The memoirs of Queen Elizabeth II: From Churchill to Cameron
Should we expect people in the 21st century to take on almost lifelong roles under such demanding circumstances?
Think back to Truman, Churchill and Stalin. Think back to the time of the Korean war. This was when a young 25-year-old princess acceded to the throne of Britain, a dying imperial power some 63 and a half years ago. Queen Elizabeth II has officially become Britain’s longest serving monarch overtaking her great-great grandmother Queen Victoria.
Since then the Queen has made 270 official visits to 128 countries making her comfortably the most widely travelled head of state in history. (Queen Victoria never got beyond Europe) Only King Rama IX of Thailand has served longer as Head of State. Barack Obama is her 12th U.S. President, Vladimir Putin her 11th Russian/Soviet leader and Francis is her seventh Roman Catholic Pope. Has any other monarch or head of state had anything like her extraordinary breadth of experience?
So my humble proposal is that it is time that the Queen throws all tradition and protocol out of the palace window and pens a considered or even better a no-holds memoir. After all most world leaders write memoirs so why not her. For sure, it will not happen, but imagine it for a second.
She reportedly keeps a diary so would it be such a stretch to transform it even though she reportedly told inquirers, “Mine’s not for publication”. Indeed her great-great grandmother Queen Victoria kept an extraordinary diary and you can now read online the 40,000 pages of her journals.
An honest account would be a treasure trove surely of detail about major historic personalities and wise reflections. Would it not be fascinating to hear what she genuinely thinks after six decades plus of meeting the world’s leaders? Every one of her 12 Prime Ministers had to brief her on events on a regular basis. What did she make of Churchill - the real view not the official blurb. Did she really not like Margaret Thatcher that much? The Queen has met each and every one of the 12 American Presidents in power since the end of World War II except Lyndon B, Johnson so what did she make of them? What did she think of George W Bush saying on the White House lawn that she had been on the throne since the 18th century? ‘W’ then winked at her.
Should we expect people in the 21st century to take on almost lifelong roles under such demanding circumstances?Chris Doyle
Her public profile is austere if anything bland, but those who know her privately nearly all agree she has a terrific sense of humor. This could be unlocked for a great page-turner avoiding the distant, stiff, detached language of her annual Christmas address.
There are so many questions to be asked (including what she really thought about being given a bull elephant by the President of Cameroon and did she really like the American TV series Kojak?) What were her genuine views about Princess Diana? How has she coped with a mass media that has shifted from referential to intrusive?
Queen Elizabeth II has a unique vantage point. Her reign started at a time of austerity with rationing after the world war; there was the Suez crisis, the Cold War, Vietnam, South Africa and the downfall of the apartheid, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the break of the Soviet Union. In her time, women have risen to the highest offices. The world has become smaller with mass air travel, satellite TV, the Internet and social media. In Britain she has overseen the decline of empire but also the demise of the aristocracy replaced by a new celebrity class.
Back in 1952 Britain was a fairly homogenous white Christian country but today is a rich multicultural society with communities from across the globe. Given the extraordinary pace of change in the modern day world Britain has been transformed far more than during the entire Victorian era.
She also saw the extraordinary transformation in the Gulf region over these decades from her visit state visit in 1979. The Queen has ensured that the links between the British and Gulf Royal families have always been strong, a role kept up by Prince Charles in particular.
She often established a wonderful personal rapport with other leaders. There was the story confirmed to me by the late King himself that the Queen drove King Abdallah of Saudi Arabia through the grounds of her estate in Balmoral in Scotland. For a start, he had never been driven by a woman before, a shock in itself. But the Queen also drove too fast for him and he had to ask her to slow down. Was this on purpose?
Most people in Britain would say she has been an asset to the country. The Republican movement exists but the fact that it has never gathered huge momentum is to a large extent a shrewd understanding by the Queen that she must stand above politics and not be a figure of controversy. No doubt this instinct means she will publish nothing but what a pity.
But should we expect people in the 21st century to take on almost lifelong roles under such demanding circumstances? Pope Benedict set a precedent by retiring as Pope. The King of Spain also abdicated last year as did the Queen of the Netherlands the year before. As yet the Queen has not done so although she has cut back on her previously hectic schedule.
But she is a woman who has never known normal life – it is privileged but also no longer private. The media scrutinize every action, every gesture and every photo. Celebrities have their moments of fame often fleeting but ever since the age of then when her father became King she has been on a pedestal to be watched and monitored. As Queen, she has had to always appear to act properly at all times.
Is it not time though that the monarch be allowed down from the ivory tower? Could she be allowed to reveal some of her true self for posterity?
Surely someone who has seen, experienced and heard so much could enrich our understanding of this era. Rather than leave her barricaded behind the walls of her palaces and castles, before it is too late she should be invited to contribute her experiences and what she has learnt. We know so little of what she truly thinks.
Perhaps we could ask of her this one final duty, not to leave the scene without some contribution to our understanding of the last 60 years. A memoir would give a fascinating insight into the life of someone who had a ringside view of so much of the 20th century’s defining moments.
Chris Doyle is the director of CAABU (the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding). He has worked with the Council since 1993 after graduating with a first class honors degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Exeter University. As the lead spokesperson for Caabu and as an acknowledged expert on the region, Chris is a frequent commentator on TV and Radio, having given over 148 interviews on the Arab world in in 2012 alone. He gives numerous talks around the country on issues such as the Arab Spring, Libya, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Islamophobia and the Arabs in Britain. He has had numerous articles and letters published in the British and international media. He has travelled to nearly every country in the Middle East. He has organized and accompanied numerous British Parliamentary delegations to Arab countries. Most recently he took Parliamentary delegations to the West Bank in April, November, December 2013 and January 2014 including with former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.
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