Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Queen Elizabeth, Steady in the Spotlight

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Queen Elizabeth, Steady in the Spotlight

Article excerpt

Sally Bedell Smith taps a host of sources for her biography, but she faces the fact that this monarch has lived a remarkable life yet one that, quite frankly, is a bit dull to recount.

Elizabeth the Queen. The Life of a Modern Monarch. By Sally Bedell Smith. Illustrated. 663 pages. Random House. $30.

As a British expat trying to keep in touch with the old sod, I've acquired the slightly eccentric habit of buying coffee mugs recording key moments in the public life of our royal family. Alas, those celebrating the weddings of Prince Charles and Prince Andrew broke soon after their marriages fell apart. Not so the mug I bought for Queen Elizabeth's Golden Jubilee in 2002. In fine bone china, no less than in person, she just keeps on going.

This year she will celebrate the 60th anniversary of her reign, only the second Diamond Jubilee in British history. (Queen Victoria's, in 1897, was the first.) And along with, yes, more coffee mugs, the occasion has triggered a round of reverential royal biographies, including one by an American, Sally Bedell Smith. In "Elizabeth the Queen: The Life of a Modern Monarch," she curtsies before the British throne as deeply as a lady-in-waiting.

This is not uncharted territory for Ms. Smith -- she already peeped behind the palace curtains in her 1999 best seller, "Diana in Search of Herself" -- but Elizabeth is a far more elusive subject than the former Princess of Wales. For her new venture into court life, Ms. Smith taps a host of public sources and tracks down friends and former courtiers of the queen who are willing to share more intimate tidbits (all too often about horses and corgis). But despite that, she faces a problem encountered, I suspect, by other royal biographers. Elizabeth has lived a remarkable life yet one that, quite frankly, is a bit dull to recount. Put differently, her somewhat dysfunctional family has provided far livelier copy.

Partly to blame is her unfailing professionalism, which became apparent soon after her Uncle David, aka Edward VIII, abdicated in favor of her father, Bertie, aka George VI, in 1936. "Does that mean that you will have to be the next queen?" her sister, Margaret, asked. "Yes, someday," Elizabeth replied. "Poor you," Margaret observed. At the time, Princess Elizabeth was only 10.

To even half-attentive royal watchers, the next stages of her life are familiar enough. She was tutored privately. She fell in love with her future consort, Prince Philip, when she was 13 and married him eight years later. She began royal tours when her father was ailing and was on safari with Philip in Kenya when George VI died on Feb. 6, 1952. She was crowned on June 2, 1953. She was 27.

Since then, Elizabeth has reigned but not ruled. As head of state, she has presided over British involvement in a string of military conflicts, from Korea to Afghanistan. …

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