By Joanna Roughton.
Imagine you are a 90-year-old woman whose best friend has just died.
How distressing would that be?
Now, add to that loss, the death in the same month of another close friend – the last of your surviving bridesmaids – and one begins to wonder about the psychological impact on any nonagenarian.
What if this 90-something turns out to be the Queen, the world’s most famous elderly lady, who has just seen old age take away two of her oldest confidantes in the run-up to Christmas.
The sovereign has reached that age where many of her contemporaries are no longer around.
Wonderfully, her husband and consort through so many decades, the Duke of Edinburgh, remains at her side – five years her senior. And, obviously, Her Majesty enjoys the best medical intervention money can buy.
Perhaps more importantly she has a large and supportive family. Every Christmas those family members gather in Sandringham, the monarch’s Norfolk country estate, where her late father, George VI, passed away in 1952.
And, every Christmas, the Queen makes the short walk to the local church, cheered on by locals and snapped by photographers.
But not this Christmas. This year the Queen was reported, along with Prince Philip, to be suffering from a ‘heavy cold’.
We are told the Queen is sustained by a strong personal Christian faith. She is also Supreme Governor of the Anglican Communion, which has in excess of 70 million adherents worldwide. So missing the Christmas Day service, we can assume, will have been a disappointment.
I mention all this by way of posing a question. In a country, like Britain, where the idea of an ideal family is in retreat, what kind of a role model can the royal family – with the queen at is head – provide?
There will be many for whom this question is nonsensical. How can a family which sits at the apex of Britain’s still potent class structure, offer a template to be followed by every type of family; high or mighty, humble or downtrodden, blended or dysfunctional?
Well, the royal family may be a model family, but they are far from being problem-free. Three of the Queen’s four children are divorcees. But that is not to say the monarchy cannot offer the Queen’s subjects an exemplar or two in how we lead our lives.
The Queen, in particular, is an object lesson in self-less duty. And, witnessing my daughters sitting down – of their own volition – to watch HM’s speech on Christmas Day, I was reminded of another reason to thank the sovereign for being who she is.
Quite simply, I can’t imagine any other public figure – of her age – who has the power to seize the interest of teenage girls in the way our head of state did. We live in a culture where the elderly are increasingly invisible, where inter-generational respect is on the wane in some quarters. Our monarch offers an antidote to some of that corrosive lack of mutual understanding.
I also took note of the Queen’s absence at Sandringham for another reason. It was there, almost 20 years ago – on Christmas Day – that my husband proposed marriage to me. He was there as a TV royal correspondent, I there as his guest and a curious observer. He and I, like the Queen and her consort, are, mercifully, still going strong. Merry Christmas everyone.