At 5’4” Queen Elizabeth II Towered Above History
Author: John Casey
On a spring day in May of 1991, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip came to the U.S. and were on Capitol Hill. I had always been fascinated by the queen, so I made sure to go to the Library of Congress building, which stands next to the Supreme Court, to see her. She was doing some event, and with my congressional ID, I was able to stand at the entrance behind the stanchion.
When she passed me smiling, my first reaction was how pretty she was. I had always thought that the queen appeared frumpy on television or in pictures, but she and Philip really made a dashing couple. I was also a bit surprised by how small she was. When you think of the queen, you think of her as larger than life — which she was.
The queen also addressed a joint session of Congress that month, and I was able to go see her speak. I remember the House gallery being packed and giving her standing ovations. I don’t quite remember what she said, but I’ll never forget the bright orange outfit she wore. She was clearly the best-dressed person in the room, and while her figure was small, the bright colors made her seem like the center of the universe, much like the sun.
Arguably, you could say that Queen Elizabeth was the center of our world since she ascended to the throne after her father died in 1952. It seems incomprehensible that she has remained an influential, active, and vibrant world leader for 70 years. She has asked 15 prime ministers to head her government. To put that into context, the last 15 U.S. presidents started with Franklin Roosevelt. Next was Harry Truman. The queen met Truman in 1951, while she was still a princess, and the only president the queen did not meet was Lyndon Johnson. But she did meet former President Herbert Hoover while she was queen. It’s mind-boggling to think about all that American history she has touched through her relationships with our presidents.
Just think of all the global history this woman has seen ever since she was the king’s daughter and heir to the throne during World War II. She appeared on the balcony with her father, the king, her mom, the queen, and her sister, Princess Margaret, when the war ended. She had no idea at the time how many times she would appear on that same balcony over the next 70-plus years.
During her reign, she has seen countless wars, weddings, and scandals, visited 110 countries, met the astronauts who landed on the moon, lived through a pandemic, and had several scandals in her own family. And she met scores of prominent, global figures. There isn’t a monumental figure during her lifetime that she didn’t cross paths with, i.e. Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Charles de Gaulle, Pope John Paul II … the list is endless. And it was obvious that everyone she met, had such great affection for her.
If the queen wrote a book about her life, it would have to be in two dozen volumes like the old Encyclopedia Britannica. There’s just no way to quantify or explain all she’s been through. While Netflix’s The Crown is attempting to do that through four seasons thus far, it still doesn’t do this woman justice for all that she’s experienced. All the changes she’s witnessed. And all the advancements in modern society that she adapted to.
It’s obvious that over time, the queen became more accepting of people’s backgrounds and sexuality. She changed with the times throughout her life. When it came to LGBTQ+ rights, the queen rode along for our ride to equality. On her Platinum Jubilee marking 70 years on the throne, we published a photo gallery about all she’s done for equality.
The queen was the first monarch to come down to the level of her people via “walkabouts.” In the late 1950s, she invited people into her home and private office. This openness was shocking after centuries of monarchs hiding behind palace walls. And she was adept at using the new medium of television.
Her coronation in June of 1953 was broadcast worldwide. And through television, she was the first to provide an intimate look at the royal family, when she agreed to a documentary about their lives in the late 1960s. She was also the first monarch to be a global diplomat and was the first one to visit China in the 1980s. No one was more linked to their country and their territories than Queen Elizabeth. On her 21st birthday in 1947, she vowed to be there with her people to the end. “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service,” she said. Talk about keeping a promise.
Sure, she had some rough patches, most notably her initial reaction to Princess Diana’s death, but she corrected mid-course, pleaded to the mourning British — and to the world — to think about her responsibilities as a grandmother to William and Harry, and she rebounded. As she got older, remarkably, she became more endearing to her people and to the world. Her poll numbers soared.
And she became more endearing to me. Here’s why. I think because my father died so young, I have always been fascinated with people who live to ripe old ages, particularly those who still work and function into their 90s. One reason I loved Betty White. And while the queen shrunk, as anyone does when they age, and stooped a bit, she never seemed small to me, and she always stood out with her bright colors. I love bright-colored apparel, and I have zero fashion sense, but I did have the sense to know that the queen’s attire brightened every picture she was in. Those clothes matched the brilliant smile that always graced the most recognizable face in the world.
