The British Royal family racing to Scotland right now to be with Queen Elizabeth II. Buckingham palace announced this morning she will remain under medical supervision because doctors are concerned about her health. Queen Elizabeth met with both former Prime Ministers Boris Johnson johnson and new Prime Minister Les Truss earlier this week.
Judy. For more, let’s bring in author, journalist and editor Tina Brown. She’s also a recipient of the Commander of the Order of the British Empire and author of the palace papers. Tino, welcome. Thank you so much.
It is sad indeed. We wish you were here under happier circumstances, but tell us, as one of the longest serving monarchs ever, what this means for the British people.
This is a moment where the nation’s heart is breaking. There is a sense of baited breath now waiting for this news, which everybody fears and has sort of seen beginning to evolve, really, in the last ten months of her ailing health. It will be the most enormous crisis of identity, if you like, in the UK, because for the last 70 years, the Queen has been the still center of our turbulent world, the one figure who could be depended upon to do her duty, to serve her patriotism, her impartiality. After 70 years, we still don’t know anything about what the Queen thinks, about anything so seriously. Has she taken her oath to be a constitutional monarch who did not in any way reveal political opinions?
This is what strikes me as we talk about her in Normandy. We see her with every head of state that has existed in the past few decades, and yet we don’t know what her opinions are, what her strange personality quirks may be, and all of that by design. As someone who grew up in England and Milton Keynes, I remember a Duchess of York coming to visit us as kids. The Royal Family, for people who grew up in the UK may not know. They do try to make a direct connection with the subjects and the people. But how does that shape how everyone is receiving what’s happening now?
Well, they understand that the Queen never let them down. Unlike so many members of her family who have sort of complained or felt the burden, if you like, of office. She’s actually always loved doing her duty. She always loved the retail aspect, if you like, of her role. The meeting of people, the going out to see people, the validating of people, the showing up, the constant showing up in places all over her kingdom far and wide, to simply say, well done, to people who always would remember it as the most important day of their life. Even though, for her, it’s just one of a million things that she’s done, she never underestimated that or belittled that activity. And as a result, the respect for her, the love for her, the connection to her is really enormous.
And her immense commitment to duty is just so admirable. But I wonder if you could speak about the monarchy in general and what the future of it might hold once she passes on, because we know she is such a beloved figure, but it’s not necessarily so clear whether those who come after are as beloved.
Well, it’s certainly true that the monarchy is in a much frailer place than it was really ever since the abdication, if you like, of Edward VII, without that strong, central, much respected figure. It’s going to be a harder task to keep the monarchy feeling relevant, which it has been. I mean, Charles has been in preparation for this role for 50 years, right? I mean, he’s going to be nearly 75 when he takes over. So, for him, he’s been sort of in the anti chamber of his destiny as long as we can all remember, so he’s enormously well trained for the role. What he won’t have, obviously, is that fascinating, Mystique, that the Queen has, because we all know too much about Charles, thanks to the debacle of his marriage to Diana and the many revelations and so on. He is not that figure of Mystique that the Queen was able to preserve by never speaking, by never having her private life in any sense, on show. So he’s going to have a harder time to establish that. But he’s certainly well trained and well versed, and really his role will be to kind of prepare the ground for King William, who will follow not long after him and, in a sense, somewhat modernize the way the institution operates, because we have all the palaces of Buckingham Palace, sandringham and almond and Windsor Castle.
There will be an astute sort of downsizing, if you like, while keeping the pageantry, while keeping the traps. I mean, the fact is that Charles is already making it clear he wants to have Buckingham Palace much more open to the public. There’s talk about him turning balmoral, perhaps, into a museum of the Queen. Not sure what will happen with sandringham. We see. William and Catherine now have moved into the grounds of Windsor Castle. My guess is that this event we’re seeing so sadly unfold has been very much in their minds. And I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you saw the Cambridge is now moving into Windsor Castle. So it’s all been in play, really, for the last year.
Well, you had started this chat by saying, this is a crisis. We know that there’s a special choreography to if and when the Queen passes for ten days of mourning. How important is that choreography, considering British people will wonder what next?
Well, the choreography is critical, but I will say that one thing that the Royal family and the palace and the monarchy is brilliant at is this kind of event. I mean, they have been planning this for a very long time. There are several different plans about if the Queen died at standard. And what would happen if the Queen died at Buckingham Palace? What would happen if she died in Scotland, which was her wish, actually, it’s called Operation Unicorn. And so Operation Unicorn will soon be if the worst we expect happens will soon be very much in play. And there will be the Queen will be taken to Holy Road Palace in Scotland, where she will lion state, and then she will be taken to St Giles Cathedral, and then after that, on a train back to London, where, of course, there’ll be a major funeral for her at Westminster Abbey and she’ll be laid to rest with Philip and with her father at Windsor.
So we know relations among the younger generation haven’t been entirely rosy recently. Are we expecting to see a strong show of family unity in the wake of Queens passing?
Well, you see, the family gathering now, this is going to be an incredibly emotional and solemn moment, because we’re dealing with an absolutely beloved mother. We’re dealing with the mother of the nation, we’re dealing with the passing of a rain. It’s so solemn that this family, even though they have been very well prepared and they know exactly what is expected, particularly for Charles, the burden and the concern is going to be very deep. I’m sure that at this moment, the family feuds will be put aside for the celebrity of the moment. And it’s a good thing that Harry was in England at the time, because it would have been awful if he’d been in California and everything that had to sort of wait for that moment. But they are gathering and this is as the Queen would have pushed it in every conceivable way, she’s in her beloved Scotland, the family gathering, and it’s going really according to plan, as it always did with Queen Elizabeth II. And not only that, she did manage to get through her platinum jubilee and she did manage to greet the new prime minister. It’s almost as if she was holding on for those two things.
It’s like, I’ve met the new prime minister, I’ve said goodbye to the last prime minister, my 15th prime minister, from Winston Churchill to Mistrust. And now operation in Unicorn can proceed.
Well, if anyone is capable of choreographing an event like that, it would be the Queen.
Now, really appreciate you coming to speak with us.