After a lifetime of apathy towards the Crown, the events of the past few days have convinced me that the Queen really is a national treasure, rather than just a tourist attraction — albeit a highly lucrative one — for the UK plc.
Being of Irish descent, raised in a small town in the West of Scotland, and now living in the Rebel County, it would be fair to say that I am not natural Royalist material.
Not that I have ever harboured Republican (in the British sense) sympathies either. For a start, you couldn’t trust the British public to find a suitable replacement. We even struggled to fill the post of Mayor of London, for God’s sake. What hope would there be of finding a decent candidate for higher office?
And, in fairness, the Queen does know how to put on a good show. The recent wedding of William and Catherine proved that point conclusively.
My apathy towards her was nothing personal. It wasn’t her fault. The role of monarch is traditionally apolitical. Even her speech at the State Opening of Parliament simply conveys the views of the incumbent government. Indeed, it wasn’t entirely clear if she held any views of her own. She simply did not seem relevant to my life in any way, shape or form.
I lived in London, and worked a stone’s throw from the Palace, for more than 25 years. I loved the pomp and pageantry of state Openings of Parliament, and royal weddings and funerals, but while I often felt a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye, I never experienced that proud stirring in my bosom that is the mark of a truly loyal subject.
So while I would never have wished her ill nor would I have gone out of my way to see the Queen had it not been a significant part of my job description as a television news producer. I always admired her work ethic, even though I didn’t buy into the whole Royal Roadshow.
I once met Her Maj at a tea party she gave for journalists at a Commonwealth Summit in Edinburgh. As her flunkies guided her around the room, we were advised we could curtsey if we wished. I chose not to. Why would I? We were also told not to speak unless spoken to. I ignored that too. Would she come around if she didn’t want to chat?
She was surprisingly tiny, had the most beautiful skin, and was ablaze with diamonds. She joined my little group just as we were discussing the vagaries of school holidays and the problems it raised with childcare. It never occurred to me that she might have a view but she immediately chipped in that she knew exactly how we felt as “The Boys”, ie William and Harry, were at different schools and their holidays overlapped, which she found most inconvenient.
My suggestion that she issue a Royal Proclamation to bring all school holidays into line was met with regal titters from her and a withering look from her minder, who swiftly moved her on. It was a brief moment, but it did make me warm to her and suspect she was more human than I had previously thought.
It is often said by Those in the Know that the Queen does hanker after domestic normality amid the stiff formality of Palace life. Her remark, “I like this clinky glass” picked up by TV microphones during the Dublin Castle dinner, revealed a more mundane and frivolous side.
Leaked photographs in the past have shown her at the breakfast table surrounded by Tupperware containers of cereal, avidly reading The Racing Post. I once met someone who had attended a private barbeque at Balmoral and claimed the Queen donned a pinny and went round fluffing up the cushions, while Prince Philip assumed the traditional manly role of incinerating the sausages.
Just as we may daydream of being waited on hand and foot, it seems the Queen harbours notions of what life could be like outside the Royal goldfish bowl. Perhaps that is why she has looked so relaxed this week.
President McAleese has welcomed the Queen with style, grace and courtesy, but in a typically Irish, egalitarian fashion. There has been scant evidence of the bowing and scraping that normally accompanies a Royal visit.
The Queen combined duty with pleasure in her eagerly anticipated visit to the National Stud and Coolmore. I think the Queen will be genuinely disappointed not to have had more contact with the public — she was a pioneer of the Royal Walkabout after all — but she has achieved what she set out to do.
She has healed many ancient wounds and, in doing so, has educated vast swathes of her subjects about the history of Anglo-Irish relations. Many would have been ignorant of origins of the expression Bloody Sunday, for example, or of the Irish sacrifices made in two World Wars. She has played a blinder, and all sandwiched in between two Royal Weddings and a State Visit to Britain by President Obama. Not bad going for an 85-year-old.
At last I can say God Save Our Gracious Queen with feeling and, in the unlikely event I ever bump into her again, I will sink into the deepest curtsey I can muster. She has earned my respect and, I hope, the respect of the people of Ireland.
* Freelance journalist Tricia Tyson now lives in Kinsale after spending 25 years in London working as a television news producer.