So Her Majesty the Queen, announced that she was withdrawing from an Easter church service with regret. Bless the Queen – she always apologizes for not being able to mark an occasion, and yet at 95, and with several thousand church services under her belt, I don’t think anyone would hold it against her.
Queen Elizabeth is of course celebrating her 70th birthday on the throne this year, and it’s an opportunity to look back on the Queen’s life and reign. I have the utmost respect for the Queen’s sense of duty and service, but I’m not really a royalist, so I’m surprised how much I enjoy Robert Hardman’s engaging and informative biography, queen of our time.
Like I was contemplating the book, a photo above my desk caught my eye. In it, my grandparents Peter and Toni Austin – known as Petsy and Muffy – stand on their doorstep amid blooming roses, smiling nervously at the camera.
They look dashing – my grandmother in a specially designed pale pink silk dress and my grandfather in a black tie. The photo was taken in 1986, and they had gone to dinner with Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip aboard the Lyttleton-born royal yacht Britannia.
My grandfather was dean of Consular Corps in Christchurch, that’s how they came up with the guest list. As a young teenager at the time, I was more focused on Duran Duran than the royal family, but I remember the excitement and nervousness leading up to the big night.
There were strict instructions to follow and a reverence to perfect. Muffy was particularly nervous, as Petsy had suffered a stroke and had no use of her left hand and was walking with a cane. The thought of going up the catwalk, and having to cut his own meal was playing in his mind. A lot.
The night was wonderful.
My grandmother was very impressed with how knowledgeable Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip were about each of the guests. They spoke to them as if they knew them.
At dinner, each guest had a butler standing behind their chair. My grandmother was nervous she would have to ask them to cut Petsy’s meat in front of the whole table, but as you would expect from such knowledgeable hosts, her meal arrived subtly cut and ready to eat. be eaten with his one working arm.
My grandmother was so grateful. It’s the little things, right? It wasn’t long before they almost forgot they were having dinner with the Queen.
I wish my grandparents were there to tell the story in their own words. It was a very special honor and meant so much to them.
I can’t help but think of the hundreds and thousands of knowledgeable dinner parties, morning teas, afternoon teas, events and occasions that Queen Elizabeth has attended over the years , making people’s days, years and maybe even lives in the process.
She had a life of privilege, but also of incredible service. While few of us can understand the obligation, duty and control that comes with being born into royalty, Hardman’s book has given me a deeper understanding and appreciation of the Queen’s extraordinary reign.
The queen, who is wonderfully unsentimental, would probably not admire my sudden sentimentality towards her, I hope she will rest at Easter.