Anyone hearing this title knew exactly who she was, Elizabeth II, Queen of England.
The most famous woman in the world. The most photographed, the most painted, the most scrutinised, the most read about … the most everything, in fact. An icon.
And she died with her boots on, formally appointing a new Prime Minister just two days before she slipped away. How I admire her for that. I hope I go the same way. I’m certain she wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
Many years ago, I wrote about a woman of substance. But that’s an inadequate description of our Queen. Her Majesty was a stateswoman of substance; truly loved and held with such affection across the whole world, because she stood for all that is good and honourable.
Her smile was electric, full of warmth and kindness, both qualities that seemed to exude from her. From being a young princess all the way through to the end of her life, she was someone to admire and to emulate. I certainly felt that way about her.
I don’t believe there has ever been another woman in history so universally loved as our precious Queen Elizabeth.
She was my hero, and so this is a loss that truly, deeply hurts. I’ve been weeping on and off since the moment I heard. I was chatting with a friend on the phone here in New York yesterday when she suddenly stopped talking and said: ‘Oh Barbara, your queen has died.’
I was sitting at my desk – there’s no television in my office. I hung up on my friend without even speaking, dashing into the other room where I stood, in floods of tears, watching the news of my beloved Queen’s death.
The truth is, I really did love her. I grew up with her. I always felt that, somehow, I knew her, even as a child. She has been a constant throughout my entire life. I simply can’t believe she has gone.
I’ve been thinking a lot about why the Queen had such a hold on my heart. There was a steadfastness about her that made me feel safe. She didn’t seem to have much of an ego. And I know this might sound strange to some people, but I always felt that despite the glamour and the crowns and all that visionary regal stuff, there was a normalcy about her.
I also greatly admired how she came across as someone who knew who she was, and what her job was – and her job, of course, was to look after all of us. She also epitomised that thing we all strive to attain as women – glorious self belief.
The Queen was our rock, the one on which Britain was built over the years.
She never gave interviews, not needing to run off at the mouth to let us know she was there. She communicated on a different level to other famous people, through her smiles and her calm and ceaseless presence in our lives.
What an inspiring role model she was to me, and to so many of us. She embodied the finest qualities that we, her subjects – from the most powerful to the humblest – could only aspire to. Hers was a life of devotion to duty, of putting country before personal ambition and desire, all while juggling her roles as a wife and a mother, grandmother and even great grandmother.
Although Her Majesty had a strong and courageous character, her personality came across as cheerful and light-hearted.
She was glamorous too, still so very good looking even in old age. You can’t acquire that sort of glamour. It’s how you behave, how you hold yourself, as much as having beautiful clothes and perfect hair.
Oh, and that laugh. It revealed a mischievousness about her. Her obvious sense of humour was yet another reason we found her so appealing. I witnessed this side of her when it was my honour and a privilege to meet Her Majesty in person.
In 2007, I was thrilled to be on the Queen’s June Birthday Honours List. I was to receive an O.B.E. for my contribution to literature. I remember walking down the long, red carpet where the Queen stood waiting at the other end. From the photograph that I saw later, you would think the Queen and I had compared notes in advance.
We are leaning toward each other with our trademark coiffed hair, both wearing pearl earrings and exactly the same shade of cream. Her Majesty was in a dress, and I was wearing a cream jacket with a black skirt. I was surprised and delighted when I noticed the similarity.
It was one of the most important days of my life, and the fact that we were dressed so similarly made it even more thrilling.
I was struck by the twinkle in her bright blue eyes. She shook my hand and said: ‘Congratulations, Mrs. Bradford. I know you’ve written many books.’
‘Yes, I have, Your Majesty,’ I said. ‘A lot are about English history.’
‘Well, that certainly gives you endless possibilities,’ the Queen replied in an amused voice.
She looked as though she wanted to laugh, probably thinking of all her ancestors and their antics. I wanted to laugh too but controlled myself.
I keep reminding myself of that moment – so sweet, so precious – now, every time sorrow reduces me to tears.
People say you should never meet your heroes, but Her Majesty was as warm and charismatic in person, as I had imagined.
That’s the wonderful thing about our Queen. She was undeniably formidable in terms of her solemn vow of lifelong service to our country, but there was something accessible about her, too.
We knew we couldn’t reach out and hug her but seeing her love of dogs and horses and watching her cope with the trials and tribulations of her family, she was recognisably human.
I was trying to explain some of this while out for dinner with a group of British friends last night to the one American lady among us who couldn’t quite grasp our obvious sense of loss as we spent the evening weeping into our food.
‘We’ve had a monarchy for 1,000 years,’ I told her, when she asked me to explain our distress. ‘It’s a part of who we are. The love we feel for our queen is in our bones. She was devoted to us; she got up and worked for us every single day, even when she was 96. She belonged to us, as we did to her.’
And then the tears returned, and I couldn’t say any more.
Her Majesty gave us our identity and our sense of Britishness — what we stood for as a country and a people — justice, democracy, fair play, freedom, and free speech.
As Head of State, I admired the manner in which she handled every problem, with calmness, confidence and great cleverness. Our Queen had plenty of troubles to deal with in the past, as well as in the recent present.
As a woman, she knew loss as I did – we both lost our husbands relatively recently, and I am sure she will have grieved for hers alone, as I have for my husband Bob, who died in 2019 after 55 years of marriage.
Neither of us are the sort of women who slobber over everyone, crying when we’re in pain. But it’s hard when you’ve had a happy marriage, and suddenly they’re gone. I know how that must have felt for her, missing the love of her life as much as I did mine. I wonder, are they together again now?
One strange thing that has provided me with such welcome comfort since we lost our queen is the double rainbow that appeared over Buckingham Palace, along with another over Windsor Castle, shortly after her death was announced.
These are a beautiful gift from nature; a sort of supernatural smile.
How curious, then, that they should brighten the sky at the very moment we learnt as a nation that Queen Elizabeth had left this earth, turning it into a land of tears.
They felt like a wonderful departing gift from a woman this world will never see the likes of again.
Photos by Royal Ceremonial Arts after Barbara’s investiture.
Copyright Barbara Taylor Bradford 2022