LONDON — On Feb. 6, Queen Elizabeth will make history — again — when she becomes the first British monarch to celebrate 70 years on the throne, and the first one anywhere in modern history to reign for so many decades.
The yearlong Platinum Jubilee celebrations will stretch from the U.K. across the world, and will coincide with the Commonwealth Games, which take place in Birmingham, England, this year. The event, which runs from July 28 to Aug. 8, will see athletes from more than 50 countries compete in sports events akin to the Olympic Games.
As part of the Jubilee, members of the royal family will tour the country, while a four-day holiday weekend of official celebrations has been planned for early June. But despite all the pomp and excitement, there is no doubt this anniversary has been hard won for the 95-year-old queen.
It caps three of the most difficult years of her reign, from the Jeffrey Epstein scandal that continues to ensnare Prince Andrew and forced him to step away from royal duties to Meghan and Harry’s move to America and their accusations of racism within the royal family; the national COVID-19 crisis; the death of Prince Philip, and the queen’s own health crises and hospitalization in the autumn.
It’s been one annus horribilis after another.
“It’s a miraculous anniversary to be celebrating, and she should have been sailing toward a sunlit Jubilee year,” said the author and royal expert Hugo Vickers, adding that, in addition to Prince Philip’s death, the queen has carried so much on her shoulders these past few years, and done it all with dignity.
“She should be called Elizabeth the Steadfast. She is aware of what it is to be queen, and is awfully good at setting an example,” Vickers said, echoing the words of Harold Macmillan, who served as British prime minister from 1957 to 1963.
Macmillan wrote the following in his diaries from those years: “The queen…is impatient of the attitude toward her to treat her as a woman, and a film star or mascot. She has indeed ‘the heart and stomach of a man.’ She does not enjoy ‘society.’ She likes her horses. But she loves her duty, and means to be a queen, not a puppet.”
Just after Christmas, the Royal Mint unveiled 50-pence and 5-pound coins to mark the Platinum Jubilee. Inscribed on the rim of both coins is the phrase “Serve you all the days of my life,” recalling the vow that Princess Elizabeth made on her 21st birthday, to devote her “whole life, whether it be long or short” to serving the people of Britain and the wider Commonwealth.
She has certainly stood by her word and, as a result, her personal popularity has remained undimmed, despite the family scandals and disappointments: According to the latest YouGov poll, the queen remains the world’s third most-admired woman after Michelle Obama and Angelina Jolie.
According to a YouGov survey from the third quarter of 2021, the queen is liked by 72 percent of the U.K. population. That compares with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Pope Francis and U.S. President Joe Biden, whose current popularity ratings are at 34 percent.
The queen’s popularity compared with other world leaders shouldn’t come as a surprise.
With so many politicians panicking and flip-flopping on policy, especially during COVID-19, “we’ve seen very strong leadership from the monarchy. The message has been ‘Keep calm, and we’ll get through this,’” said Penny Junor, the journalist and author who has written extensively about the British royal family.
“The queen has been very reassuring for the country,” Junor added.
Indeed, a month after the COVID-19 crisis kicked off in 2020, the queen told the nation in an extraordinary address that if they remained united and resolute, “then we will overcome it. We should take comfort that while we have more still to endure, better days will return. We will be with our friends again, we will be with our families again, we will meet again.”
The latter phrase recalled the lines from the famous World War II song “We’ll Meet Again,” sung by Vera Lynn in the film of the same name.
According to Vickers, the monarch has a talent for “compartmentalizing,” looking past her own problems and getting the job done.
Indeed, she knows the Jubilee is all about her, but she wants it to be bigger than that. In her recent Christmas Day address, she said that, more than anything, the Jubilee year should be about reflection, and gratitude.
“I hope it will be an opportunity for people everywhere to enjoy a sense of togetherness, a chance to give thanks for the enormous changes of the past 70 years — social, scientific and cultural and, also, to look ahead with confidence,” she said during the short speech, in which she also frequently referred to her late husband and how much she missed him.
The Platinum Jubilee will also be a moment for the royal family to look ahead: The celebratory events in 2022 will likely reveal the future shape of the monarchy, with Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, and Prince William and his family taking the starring roles at official events and engagements.
The queen’s only daughter Princess Anne, her youngest son Prince Edward and his wife the Countess of Wessex will also likely represent the queen during the year, with the junior royals such as Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie playing bit parts.
The attendance at the events will no doubt reflect Prince Charles’ wider vision for a “slimmed down” monarchy that is more self-sufficient and less of a strain on the public purse. The new, slimmed down structure will also leave the monarchy less exposed to scandal from bored, minor royals who behave badly.
Junor said she hopes the royals will use the Jubilee “as an opportunity to emphasize continuity” within the family. “The queen is 95, and it’s likely this will be her last jubilee. The next monarch will be Charles, and there will be some nod to that. But mostly it will be a celebration of the queen and her extraordinary sense of duty,” Junor said.
The queen herself nodded to this tighter hierarchy when she name checked Prince Charles and Prince William in her Christmas Day address, saying she was proud that they had inherited her late husband’s passion for environmental conservation.
“I am proud beyond words that [Philip’s] pioneering work has been taken on, and magnified, by our eldest son Charles, and his eldest son William, admirably supported by Camilla and Catherine, most recently at the COP climate change summit in Glasgow,” she said.
The Prince of Wales has long been a green campaigner, most recently gathering some of the world’s most powerful chief executive officers to meet with world leaders at the G7 summit in Cornwall, England, in 2021, and setting up the Sustainable Markets Initiative, which he launched at The World Economic Forum 2020.
The initiative is meant to encourage economies to operate “in favor of people and planet.”
Prince William, meanwhile, founded the Earthshot Prize, which is awarded by the Royal Foundation to five winners each year for their contributions to environmentalism. It was first awarded in 2021, and is set to run annually until 2030. Each winner receives a grant of 1 million pounds to continue their environmental work.
Charles, William and their wives were the only other members of the royal family whom the queen mentioned on Christmas Day, aside from Philip, a clear indication that the celebratory year ahead will be as much about the future as the past.