Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

To Everyone's Surprise, It Was a Magnificent Hello

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

To Everyone's Surprise, It Was a Magnificent Hello

Article excerpt


IT WAS the longest goodbye. It started with the great immaculately organised procession to Westminster Hall and the lying-instate of the queen who seemed as timelessly popular as Christmas. The funeral was to be the last wave to everyone's departing grandmother.

It turned out, to everyone's surprise including, perhaps, the royal family, to be a magnificent Hello, a great rediscovery of our history and the stirrings of a new belief in our national identity. The remarkable lady had been the last Queen of an Empire.

She had seen our young men decimated in the First World War and refused to leave London when we stood alone against Hitler, when she shrugged off the odd bomb that fell on Buckingham Palace. She survived Stalin and Mussolini, Picasso and Freud to reach a sunny old age when she could still enjoy a gin and Dubonnet and do Ali G imitations.

The crowds that lined the route of Princess Diana's funeral grieved for the death of a beautiful woman who they thought was at odds with the establishment. The thousands who queued for five hours, or slept out on a freezing night, to say their goodbyes to the Queen Mother felt she stood for the achievements of a century.

We have become cut off from our history for far too long. Her life and death remind us, in the grey days when political ideals have vanished and all we seem to be concerned about is Railtrack, the collapse of the Post Office and whether we should join the euro, that we have a past to be proud of and, if we can keep as cheerful as she was, might have a future to be proud of.

By 9.30am the great theatre of the Abbey was prepared, the choirboys had arrived. The flowers, roses and great blooms chosen for their remarkable resemblance to the Queen Mother's hats, filled the Abbey. Just before 10am the crowds of friends had arrived and the bell, tolling one solemn stroke for each year of the Queen Mother's life, rang out once a minute.

Politicians, former prime ministers, the ex-kings and queens of countries that had gone without a monarchy for their own moments of national celebration, were in their places. Camilla Parker Bowles, a close friend of the Queen Mother, had arrived. Andrew Motion, standing in Poet's Corner, read an elegy and the poets buried around him uttered no word of criticism. Tony Blair jetted in from his Texan barbecue and arrived looking understandably exhausted. The crowd outside the Abbey was many times larger than the friends, politicians and all the private staff of the Queen Mother's houses inside.

And all this time the Queen Mother lay in Westminster Hall, that great place of history where Charles I was tried and condemned and the way was opened for the arrival of a constitutional monarchy.

So, with only drums playing, the band of the Grenadier Guards came to take the Queen Mother to the Abbey. …

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