In this extract from his book 'It's All About Clout,' Max Foster explores how The Queen manages to command such reverence around the world.
Generally speaking, we have no idea what The Queen thinks which prompts the question, how does she manage to connect with such a broad audience without ever expressing how she feels?
Imagine she’s out on a public engagement and is being shown around a new skyscraper. You know she cares enough about the building to accept the invitation but you don’t know whether she likes skyscrapers or not. What you see is someone familiar failing to show any emotion but our natural instinct is to fill that void with our own way of thinking – we project our feelings on to her. If you like skyscrapers, you therefore assume she does too. If you don’t, then you sense that she shares the same view. It’s like looking in to a mirror. She’s managing to empathise and connect with you at the same time as everyone else. That’s what gives her such universal appeal.
On the occasions she has let herself go in public, a tear at a memorial service for example, she’s expressed the majority view which only adds to her appeal.
The Queen’s ability to avoid controversy has earned her respect at every level. I was in Normandy, France with her for the D-Day war commemorations in July 2014 and saw how world leaders deferred to her. She was the longest serving head of state which brings with it a certain reverence but there’s also a respect there for the way she’s inhabited the position.
As the leaders came together for the requisite ‘family photo,’ a space was reserved for her in the centre of the shot next to host Francois Hollande. After the picture was taken, President Obama escorted her down the steps as if he were a member of her staff and President Putin of Russia allowed them to go ahead. Yes, they were both probably acting on their gentlemanly instincts but it also felt like an acknowledgement of The Queen’s personal status. She’s been at the centre of so many conversations for such a long period of time, it’s hard to imagine a world without her and it all adds to her rare cachet.
‘The Queen has been in my life longer than any other person apart from my elder sister,’ notes actress Helen Mirren who has studied Elizabeth closely for her portrayals of the monarch on stage and screen.
That omnipresence explains why it’s so unsettling for people when The Queen doesn’t appear when she’s expected, such as after Diana’s death or when she missed a regular church appearance on Christmas Day in 2016. All we were told that time was that she had a cold, but speculation soon mounted that it could be more serious, not helped by a vacuum of information from the palace.
When The Queen failed to appear again at the New Year service, newsrooms around the world started deploying teams to Buckingham Palace. It really was just a cold but the over-reaction illustrates the towering presence The Queen has in the public consciousness.
Monarchy isn’t a system anyone would recreate now in a major western liberal democracy but people don’t seem ready to let go of it either, at home or abroad.