Saturday, September 30, 2023

Farewell to The Queen: A Beloved Great-Grandmother, Petrol-Head and Devoted Matriarch. Plus, Where We Go To From Here…

In very sad news, today we mark the passing of Her Majesty The Queen – the world’s most powerful matriarch. Alice O’Connell remembers the woman who gave her life in service, and what this means to us all now.

The day you lose your grandmother is always one of life’s most difficult ones.

Without the comfort of her embrace, her sweet reassurance as she picks you up after a fall, or even the sense of security she provides, giving you a stern talking to when necessary – well, the world seems a lot less warm without her in it.

Today the world lost its most well-known and most powerful great-grandmother, Her Majesty The Queen, and although it’s a beautiful spring day here in Auckland, the world feels all the less warm without her in it. 

Her Majesty once said, “Grief is the price we pay for love,” and today, no one will be feeling her loss quite as profoundly as her four children, eight grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.

But I know it’s also a day that will be tremendously sad for many New Zealanders. In my past life as a magazine editor I worked at the New Zealand Woman’s Weekly for seven years. When I first started, it quickly became clear to me in just how much the Queen meant to many Kiwis.

Many readers – particularly the older generations – were absolutely spellbound by The Queen and wanted to know her every move. If we spoke to someone in her inner circle – like Angela Kelly, her personal assistant/senior dresser/closest friend – they wanted to know everything from what she ate for breakfast (apparently Special K was her go-to), to how she avoided getting blisters from wearing new shoes (Angela was actually the same shoe size, so would wear them in for her).

I remember going to an event where Camilla – now Camilla, Queen Consort – was, and an older woman pulling me aside and giving me a list of things she wanted to ask – all of them were about things she’d like to know about the Queen. “Can you ask her if she’ll get another corgi?” she asked.

One reader in the Kapiti coast, Bev, would frequently call me to make sure that the Queen was in fact okay if she’d heard any rumblings about her health, or if someone in her bridge club had seen a recent photograph of her and thought she looked tired.

Bev was around the same age as the Queen herself, and to her – like many NZers – she felt the service she had given to her country and the entire commonwealth was nothing short of super human. She fretted about her frequently and whether she was eating well, getting enough rest and getting enough down-time with her corgis.

As Bev said, it was truly a lifetime of sacrifice – one that was made all the more impressive that it was not her destiny at birth. Were it not for her uncle abdicating the throne and then her father’s early death, the roadmap for her life could have looked completely different.

Instead, even in her final weeks she was still dealing with exhausting people and messes like Boris Johnson.

She didn’t always get everything exactly right – especially as times changed with new generations – but you couldn’t deny that she gave it her all. She had one hell of a ship to steer and sometimes that ship hit seriously rocky seas – and, unfortunately had a few wayward crew members onboard (is it too early to wonder what on earth will happen to Prince Andrew now?)

She was a hardy woman who loved the outdoors, horses and getting in amongst it all. In her 90s, she could still be spotted riding horses and driving her Range Rover full-throttle all over wild terrain on her Scotland home.

One of my favourite facts about the queen was that she was a bit of a car enthusiast, having worked as a mechanic during the war. At 18 she became the first woman from the royal family to serve in the military, joining the women’s Auxiliary Territory Services, where she drove army ambulances and repaired heavy trucks on the battlefield.

The Queen – who, in her teenage years was dubbed “Princess Auto Mechanic” – continued her love of driving throughout her twilight years. There’s also a famous story from 1998 when then Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz visited the Queen at her Sandringham estate for lunch. After lunch she offered him a tour of the estate, so, when the convoy of Land Rovers pulled up outside, he climbed into the front seat, while his interpreter got in the seat behind him. To his absolute shock, the Queen then climbed into the drivers seat, turned the ignition on and zoomed off – commentating all the way as she navigated through tight and steep passes.

The Saudi King was gobsmacked – he was not used to being driven by a woman (who were not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia at the time), and certainly not by a Queen. Apparently, through his interpreter he implored the Queen to slow down and concentrate on the road ahead.

It’s believed she continued on as she always had, and steered her course at full speed – the way she went about her entire life.

And now we find ourselves in a new era.

No matriarch great-grandmother in sight, instead we find ourselves today with a King – something we’ll be saying for at least a few more generations.

But for now, before arrangements are made to crown a new King, we honour the woman who gave so much of her life in service.

One of the moments that I’ll forever think of when remembering the Queen, is the image of her sitting alone during the funeral of her husband of 74 years, Prince Philip. In a mark of solidarity with the rest of the commonwealth who had to grieve alone due to Covid-19 restrictions, she sat in solitude as she grieved the greatest loss of her life – such was her drive to do the right thing and respect every day citizens of the UK and the commonwealth.

The Queen always said they would be reunited in death, and how beautiful that today, she returns home to her true love.

What does all this meeeeean?

Yes, we now have a King.

Prince Charles is immediately elevated to King Charles (for now anyway – he can choose to keep Charles, or take the name of any of his other given names, like King Arthur, King Philip or King George. When the Queen was offered this choice, she immediately said she’d be keeping “my own name, Elizabeth, of course!”).

What about his wife, Camilla?

His wife, Camilla will now be known as Queen Consort. Several years ago, The Queen gave her blessing for this title to be used.

No, we won’t have another Queen for a long time – likely at least several generations.

Upon Prince Charles’ death or retirement, Prince William will take the throne – who will then pass the crown to his firstborn, George. For most of us, we’ll never see another Queen in our lifetime (unless of course, we outlive Prince William and Prince George declines the role, passing it to Prince William’s next born child, Princess Charlotte).

What happens to Prince William?

Prince William now becomes the heir to the throne. That means he’ll take the slot his father used to take as Prince of Wales. That also means that now Kate, The Duchess of Cambridge, could become the Princess of Wales (the title Princess Diana once had).

The world just got a new Prince and Princess.

Remember that controversial interview Meghan gave saying she was denied giving Archie a title when he was born, which caused her pain? Well, the change in the line of succession means Prince Harry moves up a slot, to fifth (after William and his three children). That means his two children can now use HRH – Prince Archie and Princess Lilabet (who was named after the Queen).

Yes, coins and bank notes will now change.

Yip, here and around the world, new money will be minted with King Charles’ on the ‘head’ side. It likely won’t happen in a sudden flurry, but as new coins and notes are put into circulation they will be updated.

What else will change with Charles in charge?

Besides things like the British national anthem changing (to God Save the King), it’s also expected that some changes will be afoot to how the royal family runs. It’s always been a poorly kept secret that Charles’ wish, when he ascended to the throne, would be to trim down the size of the royal family. Harry and Meghan leaving, really threw a spanner in the works – but it’s expected that we’ll see Prince Andrew completely fade out, as well as many other royal hanger-ons.

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