will just be the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh and a quiet dinner possibly with some of the key staff who have been isolating with her in her beloved Windsor Castle.
Ninety-four years would be something that most families would want to celebrate, but the Queen has always been rather shy when it comes to herself and as she has said “'A long life can pass by many milestones' And so she will be sanguine about not having any fuss being made on this day.
The Queen will be less happy about disappointing the many thousands who normally gather on her official birthday, marked on the second Saturday in June in London. This is more commonly known as Trooping the Colour, a very precise ceremony which places the sovereign at the centre of the Army in the scarlet tunics of a household regiment and followed by a dramatic fly past by the Royal Air Force up the Mall as the Royal Family gather on the balcony. This ceremony will also not go ahead in 2020 for only the second time in her reign (it was cancelled in 1955 thanks to a transport strike).
In all truth, the past year has been another annus horribilis for The Queen who will not be looking back fondly for many reasons, both family and in her role as head of state. These have been some of the most difficult times in her long reign given the decision by Prince Harry and Megan to depart their roles in a dramatic and very public way. This exposed rifts within the family and will have been a disappointment for the Queen and Duke. Not only have there been tough family times, but the extent of the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.K. has been cause for much concern, including her own family and heir, and worry for herself and her husband at such an advanced age.
Since her last birthday, the U.K. has continue to experience great political division over Brexit and the Queen has gone through 2 prime ministers, The most recent of whom himself has also had a close brush with mortality with COVID 19. The Queen has said that she could never forget that she was crowned Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and so the divisions in the country, particularly in Scotland, will have been particularly troubling. In addition, the apolitical and neutral Crown itself was placed front and centre in deeply political matters by Boris Johnson with his advice to prorogue Parliament last fall until reversed by the courts. The indiscreet remarks by a former prime minister (David Cameron) will have come as another disappointment to a very circumspect Queen. These have not been easy times for the Queen as she sees much of her life’s work jeopardized.
The one bright spot today is that The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh are together to mark this occasion. While in the past there have been small family birthday dinners, today it is just The Queen and the Duke together as they have been throughout their 73-year marriage. Since his retirement, Prince Philip has often been at Sandringham while The Queen has attended to duties alone during the week. This is perhaps a silver lining for them both in all of this.
Elizabeth the Second has been a record-setting sovereign for so many reasons. She is now the longest-serving head of state in the world, and the longest-reigning female Sovereign in world history. She is certainly the oldest sovereign in our history and in a few years time she will also mark a completely unprecedented platinum Jubilee - 70 years.
For many, the Queen proved her value in recent weeks through her well-chosen and entirely sympathetic words as peoples in the Commonwealth suffered through this most unprecedented health and economic crisis. Only someone with the length and breadth of experience, from the depression to wars and to the present could have made these remarks. It was valued for her familiar, calming voice and an understated approach that took the long view. These have been among the most trying times for the Queen but also for the people she serves. A diminished birthday celebration is something she shares with many of them. As Her Majesty herself said “Better days will return: we will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again”.
Happy Birthday Ma’am!