Fast approaching her 96th birthday, the Queen remains bright-eyed and quick-witted. Visiting foreign dignitaries and the pet dorgis file in and out of the formal suites at Windsor Castle as she cracks jokes with aides and continues to perform her still considerable duties.
Whether it is signing papers from her daily red box, speaking to Boris Johnson by telephone or drinking tea with the Governor-General of Canada, it’s all done with humour and grace.
Why then, her sudden decision not to attend last week’s Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey, an event that means a great deal to her?
The change of plan, said the Palace, was about the comfort of Her Majesty. Yet, as courtiers privately acknowledge, it was also about preserving the majesty of monarchy.
Appearances matter – and much more so for a head of state. The Queen has made it clear her presence at events of personal significance such as the Commonwealth and Cenotaph services must not come at any cost.
A photograph of her late sister, Princess Margaret (pictured), in a wheelchair, six months before she died, has become a lasting cause of regret. ‘It’s a haunting image and not one the Queen remembers fondly,’ said a source
There is one image in particular which Palace aides, and no doubt the Queen herself, are anxious not to replicate.
A photograph of her late sister, Princess Margaret, in a wheelchair, six months before she died, has become a lasting cause of regret. ‘It’s a haunting image and not one the Queen remembers fondly,’ said a source.
It was in August 2001 that the family had gathered for a photocall for the Queen Mother’s 101st birthday. Although still sprightly, she used two walking sticks.
A murmur then went round: ‘Where’s Margaret?’ The Queen’s sister was inside, recuperating after a series of strokes. She had not been expected to appear.
But the Queen Mother’s page, William Tallon – ‘Backstairs Billy’ – took it upon himself to push Margaret in front of the waiting media in a wheelchair.
Margaret was known for glamorous good looks that had lasted well into middle age. The world had never seen her like this.
Wearing a jacket and oversized black sunglasses, the Princess had her left arm trussed up in a sling and a shawl over her legs.
It is said the Queen, too, still shudders at the memory. An abiding principle is she ‘must be seen to be believed’. A picture in any way reminiscent of Margaret’s fate is out of the question
A source who remembers the occasion said: ‘The optics were terrible. It was supposed to be about the Queen Mother but all anyone saw was a sadly declining Princess Margaret.’
At 70, Margaret looked worse than her mother, 30 years older. A terrible row ensued. Palace staff were furious with Tallon for wheeling her out in full view of the cameras, a gross invasion of her privacy, they felt.
It is said the Queen, too, still shudders at the memory. An abiding principle is she ‘must be seen to be believed’. A picture in any way reminiscent of Margaret’s fate is out of the question.
Why allow the Queen to have to awkwardly navigate the Abbey when there are opportunities to show her meeting and greeting state dignitaries at Windsor?
The Queen has recently conducted nine days of official meetings, including welcoming Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada.
Twice recently she has reiterated a pledge made on her 21st birthday: ‘My whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service and the service of our great imperial family to which we all belong.’
Yet, as she acknowledges, some things must inevitably change.
For years, our unstinting monarch has been handing more work to the Prince of Wales.
The Queen – known as ‘Reader One’ in Government terms – still receives a daily red box of official papers to sign. Her Royal Assent is still required on Bills passing through Parliament. (Charles is Reader Two.) But there are compensations: increased visits from family.
‘Prince Charles will often stay over at Windsor now if he’s visiting and will spend time with his mother rather than going back to Highgrove,’ said a source. Prince William, too, is at Windsor more often.
She also enjoys the company of her dresser, Angela Kelly, a docker’s daughter from Liverpool known to amuse the Queen with her down-to-earth wit.
When not on duty, she watches television or is absorbed in jigsaws laid out by her long-time page Paul Whybrew.
On his final engagement, in 2017, Prince Philip summed up the predicament in typically pithy style. After someone said ‘I’m sorry to hear that you’re standing down’, the 95-year-old Duke shot back with: ‘Well, I can’t stand up for much longer.’
The Queen will carry out her God-given duties to the end. But we will see the Prince of Wales increasingly standing in – and standing up – on her behalf.
She has made it clear: the dignity of the monarch must be protected, come what may.
Queen plans more time at Balmoral after her lodge is fitted with wheelchair lift
By Ashlie McAnally for the Mail On Sunday
The Queen has had a wheelchair lift installed at her Balmoral home, fuelling speculation that she may spend more time at her beloved Highlands hideaway.
She has also applied to put in extra security, including CCTV and automatic gates, at the 50,000-acre estate on Royal Deeside, Aberdeenshire.
Balmoral was bought for Queen Victoria by her husband Prince Albert in 1852 and has remained a favourite summer retreat for the Royal Family ever since. But the Queen, 95, often prefers to live in Craig Gowan House, a two-storey, seven-bedroom stone lodge on the estate.
The £20,000 high-tech lift, which can carry a wheelchair and three people, was approved for the lodge last year.
The Queen has had a wheelchair lift installed at her Balmoral home, fuelling speculation that she may spend more time at her beloved Highlands hideaway
Planning documents show that officials gave the green light for ‘a Lifton lift within the rear wing of the property in order to solve the problem for disabled users in terms of gaining access up the existing staircase from ground floor to first floor, and vice versa.’
Plans were also lodged earlier this month for CCTV cameras as well as a fence, intercom and automated gate.
The Queen’s mobility has worsened in recent months and she was photographed with a walking stick earlier this year. She missed the 50th Commonwealth Day service last week at Westminster Abbey but hopes to attend a memorial service for her late husband Prince Philip later this month and as many 70th Jubilee celebrations this summer as possible.
A decision by the Queen to spend more time at Balmoral would spark comparisons with Queen Victoria, who retreated to an isolated house on the estate after Albert died, aged 42, in 1861.
Planning documents show that officials gave the green light for ‘a Lifton lift within the rear wing of the property in order to solve the problem for disabled users in terms of gaining access up the existing staircase from ground floor to first floor, and vice versa’
A decision by the Queen to spend more time at Balmoral would spark comparisons with Queen Victoria, who retreated to an isolated house on the estate after Albert died, aged 42, in 1861
Victoria could not bear to stay at the lodge that they had used together and had a smaller, grey granite property built on the edge of Loch Muick. It became known as the widow’s house.
The surrounding hills had reminded Albert of his native Germany, while Victoria said the location ‘seemed to breathe freedom and peace, and to make one forget the world and its sad turmoils’.
Asked about the possibility of the Queen spending more time on the Balmoral estate, local councillor Geva Blackett said: ‘We always welcome the Queen here, she is part of the community. We would love her to be here more if that’s what she wants to do.’
Buckingham Palace declined to comment.