It’s a strange thing to feel true grief about the death of someone you do not know but I – born in the Republic of Italy, raised in Australia and republican in spirit – felt viscerally the moment of the Queen’s demise.
On Thursday afternoon, as the full, ominous import of the Palace’s “doctors are concerned” statement sank in and the BBC suspended normal programming, the entire nation seemed to be holding its breath in a mix of disbelief and raw sadness.
Tiny, fragile, and yet smiling and seemingly in good spirits, the Queen had been seen on the country’s TV screens just 48 hours earlier as she invited Liz Truss, the 15th prime minister of her reign, to form a government.
At 6.30pm, when the unfathomable and yet inevitable announcement had to be made formally to the nation, the BBC’s unflappable Huw Edwards breathed deeply and paused, as if in doubt, before swallowing the lump in his throat.
When I landed in London 14 years ago to become this newspaper’s Europe correspondent, I decided quickly that republican personal beliefs should not be allowed to colour my observations of my adopted home. To truly understand and report the UK, I felt the need to be open-minded enough to view and examine the monarchy in the context of a societal and political system in place for a thousand years.
The British monarchy has outlasted most of its European counterparts and this Queen, thrust onto the throne aged just 25, has spent almost 70 years bridging past and present while enjoying huge support and favourability ratings of 75 per cent and more. I seem to remember that it was Neville Wran, some 30 years ago now, who first warned that the Queen was the republican movement’s biggest problem because “everybody loves her”.
I have also long felt that the sense of continuity and the long thread of history is more palpable in Great Britain than many other European nations, Italy and France included. Its palaces and great estates are not mere shells or museums but are lived in, animated and, whether you like it or not, the millions of tourists who pour through London, peer through Buckingham Palace gates, walk past St James Palace or Kensington House, do so because there’s the slightest chance they will see a living royal.
Tourism is one of the UK’s fastest-growing sectors, predicted to be worth £257 billion ($436 billion) by 2025 and, let’s face it, the capital’s great palaces are enormous drawcards. Would they be as interesting without their residents?
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