There were two fascinating words in the Queen’s statement about Camilla that most people missed – and they carry a universe of meaning.
February 6 is always a red letter day in the royal calendar but one that usually passes without any fanfare or press releases. For decades, the Queen has spent it far away from cameras and on her own in rural Norfolk.
It was on that day in 1952 that King George’s valet went to wake him, only to find he had suddenly died in the night. Meanwhile, his 25-year-old daughter was in Kenya with husband Prince Philip and as her lady-in-waiting Lady Pamela Hicks (who was travelling with her) recently put it, “We climbed up a ladder into this fig tree … She climbed up as a Princess and climbed down as Queen.”
Accession Day is one of sadness and celebration for Her Majesty and yesterday was far from just another notch on her Crown with her marking 70-years since the loss of her beloved father and the beginning of her historic tenure on the throne.
Obviously, the big news out of London in the last 24 hours was not that the 95-year-old has proven the incredible longevity baked into the Windsor (nee Saxe-Coburg-Gotha) DNA but who will get to don the title of Queen next.
Arise, Queen Camilla. (Well, Queen Consort Camilla to be precise.)
But in all the hullabaloo over the extraordinary fact that someone who was the most hated woman in Britain for decades will assume this exalted position, there are two fascinating words in the Queen’s statement have been largely overlooked – two words which should have particular resonance for her grandson and newbie Californian Prince Harry.
There, handwritten in ink, on the bottom of Buckingham Palace letterhead, wedged between the end of the typewritten statement, she has scrawled “Your Servant, Elizabeth R.”
Unlike her 2012 Diamond Jubilee missive which she ended with the antiseptic “I send my sincere good wishes to you all” this time around she chose a sign off – “your servant” – that carried with it a universe of meaning.
In 1947, on her 21st birthday, Princess Elizabeth delivered a radio address from South Africa in which she dedicated herself to her people and the Commonwealth. (You can find the text of the speech here on the official royal website which speaks volumes about how significant a moment this was.) In her statement yesterday, the Queen reiterated that message of service above all else saying “I look forward to continuing to serve you with all my heart.”
That’s a lesson that Camilla, even though she had only been officially in the royal fold for 15 years, has clearly taken to heart who has applied herself with the sort of stoicism and an unflagging dedication to what is often a pretty thankless gig. (It’s not as if the official Duchess of Cornwall merchandise is likely flying off the shelves at the Buckingham Palace gift shop is it?)
However, it’s an example that clearly Harry somehow missed despite having been born, raised and spent the first 35 years of his life as a member of the royal family.
On Friday, the royal expat took part in a summit as part of his paid gig as Chief Impact Officer with the billion-dollar coaching and mental wellness business, BetterUp. Debuting a revamped look featuring shorter hair and a Silicon Valley-approved black T-shirt (vale his trusty grey polo shirts) he took part in a discussion with the company’s CEO and tennis superstar Serena Williams called “Boldly committing to Inner Work®”. (Who knew anything to do with mental health could be trademarked?)
You can see where this is going right?
Harry, true to form, used the opportunity to paint his former life as having been one so demanding and so intensely onerous that he had “experienced burnout.”
“I was burning the candle at both ends and that is when you’re forced to look inside yourself,” he told William and the company’s CEO Alexi Robichaux without a hint of irony.
The indisputable facts paint a slightly different picture. In 2019, the final full year Harry spent as a working member of the royal family, he undertook 201 engagements. By comparison, Princess Anne managed to fit in 506, the Queen hit 295 and the then 75-year-old Duke of Gloucester clocked 226.
During that same year he and his wife Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex managed two sun-dappled beach holidays (to Ibiza and the South of France) and jetted off for a six-week sabbatical where they holed up in a borrowed $20 million mansion.
Yes, the Sussexes faced a tough time in the press in 2019 but on what planet do critical headlines, sitting through what sounds like a number of dull briefings from Chatham House and having to attend an England rugby match quite constitute “burning the candle at both ends”?
Harry, for some reason, seems to exist in some sort of vacuum where he seems to feel permanently justified in telling the world, ad nauseam, how hard he had it back in his palace days.
It is impossible to ignore the (accidental) study in contrasts we have been presented with thanks to Harry and the Queen in only 36 hours or so: The nonagenarian still intent on duty and who sees her position as a privilege and her persistently bellyaching grandson who seems intent on portraying his former life as one of abject drudgery.
In the same confab, Harry also said he scheduled “white space” into his diary.
“I now put in 30 minutes, 45 minutes every morning where it’s like OK, one of the kids is at school, the other is taking a nap, there’s a break in our program,” he said.
“It’s either for workout, take the dog for a walk, meditate, get out in nature.”
(I’m going to gloss over the fact that the Sussexes’ “program” saw them fail to release a single piece of content as part of their high-profile Netflix and Spotify deals in 2021.)
While only the coldest of hearts (or most ignorant of minds) would take any issue with a person wanting to take care of their mental health, there is a line between looking after oneself and what sounds suspiciously like the height of Californian self-indulgence.
One of the many things that often gets forgotten about the Queen was that she was not born to rule. For the first ten years of her life, she was set to be the equivalent of the Princess Beatrice of her day – one sovereign’s granddaughter and the subsequent King’s niece.
Then Edward VIII, or David as his family called him, got all these heady notions about love and marrying Wallis Simpson and presumptuously announced he wanted out, thus putting Elizabeth on the fast track to the throne. That horsey aristocratic life she had thought she would lead? Gone in a matter of minutes on one autumn evening.
It was not a fate she wanted and even after her father ascended and the family moved into Buckingham Palace she used to reportedly pray that her mother might suddenly produce a son and save her from her regal fate.
So, have you ever heard her complaining? Having a quiet whinge? Demanding courtiers block out time in her schedule so she can veg out and watch The Great British Bake-Off because she’s sick and tired of this whole reigning business?
It must be a very hard pill to swallow to know your life is not your own, that decisions about where you live, what you do and even what faith your practice are wholly out of your hands, something that both the Queen and Harry have experienced.
But having been dealt similar cards, they have opted for diametrically opposite positions, one characterised by an impressive unfailing grace and the other tinged by the permanent sour taste of bitterness.
Her Majesty has every reason to be resentful and yet has only ever demonstrated gratitude for what has been asked of her. With her Accession Day sign-off, she has just reminded the world of the fact that she has only ever been deeply respectful of the institution she serves, a fundamental lesson that seems to have gotten lost somewhere between the Palace and the Sussexes’ former home of Frogmore Cottage.
In that speech on her 21st birthday, coming less than two years after the end of World War Two, she said: “If we all go forward together with an unwavering faith, a high courage, and a quiet heart, we shall be able to make of this ancient commonwealth, which we all love so dearly, an even grander thing.”
This she has indeed managed to do and without ever once (I’m assuming) needing “white space” to be scheduled in her day.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and a writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.
Originally published as Queen burns Prince Harry in historic statement
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