It was all that history with the queen that captivated me. When I’m asked that overdone question about who is the one person you’d have dinner with, alive or dead, I always answered with the queen. I’m sure she had endless and fascinating stories. Just imagine sitting across from her and her regaling you with all those wonderful stories.
I actually thought about the queen when I spoke to Shirley MacLaine recently. They both have such rich histories. As I get older, it seems like we are losing more and more of these icons whose influences spread over a half-dozen decades. If they are like the queen and MacLaine and have been in the public eye for generations, it’s humbling to see pictures of these legends when they were younger and the lines on their faces — like badges earned over a lifetime — in photos now.
Can you imagine how many times the Queen was photographed? It’s probably incalculable. She was, without dispute, probably the most photographed person in history.
So many pictures, so many radio broadcasts, newsreels, videos, newspaper accounts, television, internet, Twitter, Facebook, gifs, and memes. The news of her death nearly broke Twitter, Her image has stretched and has been imprinted on all of the media transformations over the last nine decades. She has been in the news her entire life since she was a child, and that’s the other thing — she was always unflappable, calm, majestic. There was something about seeing images of Queen Elizabeth that was just so reassuring.
That is, except when she was watching her beloved horse races. That was my favorite thing about her — when she exposed her human side and her much-rumored rambunctious sense of humor. I love watching those candid clips of her at the horse track. The calm queen disappeared. Instead, you saw the playful Elizabeth, and you knew from her childlike exuberance whether she won, lost, or drew. And when she parachuted in with Daniel Craig, a.k.a. James Bond, for the London Olympics in 2012, the queen proved she understood the humor of a new generation and used her newfound affability to play along. It always seemed like the queen was literally one step ahead.
Along for the ride on all of this was her beloved husband, Prince Philip, her lifelong crush. She met him when she was 13. And she knew then that they would spend their lives together. When my grandfather died on May 15, 2005, after nearly 65 years of marriage to my grandmother, she seemed to lose her zest for life. She was in good health, but the man she absolutely adored wasn’t there anymore, and she faded. Then, on May 15, 2007, exactly two years to the day, she followed my grandfather.
I thought of my grandparents after Philip died in April of last year. I knew it would never be the same for the queen after almost 75 years of marriage and that she’d probably fade quickly, and she did. And as she aged, and Phillip was sick, she undoubtedly understood the power of love. That’s probably why she did the right thing by her son and said it was OK for Camilla to be queen when Charles becomes king.
We can be guaranteed one thing, and that is Queen Elizabeth II will probably not fade in history. Though she stood at 5 feet, 4 inches, she towered over history for nearly 90 years. Invincibly, she melded history, government, pop culture, and majesty throughout her entire life. There is no global figure, probably in history, who has seen more than Queen Elizabeth. It’s often hyperbole when we say that there will never be “another like them.” But it’s not for her.
And at her death, we will in our lifetime probably never again see the global outpouring of sorrow, love, celebration, and mourning that billions of humans are feeling at this time for one person. No one alive could possibly come near the universal admiration for this one extraordinary woman. I’ve been asking myself why, and I think the answer is pretty simple. Her humility was rock solid. She never did a reality show, never complained, never made it all about her — how rare indeed is this sense of unselfishness.
Queen Elizabeth II remained above all the fighting, all the wars, all the politics, all the gossip, all the turmoil, all the highs, all the lows, and all that was in between for generations She always kept that purposeful poise — and her word. “I declare before you all that my whole life, whether it be long or short, shall be devoted to your service.” It was long, and right up to the end, on Tuesday, welcoming a new prime minister, she was still working, devoted to her people.
God save the queen!
John Casey is editor at large at The Advocate.
Views expressed in The Advocate’s opinion articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent the views of The Advocate or our parent company, Equal Pride.
Original Article on The Advocate
Author: John Casey